Tag:Paul Millsap
Posted on: May 19, 2010 1:38 pm
Edited on: May 20, 2010 3:17 pm
 

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 8

I figured since I didn't do a playoff preview this season for each team as I did last year, I'll do a fun little countdown to this year's draft, since that's where my team is going to be instead of the postseason.  Well now that we got our debates about whether or not 2007 was worth the #9 selection, I'm going to give in to my loyal readers and say I was probably wrong by putting the 2007 draft so low.  I was so deadset on proving that it was a bad draft, that I let some really bad drafts off the hook.  Be that as it may, I stand by my journalistic pride and proclaim that this draft was better than 2007, regardless of what I'm about to say.  But here it is, ladies and gentlemen, the number 8 draft on our list is the 2006 NBA Draft which features some really bad trades (sorry Chicago and Minnesota fans), really questionable selections (I'm looking at you Atlanta) and overall, just not a deep talent pool.

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

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

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#8: 2006 NBA Draft:

Round One:
1) Toronto Raptors - Andrea Bargnani, C, Italy
2) Chicago Bulls - LaMarcus Aldridge, PF, Texas (traded to the Trail Blazers)
3) Charlotte Bobcats - Adam Morrison, SF, Gonzaga
4) Portland Trail Blazers - Tyrus Thomas, PF, LSU (traded to the Bulls)
5) Atlanta Hawks - Shelden Williams, C, Duke
6) Minnesota Timberwolves - Brandon Roy, SG, Washington (traded to the Trail Blazers)
7) Boston Celtics - Randy Foye, SG, Villanova (traded to the Trail Blazers, then traded to the Timberwolves)
8) Houston Rockets - Rudy Gay, SF, UConn (traded to the Grizzlies)
9) Golden State Warriors - Patrick O'Bryant, C, Bradley
10) Seattle Supersonics - Mouhamed Sene, C, Senegal

Looking at this list, I'm now aware of my 2007 mistake.  Tihs is not a very impressive list at all.  Morrison and Williams have already made all time busts lists and Morrison continued a rough stretch for Michael Jordan in terms of his ability to draft players.  Morrison struggled his rookie season before tearing his knee up and is now sitting on the far end of the Lakers bench.  Williams never showed hope in Atlanta and was eventually traded to Sacramento and somehow found his way to Boston's bench this season and may have found a home as a nice utility big man for the Celtics.  Bargnani showed a lot of potential his rookie season, had a sophomore slump, showed a lot of promise last year but didn't take that step forward this season as expected.  Aldridge and Roy are the best out of this bunch and Portland was able to snag both on draft night with slick trades.  Conversely, the guys they were traded for, Tyrus Thomas and Randy Foye respectively, are no longer with the teams they were traded to.  Thomas kept Bulls fans waiting for a few years before he was traded to Charlotte this season.  Foye frustrated Minnesota fans with his inconsistency and then frustrated Washington fans with the same problem this season.  Rudy Gay was traded for Shane Battier on draft night and has become a great scorer for the Grizzlies and will be a sought after free agent this season, but has yet to achieve much in his short career.  Meanwhile, O'Bryant and Sene (who continued Seattle's trend of drafting centers just to draft centers; ironically not one of them worked out) are no longer in the league at all and looked out of place everytime they were on the court.  Not exactly what you're looking for out of your top ten draft selection.

11) Orlando Magic - J.J. Redick, SG, Duke
12) New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets - Hilton Armstrong, C, UConn
13) Philadelphia 76ers - Thabo Sefolosha, SG, Switzerland (traded to the Bulls)
14) Utah Jazz - Ronnie Brewer, SG, Arkansas
15) New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets - Cedric Simmons, PF, North Carolina State
16) Chicago Bulls - Rodney Carney, SF, Memphis (traded to the 76ers)
17) Indiana Pacers - Shawne Williams, PF, Memphis
18) Washington Wizards - Oleksiy Pecherov, C, Ukraine
19) Sacramento Kings - Quincy Douby, SG, Rutgers
20) New York Knicks - Renaldo Balkman, PF, South Carolina

Another group of ten very mediocre players.  When Redick is the best out of the bench, you know it doesn't look good.  In fact, the Magic were largely criticized when they drafted Redick, but the team was patient with the Duke star and he eventually paid dividends this season.  Both of the Hornets two picks in the top 15, Armstrong and Simmons, are no longer in the league.  As far as the Sefolosha for Carney trade that went down between Chicago and Philadelphia, neither player is going to blow anyone away but Sefolosha has developed a reputation as a terrific defensive player.  Carney, on the other hand, is a dime a dozen scorer but has found a way to stay on rosters in the league.  Brewer was a high flyer who could play defense and was welcome for the usually grounded Utah Jazz.  However, they traded him to Memphis this season to get under the luxury tax and then Brewer injured himself, leaving it unknown if he'll ever reach his true potential.  Meanwhile, Williams was talented but too much of a head case to make it in Indiana while Pecherov was a big man who could shoot from long range but hardly found his way on the court in Washington and is struggling to do the same in Minnesota.  Douby (the 2Pac look a like, google it) struggled to stay in Sacramento's rotation and is now playing overseas.  Balkman was a blasted pick for Isiah Thomas and the Knicks, but he had a fine rookie season.  After that, though, he's done nothing and is sitting on Denver's bench now. 

21) Phoenix Suns - Rajon Rondo, PG, Kentucky (traded to the Celtics)
22) New Jersey Nets - Marcus Williams, PG, Uconn
23) New Jersey Nets - Josh Boone, PF, UConn
24) Memphis Grizzlies - Kyle Lowry, PG, Villanova
25) Cleveland Cavaliers - Shannon Brown, PG, Michigan State
26) Los Angeles Lakers - Jordan Farmar, PG, UCLA
27) Phoenix Suns - Sergio Rodriguez, PG, Spain (traded to the Trail Blazers)
28) Dallas Mavericks - Maurice Ager, SG, Michigan State
29) New York Knicks - Mardy Collins, PG, Temple
30) Portland Trail Blazers - Joel Freeland, PF, United Kingdom

The Phoenix Suns continued their trend of drafting players and then trading them to other teams that they seemingly did the entire decade.  Rondo became the second coming of Christ in Boston and has turned into one of the best point guards in the league.  Rodriguez, on the other hand, never quite caught on in Portland, Sacramento or New York and may go back overseas this offseason.  Williams and Boone were supposed to finally replace the duo of Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin in New Jersey, but neither worked out at all.  Lowry turned out to be a really nice player for Memphis and was eventually traded to Houston last season where he's continued his strong play.  Brown bounced around the league for a little bit before being traded to the Lakers last season and then breaking out as a bench player for the league champions.  Ironically, he joined Farmar, the 26th pick, in Los Angeles.  Farmar looked like the point guard of the future in Los Angeles before Derek Fisher rejoined the Lakers.  Farmar now is in and out of the Lakers rotation and will probably be playing elsewhere next season.  Ager was a great shooter in college but never cracked the rotation in the NBA.  Collins is a tough, defensive minded point guard who's still on someone's roster but I'm not sure why.  Meanwhile Freeland is an extremely talented prospect but he still doesn't look to be in any hurry to come join the NBA.

Round Two Notables:
32) Houston Rockets - Steve Novak, PF, Marquette
36) Minnesota Timberwolves - Craig Smith, PF, Boston College
42) Cleveland Cavaliers - Daniel Gibson, PG, Texas
47) Utah Jazz - Paul Millsap, PF, Louisiana Tech
49) Denver Nuggets - Leon Powe, PF, Cal (traded to the Celtics)
50) Charlotte Bobcats - Ryan Hollins, C, UCLA

Novak and Hollins just make this list because they're still in the league.  Novak emerged as a really nice three point shooter last year with the Clippers but struggled to crack their rotation this season.  Hollins got a really nice deal with Minnesota this season but still has yet to put his athletic talents to use as an NBA player.  Smith was a really nice hustle player for the Timberwolves and made the All-Rookie second team and is now playing for the Clippers.  Daniel Gibson was terrific his rookie season, becoming the second best player for a Cleveland team that wound up making the NBA Finals.  Gibson was rewarded for that breakout postseason with a big contract but has done nothing of note since signing that deal.  Millsap has become a bonafide stud for Utah and is their PF of the future once Carlos Boozer leaves.  Leon Powe struggled to crack the rotation with Boston his rookie season but eventually found his way in the lineup for the Celtics 2008 championship team.  Injuries have halted his career but the jury's still out on him.

Notable Undrafted Players:
Jose Juan Barea, PG, Northeastern - Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
Walter Hermann, SF, Argentina - Signed with the Charlotte Bobcats
Chris Quinn, PG, Notre Dame - Signed with the Miami Heat

Quinn, like Novak and Hollins in Round Two, makes this list because he's still in the league.  He was a third string point guard for the 12-70 New Jersey Nets this season and doesn't look to have much of a future in the NBA, but for now he's still there.  J.J. Barea has become a nice rotation player for the Mavericks the last couple of seasons and shows glimpses of being a solid player in the league although Dallas fans hate him.  Hermann broke out his rookie season and looked to become a solid player for, eventually, the Detroit Pistons before signing overseas this past offseason. 

2006-2007 NBA Rookie of the Year: Brandon Roy
All Stars from the 2006 NBA Draft: Brandon Roy, Rajon Rondo

2006-2007 NBA All-Rookie First Team
Brandon Roy
Andrea Bargnani
Randy Foye
Rudy Gay
Jorge Garbajosa (who signed with Toronto in the 2006 offseason after a successful Euroleague career) and LaMarcus Aldridge tied for the fifth spot

2006-2007 NBA All-Rookie Second Team
Paul Millsap
Adam Morrison
Tyrus Thomas
Craig Smith
Rajon Rondo, Marcus Williams and Walter Hermann all tied for the fifth spot

Seriously, NBA, what's with the ties?  Grow a set.

Posted on: April 16, 2010 2:05 pm
 

GoHornets21's 2010 First Round Playoff Preview

It's playoff time!  At this point, the stakes are high and offseason paychecks and inseason acquisitions are expected to be rewarded with postseason success and jobs will be secured and won with big playoff appearances.  There are a ton of great matchups and the NBA really got it right with the sixteen teams that made it.  There's not one matchup, maybe outside of Cleveland, that looks like it won't be a fantastic matchup.  But here we go, this is GoHornets21's 2010 First Round Playoff Preview.

Eastern Conference

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (8) Chicago Bulls - A really intriquing matchup here.  The Cavs ended this season with the most wins in the league for the second consecutive season.  The Bulls looked dead a few weeks ago, only to experience a resurgence and have straked their way into the postseason.  The Cavs have coasted for awhile now and LeBron James hasn't even played in a couple of weeks.  Likewise, the team will be integrating Shaquille O'Neal back into the lineup after missing two months with a right thumb injury.  The Bulls, though, are experiencing their own bit of inner turmoil after a reported confrontation between head coach Vinny Del Negro and VP of Basketball John Paxson dominated the headlines in Chicago.  The Bulls are playing great basketball, but they don't have the horses to keep up with Cleveland.  The fact that they have a head coach that, in all likelihood, won't be there next season doesn't do much to help the team's psychi.  Derrick Rose will make things interesting, this won't be a sweep, but Cleveland has time to get their players back, figure out their rotation and still win this series.
Predicton: Cavaliers in six.
Cavaliers Player to Watch: Shaquille O'Neal - As mentioned earlier, the Cavaliers will be bringing Shaquille O'Neal back to the lineup in this series and his play is vital to the team moving forward.  How effective he is and how he plays will speak volumes about how things will unfold for the team in this series and in future series.  The team has played well without him, but his presence is still necessary down the road.  He must be effective.
Bulls Player to Watch: Kirk Hinrich - With Derrick Rose assuming a lot of responsibility for the team's chances of winning the series, the Bulls will look to Kirk Hinrich to step up and play huge this series.  His defense on Mo Williams will be important but he has to show a more consistent jump shot this series for the Bulls to have a chance to win.  It's not enough for him to just be out there on Williams.  He has to keep the Cavs honest on the offensive end and that will begin and end with him rediscovering his jumpshot.

(4) Boston Celtics. vs. (5) Miami Heat - A tough matchup to predict here.  Both teams have glaring weaknesses and considerable strenghs.  The Celtics have the championship experience from 2008 and say they're healthy for the first time this season.  However, they've really struggled the last two months of the regular season and if they didn't have their name, they'd receive no championship consideration.  Conversely, the Heat struggled earlier this season but, led by Dwyane Wade, the team looks to have its feet back under them.  They took advantage of a significantly easy stretch of games at the end of the season and can carry that momentum forward.  The home court would come into play in a 4/5 matchup, but the Celtics have lost 17 games at home this season.  They've never been more vulnerable.
Prediction: Heat in six
Celtics Player to Watch: Nate Robinson - A lot of the Celtics problems this season have had to do with the team's considerable age and thinning depth.  Robinson can play a huge role off the bench if given the chance and if he were to have a big series, there's no doubt the Cetlics would win.  He's been really inconsistent since going to Boston in February, but if he can find his stroke and some regular playing time, the Celtics will be a formidable team.
Heat Player to Watch: Michael Beasley - Beasley has been so aggravatingly inconsistent this season that a lot of people have just given up on him in Miami.  The Heat need that consistent second option that can help Wade and lead this team to victory.  Not only is Beasley the most talented option for the Heat, he's the only player the Celtics have no immediate answer for.  Paul Pierce will likely be busy with Dwyane Wade, which leads him matched up with the smaller Ray Allen or the slower Kevin Garnett.  If he takes advantage of that, the Heat will win this series.

(3) Atlanta Hawks vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks - Picked by many to be among the worst teams in the league this year, the Milwaukee Bucks surged this season under the guidance of Scott Skiles and are in the playoffs for the first time since 2006.  The franchise now has an identity in rookie guard Brandon Jennings and have responded well to added expectations as the season's progressed.  The Hawks, meanwhile, continue to steps towards becoming an elite franchise.  After making the playoffs for the first time in nine years in 2008, they won a playoff series last year and look to expand on that this season.  Their play all year gives no indication that's going to end.  The Bucks are at a huge disadvantage without center Andrew Bogut in the lineup and the team's lack of experience in the postseason together will give them troubles enough.  Skiles will keep his team competitive but it will catch up to them.
Prediction: Hawks in five
Hawks Player to Watch: Al Horford - With Bogut out, Horford will be matched up with the aging Kurt Thomas and the underachieving Dan Gadzuric.  With that kind of advantage inside, Horford can make it easier for the Hawks perimter shooting which will take the Bucks out of any game.
Bucks Player to Watch: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute - Most likely will be assigned the dutie of guarding Joe Johnson.  His ability to do this well will allow John Salmons to conserve himself for the offensive end which is where he can really shine for the Bucks.  Considering the Bucks will need any offensive production they can get, it's important for Mbah a Moute to spell Salmons defensively.

(2) Orlando Magic vs. (7) Charlotte Bobcats - For the first time in the franchise's history, the Charlotte Bobcats are in the NBA postseason.  Their reward for making it, a date with the red hot defending Eastern Conference Champion Orlando Magic.  The Magic boast the league's deepest team top to bottom, but that may not always be a good thing in the postseason.  Coach Stan Van Gundy barely set on a rotation entering the postseason whereas the Bobcats have had to go with the best players available night in and night out.  Both teams have played well down the stretch and both have a ton of momentum heading into the series.  I expect Charlotte to play to its full potential this entire series and push the Magic to the limit.  But I still expect the Magic to advance.
Prediction: Magic in seven
Magic Player to Watch: Rashard Lewis - Always a matchup problem with his size and outside shooting, Gerald Wallace will probably be given the assignment of guarding Lewis which could really negate a lot of double teams down in the post on Dwight Howard.  Lewis has really struggled with his shot all season, but we saw last postseason that if Lewis is hitting his shots, the Magic are almost impossible to defend.
Bobcats Player to Watch: Tyson Chandler - Banged up the entire season, Chandler is the only big man capable of staying in front of Howard one on one defensively and will likely be given that assignment throughout the series.  He will be spelled by other big men on the Charlotte team but he's the best option for them offensively out of that group.  If Chandler has a big series, then the Magic could really be in for a fight.


Western Conference

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Oklahoma City Thunder - A classic matchup of youth vs. experience here.  The Thunder are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2005 (when the team was still in Seattle) and are in the playoffs as the youngest team in the NBA.  Facing them are the defending NBA Champions; who struggled in the last month of the regular season.  The Lakers are banged up across the board and look vulnerable here in the postseason and the Thunder are young, fearless and dynamic across the board.  But what is the Lakers biggest strength, size, is the Thunder's biggest weakness.  Unfortunately, the Thunder are a bit overmatched in their first playoff series going up against the champs.
Prediction: Lakers in six
Lakers Player to Watch: Andrew Bynum - As mentioned earlier, the Lakers biggest strength is their size, but that's only true when Bynum's in the lineup.  Expected to play in the playoffs, Bynum's production will be all gravy for the Lakers as the Thunder have nobody to matchup with him inside.  Coming off an injury, though, he may struggle (as he did last postseason) so his production is still important to the Lakers success.
Thunder Player to Watch: James Harden - If Harden continues to be effective off of the bench for the Thunder, he gives the team what the Lakers don't have, and that's someone over the bench who can take over games offensively.  With Bynum expected to be brought along slowly form his injury, Lamar Odom will get a lot of minutes and that leaves the rest of the bench largely ineffective.  Because of this, Harden alone can make all the difference in the second units which prevent the Lakers from every running away with a game. 

(4) Denver Nuggets vs. (5) Utah Jazz - Two really tough teams to figure out go to battle in this series.  The Nuggets have really struggled ever since George Karl's unfortunate cancer diagnosis back in February and have gone through moments where they looked like the same, immature, selfish Nuggets of years past.  The Jazz have gone through stretches this season where they look great, stretches where they look bad, and stretches where they just look lost.  Add Carlos Boozer to the team's indecisiveness, as he's a game time decision for the playoff opener.  However, I think the Nuggets longer spell of mediocrity is a sign of things to come with Dantley at the helm, and unfortunately they really miss their general.
Prediction: Jazz in six
Nuggets Player to Watch: Kenyon Martin - If he's matched up against Carlos Boozer or Paul Millsap, Martin, still recovering from an injury of his own, will be important to stopping the Jazz pick and roll and containing their best big man.  Martin did fantastic in the playoffs last year and was a huge reason why the team went to the Western Conference Finals.  For them to advance, they need Martin to have a similar impact this season.
Jazz Player to Watch: Mehmet Okur - With Boozer's injury in question, Mehmet Okur's production will be important for the Utah Jazz.  Because Martin will get the assignment down low, Okur will be left alone offensively mainly with Nene guarding him, which gives him a quickness advantage to go along with his lethal shooting ability.  Okur showed last season that he can produce with Boozer out of the lineup, and if he struggles the Jazz will look to him for big buckets.  He's played well during the home stretch of the season, and the Jazz need that to continue into the playoffs.

(3) Phoenix Suns vs. (6) Portland Trail Blazers - Probably the NBA's hottest team, the Phoenix Suns finally look like a formidable team again for the first time in a few seasons.  Now with an added attitude on defense, the Suns look as complete as they ever have since the seven seconds or less days.  Still lethal on offense, the Suns will follow Steve Nash's lead in hopes of taking advantage of a Bradon Roy-less Trail Blazers squad.  Without Roy, the Blazers will look to other players to step up; as they have all season long battling the injuries the team has.  However, they look to be too overmatched against Phoenix at this point in time.
Prediction: Suns in five
Suns Player to Watch: Louis Amundson - With Roy out for the series, LaMarcus Aldridge becomes the only consistent offensive threat for Portland and Phoenix will have a tough time matchup up with him.  Amar'e Stoudemire, even though he's playing fantastic ball of late, is still poor defensively and Robin Lopez's injury limits what the team can do to slow down Aldridge.  Because of this, Lou Amundson's production off of the bench defensively will be counted on in this series.  Anything he can do to rough up Aldridge or limit second chance points will go a long way towards helping the Suns advance.
Trail Blazers Player to Watch: Jerryd Bayless - Earlier this season with Roy out, Bayless had the best game of his young career while spelling Roy.  Bayless was a huge prospect when he was drafted by Portland, but has struggled to find his niche yet with the team.  With Roy out again, the onus will be on Bayless to take the responsibility and live up to his lottery selection.  If the Blazers continue to get poor production out of him, this will be a quick series.

(2) Dallas Mavericks vs. (7) San Antonio Spurs - Another intriguing matchup, the Mavericks and Spurs face off in a rematch of last year's playoff series, where the Mavericks upset the Spurs in five games.  The Spurs have battled injuries all season long but finally look to have everyone, minus a hobbled George Hill, back for the playoffs.  The Mavericks, meanwhile, made a huge deal at the all star break to acquire Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood in hopes of finally winning that elusive championship.  Division rivals matching up in the postseason always leaves a bit of a mystery as to how the games will play out.  Both teams are stacked top to bottom, but the Spurs are the one team with the size to match up with the Mavericks.  Who on Dallas has an answer for Manu Ginobili?  This should be a fun series but I see the Spurs shocking Dallas in game seven on their home court.
Prediction: Spurs in seven
Mavericks Player to Watch: Jose Juan Barea - Last postseason, J.J. Barea was my player to watch for this series and was a huge difference maker for the Mavericks as the Spurs had no answer for him without Ginobili in the lineup.  Now that the Mavericks have added Butler to the lineup, not a lot is expected out of Barea and I think the lack of pressure will help him.  Along with Jason Terry (who you know will produce), Barea can make the difference in the second unit for Dallas and can really help separate the Mavericks from the Spurs if he plays well. 
Spurs Player to Watch: Matt Bonner - Last season, Bonner was a starter for the Spurs team that fell in five games to the Mavericks as he and Roger Mason Jr. struggled with their shot the whole series and the Spurs just couldn't get production offensively.  Now on the bench, Bonner has found his groove shooting the ball as of late and can make a huge difference for the Spurs if he's knocking down his shots.  They'll count on him again and I think last year's struggles will help him this season.  Look for Bonner to make a difference off the bench for the Spurs.

Posted on: November 13, 2009 2:27 pm
 

Making The Argument For Jeff Bower

Right now, it's pretty tumultous to be a fan of the New Orleans Hornets.  As I stated in yesterday's little post, things around the franchise are hectic in all areas.  From management to players to ownership, the Hornets are in a critical point in the franchise's history.  So with that being said, you have to be confident that you have someone who can turn the ship around.  Now I know a lot of people are blaming the current state of the Horents on Jeff Bower and you very well can, but let's evaluate his moves as a general manager from a whole.  He's not looking too well now, but we all know that basketball is circumstantial.  The Hornets have the 12th highest payroll in the league, but they don't have money like the Lakers and Knicks to throw around at players (and I know throwing money did not work for the Knicks so I'm not saying it's always an advantage), but when you want to commit to winning a championship it's difficult to do so as a small market team.  Teams like the Spurs are the exception to the rule.  They routinely have terrific drafts regardless of where they're drafting and find cheap, yet productive, free agents who really can impact a team (Roger Mason Jr., Matt Bonner, etc.).  But this is why the NBA has such a small fan base compared to baseball and football, because there is no parody in the league.  Actually, that's why football is the biggest sport in the nation.  Because every year, going into the season, you can have hope for your team in football.  Teams routinely make 5th and 6th round draft choices that produce right away.  A great head coach can be hired and turn things around in only one season.  You've had the Panthers go from nowhere to a Super Bowl and never be the same again.  Some would look at that as a bad thing, I think it keeps fans of all teams interested.  Here, even teams like the 76ers who have been above average the past few seasons won't get anyone to show up for their games, because even though the team will win 41 games and make the postseason, they'll do nothing when they get there.  So what do you do in the case of the Hornets, who have always been around average or above average but have never broke the barrier as a small market team?  They came close in 2008 and took big chances to build upon that and win immediately.  That chance backfired in a really bad way and now the team is paying the consequences.  But had they stood pat that offseason and not gone after anyone, people would have criticized management for not taking chances when they were so close.  So overall, fans are fickle and management is in a no lose situation.  But I'm here to tell you that Jeff Bower has done a good job as the general manager of the Hornets and I'm going to argue for him to stay on board in New Orleans.

The most often criticized move of the Jeff Bower regime, currently, is the contract given to Peja Stojakovic.  At the time of the signing, in the 2006 offseason, Peja Stojakovic was a consistent 20 point threat and was one of the deadliest shooters in the league.  When you're a team that's playing out of town in Oklahoma City and as a team that's never been an attractive destination for players, you're kind of forced to overpay to get above average talent to your team.  Peja Stojakovic probably was a smarter investment at near the 9-11 million dollar a year range at that time, but the Hornets gave him 65 million and 5 years to convince any kind of big name to come and play for them.  Again, that's management attempting to build a winner regardless of the restrictions.  It didn't pay off immediately as he missed 69 games in his first year of the deal (and if that injury had happened prior to him becoming a free agent it's safe to say the Hornets would not have made that kind of investment to Peja).  However, the next year paid off really well for the Hornets and Peja.  He wasn't scoring at the rate he used to, but he shot over 40 percent from three point range and made countless clutch shots for the Hornets and became one of the most popular players amongst fans.  As a three point catalyst, he was crucial to the Hornets winning the Southwest Division and making it to game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals in 2008.  The very next year his back injuries reemerged and he hasn't been the same player since, so in only that sense is it a bad contract.  Had Bower had a miraculous crystal ball and could have predicted the injuries that would emerge with Peja, I seriously doubt the team would have made that kind of investment with Peja.  However, with the contract in place, the Hornets can't do anything to distance themselves from Peja.  I'm sure they tried to move him in the offseason, but with that price tag, the only way they could have moved would have been to add the relatively cheap David West to the package and if they had done that, fans and players would have accused the franchise of cost cutting and would have bashed Bower.  So again, in a no win situation, Bower is forced to put Peja out on the floor.

The signings of Morris Peterson and James Posey go hand in hand.  Neither are as expensive as Peja's, but both were brought in as complimentary swingmen who could really add unspoken intangibles to a team on the rise.  The signings were a year apart, so I'll argue Peterson's first.  When Peterson was brought in, he and Rasual Butler were supposed to provide a formidable pair at the two guard position.  Peterson never has emerged as the player the Hornets thought he would be when they first brought him in.  They gave him a 4 year, 28 million dollar deal (again overpaying) to get him to start at shooting guard.  For years, Peterson had been regarded as a fan favorite who hustled, played defense and knocked down shots.  He was viewed by many as one of the more unheralded players in the NBA and the Hornets really took a chance on him and gave him the starting shooting guard position.  He's never materialized and I'll never know why.  However, 9 out of 10 general managers would have done the same thing that Bower did.  Again, maybe not at that price tag, but in order to convince players to come over you have to give them the best deal.  Which brings me to James Posey.  Is Posey a 4 year, 24 million dollar player?  Not at all.  He wasn't even when he was in Boston, playing on a one year contract with the Celtics and proving invaluable during the Celtics 2008 championship run.  As one of those clutch, defensive role players that every championship team needs, the Hornets felt he was just the man to help get this team over the top.  The Hornets had Julian Wright emerging as a backup small forward and he was entering his second year, so Posey was not a necessary signing, but it was an aggressive move to show that the team was still committed to brining a title to New Orleans.  The Hornets were already spending a lot of money at that point, and with the contract extension given to Chris Paul ready to kick in in the 2009 offseason, they made a huge risk by bringing in Posey.  A lot of teams were interested in Posey, but nobody wanted to offer 4 years.  So the Hornets decided to do so to ensure that he would sign, and he did.  James Posey is the same player he was when the Hornets brought him in.  He'll give you around 9 points a game and play hard defense, bring the intangibles; the whole nine yards.  But his efforts go unnoticed because the Hornets are struggling.  He's not a saviour to a team.  He's more of a complimentary player whose efforts would be better appreciated on a championship team (as they were in Boston).  His contract is no different to the one the Spurs gave Malik Rose.  Malik Rose was a huge crowd favorite in San Antonio and was a hustle guy/role player.  The Spurs gave him a 7 year, 42 million dollar deal at his peak and he didn't change his style of play.  The Pistons just did this with Jason Maxiell.  These players aren't anything more than what they are on the court.  But you make an investment in a player because you want them to stay.  When they first pop on the scene, the market for them is huge and you want to do anything to keep the player on your squad.  This may happen with the Jazz and Paul Millsap as well, but that's the risk you take when you invest your money into role players.  Teams like the Lakers can get away with contracts like Luke Walton sitting on the bench.  The Hornets really can't afford to do so and that's why the Posey deal is killing them right now.

But Bower has made countless great moves to bring the Hornets back to the forefront.  As an assistant coach to both Paul Silas and Tim Floyd, Bower's been with the Hornets organization in various roles since 1996.  After being given the general managers position in 2005, he oversaw a complete turnaround of the Hornets franchise.  He was given a team that was starting the season with four starters (Baron Davis, Jamal Mashburn, Jamaal Magloire and David Wesley) on the injured list.  The team had a lot of money invested in those players and a few others on the bench.  That wasn't going to work.  The team won 17 games his first season as general manager, but he oversaw the dismantling of that underachieving, often injured bunch (sound familiar to this year's squad?) and made key moves in putting the Hornets future together.  As the team's primary talent scout, he played a huge role in drafting David West in 2003 at the 18th pick and drafting J.R. Smith the very next season at the same spot.  Also, in the 2004 offseason, the Hornets moved from the Eastern Conference to the deadly Western Conference.  Knowing that you couldn't win with the roster he had, he got rid of everybody.  Darrell Armstrong and his salary were sent to Dallas for Dan Dickau: an expiring contract.  David Wesley was sent to Houston for Jim Jackson and Bostjan Nachbar, Nachbar being a promising young player and Jackson being an expiring contract.  Baron Davis was sent to Golden State for Speedy Claxton and an expiring contract in Dale Davis in a move that looked horrible at first, but freed up the space to eventually sign Peja and lock up David West longterm.  He brought in Bryon Scott to lead the bunch and endured a very tough 17 win season.  In the offseason, just by being apart of the deal that brought Antoine Walker, James Posey and Jason Williams to the Heat for the 2005-2006 season, the Hornets were given Rasual Butler and Kirk Snyder.  Those two players played hard for the Hornets in the first season in Oklahoma City and they were huge steals for Bower.

One thing that cannot be underappreciated by Bower was his ability to keep the team together and afloat when they had to relocate to Oklahoma City because of Hurricane Katrina.  With the help of Byron Scott, the Hornets kept a solid, promising team together and always put a competitive team on the court when it could have been very easy to look at the situation as a loss cause and completely collapse (see how the Saints handled being away from New Orleans after Katrina).  In that same offseason that the Hornets had to go to OKC, they drafted Chris Paul.  He and J.R. Smitih were supposed to be the tandem of the future for New Orleans, but once Smith started to undermine Byron Scott and regressed his second season, the Hornets turned a negative into a positive and moved him to Chicago for Tyson Chandler.  Tyson Chandler would develop immediate chemistry with Chris Paul and would start for three seasons witih the Hornets.  The next two drafts brought Hilton Armstrong and Julian Wright to New Orleans and both players have showed promise sparingly.  They've never capitalized and it's safe to say Hilton never will, but one bad draft pick in five or six years isn't a reason to fire the general manager.  Especially when you picked both of them around the 13-15 range. 

So let's look back at it all, he was able to trade J.R. Smith for Tyson Chandler, was able to trade Chandler for Emeka Okafor which allowed the team to still be able to compete this year while giving them minor salary cap relief (a move most general managers would not have been able to pull off, in fact he almost didn't pull it off when he sent Chandler to Oklahoma City for Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox).  He worked with his limitations and brought in Darius Songaila and Ike Diogu to try and shore up a thin frontcourt, things just haven't materialized.  But they haven't been bad moves.  Had George Shinn not wanted to pony up 2 million dollars to the salary cap to keep Rasual Butler, the lack of a true shooting guard would not be a problem right now for the Hornets.  Bower has someone to answer to and he has a limit to what he can spend, and he's still put out a team that most people are upset hasn't won a championship yet.  He's still put out a team that expects to win.  That's big for a small market general manager.  He continued to build the franchise even when they were in Oklahoma City and throught drafts, trades and signings put together a great team for the 2008 season.  Did the spending go a little overboard with the James Posey acquisition?  Sure it did.  But the fact that the franchise attempted to go for it all when they were close to a championship shows that it's a team trying to win.  At the same time, there's a reason the same teams were able to go after big name players this offseason and the same teams had to cut costs and try and be competitive.  Because the NBA salary cap sucks.  It puts a lot of small market teams at a disadvantage.  Teams like the Lakers can get away with having huge contracts on their team because they'll make it all back with TV deals, ticket sales and overall revenue based off of Kobe Bryant's jersey sales alone.  So it's easy to say, as IP did, that "Kobe's not bigger than the Lakers."  The Lakers have always been good.  That's why Kobe's not bigger than the Lakers.  The Lakers are a gifted franchise who should always be competitive with any kind of competent management. 

Do I want to accept losing and do I want to make excuses for Jeff Bower?  No.  But I understand the situation and I know why the team made the moves they did.  So I can't, in the same breath, sit and blame Bower for the same team that he was praised for a few years ago.  He tried to shake things up and keep the team competitive even though the franchise was over the luxury tax this offseason.  He still may; you never know.  As the interim coach now, it's basically his chance to win with the players he put together or bring in a big time coach who can win (Tim Floyd is not the answer and if he hires him as Head Coach I demad that this post be stricken from the records and I will personally call for Bower's termintation).  I still have hope in the Hornets and if the franchise decides to strip it bare and build it back up again, I would like Bower to still be the general manager of the team.  Why?  Because he's oversaw a rebuilding process that resulted in a big turnaround before.  There's reason for me to believe he could do it again.
Posted on: April 16, 2009 11:42 pm
Edited on: April 16, 2009 11:56 pm
 

Final 2008-2009 NBA Power Rankings

1) Cleveland Cavaliers - The Cavaliers were the best team throughout the entire season, expressing dominance at home, boasting the greatest player in the game and a fantastic group of shooters that could really spread the floor. Their commitment to defense, though, is what's been the true reason for their elevation of play.

2) Los Angeles Lakers - Kobe Bryant really was in neutral all season long, letting Pau Gasol carry the brunt of the responsibility, and for that reason the Lakers are dangerous come playoff time. Now that Andrew Bynum is back, it'll be interesting to see who finishes the games in Los Angeles. With Bynum out last postseason, Odom and Gasol finished games and it looks as if Odom may very well be the odd man out this year.

3) Boston Celtics - Losing Kevin Garnett is killer if that's really true. Hopefully he comes back and the Celtics can defend their championship at full strength. Doc Rivers and Paul Pierce did a great job righting the ship this season regardless of who was out due to injury, and players like Glen Davis, Kendrick Perkins, Rajon Rondo and Tony Allen as of late have really given the Celtics a nice core of young players as well.

4) Portland Trail Blazers - The Trail Blazers provided one of the most exciting seasons among any team in the league this year. Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge were the catalysts for a team that boasts just some spectacular role players and two legitimate centers. With the best home fans in the league (sorry Utah) the Blazers are poised for a tough run in this year's postseason.

5) Denver Nuggets - Chauncey Billups arriving really provided the spark this team needed to get out of their mediocre ways. A new effort on defense was shown, and Carmelo Anthony was able to, quietly, have the best season of his young career. The return of Chris Andersen, though, is the best story on this team full of characters and talent.

6) Houston Rockets - The Rockets were able to overcome the losses of Tracy McGrady and Rafer Alston with some fantastic play in the second half of the season. They're one of the better defensive teams in the league and they make up for their defeciences with an unbelievable display of effort on the court.

7) San Antonio Spurs - The loss of Manu Ginobili is critical in the postseason, but the Spurs have overcome injuries all season to all of the big three to give themselves the Southwest Division Championship. Quite a season by the Spurs when you consider all that happened to the team.

8) Orlando Magic - The Magic faded down the stretch, but still boast the game's most dominant center and a fantastic array of shooters. Hedo Turkoglu's injury is critical (as was Jameer Nelson's back in February) but the Magic still found a way to win 59 games due to their new commitment on the defensive end spearheaded by Dwight Howard.

9) New Orleans Hornets - Another team that was decimated by injuries this season. By the visual test, the Hornets really underachieved and regressed this year, but all things considered they did a fantastic job masking their weaknesses this season to get into the playoffs and put themselves in position to make a run. Health, though, could really do them in.

10) Dallas Mavericks - The Mavericks peaked at the right time, at the end of the season. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry had fantastic seasons and Jason Kidd headed a very effecient offensive group. They're fantastic at home and can really score the basketball.

11) Atlanta Hawks - Mike Woodson deserves some recognition for the job he did getting this Hawks team to build off of last season to emerge into the squad that they currently are. They have a team full of talented, unselfish players and can really make a run in the postseason.

12) Utah Jazz - Unfortuantely, one of the most talented teams in the Western Conference cannot win on the road and that simply puts too much pressure on them to win at home. Deron Williams has done it by himself the last month of the season and the Jazz have to hope they haven't exhausted their star point guard. The Jazz's decline, coincidentally, can be traced back to the return of Carlos Boozer and the shift of Paul Millsap back to the bench.

13) Miami Heat - Dwyane Wade really carried this team to new heights this season. However, the contributions of rookies Michael Beasley and especially Mario Chalmers shouldn't be overlooked, as these three give the Heat a dangerous unit heading into the postseason. Wade is head and shoulders above everyone on the team, but there's not a bunch of scrubs lacing it up with Wade.

14) Chicago Bulls - A fantastic midseason trade helped the Bulls pull of a spectacular run at the end of the season to get them into the playoffs. A bad loss at home helps people forget the fantastic basketball the team was playing en route to their run. Vinny Del Negro did a mighty fine job considering his lack of any experience coaching at any level.

15) Philadelphia 76ers - Losing Maurice Cheeks really hurt this team. I know they posted a better record without him, but they surged in last season's second half and faltered in this season's second half. Elton Brand was heavily criticized, but he'd help in the half court game they may have to play in the playoffs.

16) Phoenix Suns - A pathetic defensive display is what keeps Phoenix out of the postseason for the first time since 2004. Shaquille O'Neal had a very nice bounce back season for the Suns and it was nice to see Grant Hill play all 82 games. However, this team is a mediocre assortment of aging and average players and look to be heading in the wrong direction for the future.

17) Detroit Pistons - Who would have thought the trade that brought in Allen Iverson would have that much of an affect on this team's chemistry (besides me, of course)? The Pistons emerged as shells of their former selves this season and moonwalk into the postseason hoping to flip the switch on again.

18) Indiana Pacers - The loss of Mike Dunleavy really hurt this team, and having to reacclimate Danny Granger right in the middle of their surge to the postseason made the Pacers stumble a bit and is the biggest reason they didn't make the postseason. However, if Dunleavy can come back next year and mix well with the good draft picks this team has ,Brandon Rush and Roy Hibbert, then the Pacers (my presseason pick for the 8th seed) can make a run at the playoffs next season.

19) Milwaukee Bucks - Richard Jefferson emerged as a really solid player this year. He's always been good, but holding this depleted squad in playoff contention for as long as they did speaks wonders for Jefferson and still underrated coach Scott Skiles. They have quite the find in Ramon Sessions and this team is headed in the right direction with the right offseason moves.

20) Charlotte Bobcats - The Bobcats made a push for the postseason before faltering down the stretch. However, looking at the players that they acquired simply for the playoffs, this is no longer a team on the rise. They have good, young players but they have a mixture of solid veterans as well. There's no excuse for them to not make the postseason next year.

21) New York Knicks - Mike D'Antoni's refusal to play defense kept the Knicks out of the playoffs this year. David Lee, Nate Robinson and Wilson Chandler emerged to become fantastic players for New York and it's nice to see Madison Square Garden care again. The moves they make this offseason will be critical to the future of this team.

22) New Jersey Nets - They had a great first half to the season, but their lack of raw talent came back to hurt them as the season progressed. Vince Carter did a great job as the leader of this team, but he is the most likely candidate to be moved this offseason for New Jersey. They have to like what they saw from Devin Harris and Brook Lopez this year, and this is a team headed in the right direction.

23) Golden State Warriors - Injuries to Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis, Andris Biedrins and Corey Maggette this year didn't help matters this year and if you couple that with the fact that the Warriors were the youngest team in the league, their record shouldn't come as a surprise to you. However, this team is really talented and with the right seasoning could be poised for another playoff run next year or the year after. They still could use a true point guard.

24) Toronto Raptors - Unfortunately, the acquisition of Jermaine O'Neal and the midsesason trade of O'Neal for Marion did nothing for the Raptors postseason hopes. Chris Bosh, after a hot start, had a really average finish and Jose Calderon did not elevate his game as expected following the big contract. This is a team that has a very interesting offseason approaching them, but they have to like the improvement of Andrea Bargnani this season.

25) Oklahoma City Thunder - Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and company give that fantastic fan base a lot of hope for the future. They're another big man and, possibly, a legitimate shooting guard away from the playoffs as early as next season. Keeping interim coach Scott Brooks was the right thing to do, as well, seeing as how that team responded to him at the end of the year.

26) Minnesota Timberwolves - Losing Al Jefferson killed their season, as before that Minnesota was really starting to play solid basketball. I still don't know how they're going to play Kevin Love and Jefferson together, but Jefferson and Randy Foye give Minnesota a nice one-two combination for the future. Mike Miller was a huge dissapointment this season, and Minnesota should look to make a few moves in the offseason including finding something to do with Miller.

27) Memphis Grizzlies - O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley have the Grizzlies heading in the right direction. They still didn't take the step forward that I was expecting from them, but they showed moments of cohesiveness. If they can somehow land Blake Griffin, this team will be set to really leap forward next season. However, Rudy Gay didn't progress as much as what was to be expected this season, and he needs to bounce back next season.

28) Washington Wizards - Injuries ruined this team but unfortunately, they're not very talented even when healthy. This is a team heading nowhere in a hurry with all of the money they have tied into Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison. The Wizards are probably going to give it another run next season, fully healthy, but I wouldn't expect anything more than a possible appearance in the postseason.

29) Los Angeles Clippers - Expectations and an insurgent of talent in Clippers couldn't keep the Clippers from being the Clippers this season. Everyone on the team missed significant time due to injury, and they never meshed as a unit. Even though they have fantastic individual pieces, you have to wonder if this team will work well as a unit at all. They'll probably get another shot next season.

30) Sacramento Kings - Kevin Martin, Spencer Hawes and company should be embarassed at the effort put up in Sacramento this season. The lack of talent on the team cost a good coach, Reggie Theus, his job and Martin couldn't do much to salvage any kind of hope for even next season. This team is a long way from any kind of contention and they have holes at every single position on the floor. It doesn't look good for a struggling franchise, and it's a shame to see all of those empty seats at Arco Arena on a nightly basis.
 

 

Posted on: April 6, 2009 3:22 pm
 

2009 NBA Playoff Preview: Utah Jazz

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

Houston Rockets - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14288379

Denver Nuggets - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14321911

San Antonio Spurs - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14346631

Portland Trail Blazers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14386245

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

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

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

Atlanta Hawks - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14238342

Miami Heat - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14373942

Philadelphia 76ers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14376757

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 Utah Jazz.

Strengths
A team built around the strengths of your star player is almost impossible to contain.  When your best player is your point guard, it makes for a fluent offense and a joy to watch on the offensive side of the basketball.  Deron Williams is one of the best players in the league, arguably the best point guard in the game, and he is the catalyst for a versatile and tenacious Jazz offense that is as effecient as you'll find in this league.  If you need big men to stretch out of the defense by playing out by the three point line, Mehmet Okur will hit and stretch out the defenders.  If you need a big man to play down in the paint, you have Carlos Boozer.  If you need a guard to slash to the basket and keep defenders on their toes, you have Ronnie Brewer and Deron Williams simply does it all.  Williams always knows where to place the basketball and always knows who to give it to.  He can shoot the three, he can post up smaller point guards and he is also quick enough to get to the basket and finish around the rim.  That makes a team with great shooters like Okur and Kyle Korver very dangerous with such a slick passer.

The Jazz are also one of those teams that are almost unstoppable defeat in their home arena.  In a place with possibly the best, most engaging fans in the league, the Jazz are 32-7 at home and really put pressure on opposition to win at home.  The Jazz are another team that just outworks you.  They can rebound the basketball, run a structured, flawless offense and can either hit the jump shot or, because the team is so well coached they have players who know the right move to make when they drive to the basket.  The Jazz are also among the best coached teams in the NBA as recently appointed hall of famer Jerry Sloan always has his team ready to play.

Weaknesses
It's been mentioned that the Jazz put a lot of pressure on the oppostion to win at home, well that's not much of a problem for teams hosting Utah, as they have only two road victories against potential playoff squads (Philadelphia and New Orleans) spanning the entire season.  They Jazz play a lot softer, shoot too many jumpers and really struggle to get into rhythyms on the road.  It's been a nagging problem for Utah, and it's amazing that the players have yet to figure out how to win on the road.  Also, because of their ineptitude on the road, the Jazz put pressure on themselves to win at home and in last year's postseason the Jazz did drop two games at home.  So they can't continue to rely on the home court, especially when they most likely will not have home court in the postseason.

Also, even though the team has one of the better reserve big men in the league in Paul Millsap, they have a huge lack of depth at the center position.  Mehmet Okur has really had a great season, however he's not a player you want in the paint in crucial minutes, and behind him are Kosta Koufos and Jarron Collins.  Carlos Boozer is supposed to be that post presence at power forward to compliment the sharp shooting Okur, but in last season's postseason Boozer fell in love with the mid range jump shot and really hurt the Jazz more than he helped them.  Furthermore, since Boozer's return from injury his game has been very underwhelming.  He's not yet caught stride, and the pressure is on for him to reach his peak before the postseason begins.  He's vital to the team's success and hasn't proved to be a consistant threat yet for the Jazz.

Why They Will Win It
Utah is a truly balanced and deep team.  They are talented at every position with center being the weakest and although Brevin Knight is the team's backup point guard, he's not called on much and when he's in the game he knows his role and performs it well.  Andrei Kirilenko and Kyle Korver provide energy off of the bench and Korver is really capable of taking a game over with his shooting.  Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams has this team in position to win every game that they're in and the Jazz are dominant in Salt Lake City.  They're a versatile team that can play any style of attack that a team tries to impose on them.  Balance, versatility and depth are great assets especially when you're as talented as the Jazz are.

Why They Won't Win It
Just as important as depth and versatility are, playoff success is almost directly linked to winning on the road and playing tough defense.  At home the Jazz fire on all cylinders and are extremely capable of attacking you at either side of the court.  But on the road, they give up a plethora of points and really struggle to come up with big shots.  Deron Williams, also, is almost entirely responsible for the two previous playoff runs for the Jazz, and he has struggled with his jump shot this season.  This year, more than ever, he'll be counted on to really put the Jazz on his back if they want to win a championship.  That's a lot for any one man to carry, and it may prove to be too much for him.

Conclusion
The Jazz have the coaching, the talent and the depth to win a championship.  There's no question that they're as good as any team in the league.  However, a preceived lack of mental toughness keeps them from succeeding on the road and that will always do them in until they figure out how to play good basketball away from Salt Lake City.  They did win two games on the road in last season's postseason, and they're capable of doing so depending on who they draw in the first round.  But the Jazz need to figure out how to win on the road quickly, and they haven't figured it out in two years.  That will always be their kryptonite.  There's no doubt that they can win a championship based on talent alone, but the team doesn't give you much to believe in.  Unfortunately, it looks like another talented squad in Utah will underachieve in the postseason.

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

Posted on: January 5, 2009 1:07 am
Edited on: April 16, 2009 11:56 pm
 

NBA Power Rankings Through January 4th, 2009

1. Los Angeles Lakers (4) - Rejoice, Los Angeles!  The beloved Lakers have reclaimed their top position.  The hottest team in the NBA is boasting one of its hottest players in Kobe Bryant.  As of late, Kobe and Pau Gasol have elevated their play to around the level they were at around the postseason last year.  The bench is getting good production even with Jordan Farmar missing time with his injury.  I don't believe adding another point guard is critical for the moment but it wouldn't hurt if they could land one for cheap.

2. Atlanta Hawks (5) - The Hawks suffered a crushing loss with a near halfcourt heave at the buzzer from Vince Carter at New Jersey.  That was only their second loss in twelve games.  Victories over Cleveland, Denver, Houston and Detroit highlight that stretch and prove that this team is not a flash in the pan.  I'm sure they won't maintain this level of competition all season long as the team is largely unproven, but don't try to dispute what they've accomplished so far this season.  Not only is this team legitimate, they're talented. 

3. Boston Celtics (2) - And just like that, with a loss to a depleted Portland team and to a bad New York team (coming off a week in which they lost their first game in forever in addition to a loss to a bad Golden State team) and the Celtics all of a sudden look vulnerable.  I'm not going to jump off of the bandwagon and say that they're cooked, it's not a matter of if but when this team rights the ship and gets back to playing the defense that made them impossible to beat through November and December.  Kevin Garnett has slowed a bit so far this season and Paul Pierce has had to carry this unit for basically the whole season.  The role players have also slowed a tad, which is the main reason for the team's struggles but they'll get it back together and they'll still be there in the end.

4. Orlando Magic (3) - Something doesn't quite seem right with Hedo Turkoglu this season.  All of his statistics have dropped from last season and his field goal percentage is at a laughable 38 percent.  That's either meaning he's struggling to do too much in a contract year, or maybe last season was more of an aberration for the turkish born star.  Overall, the Magic have been solid all season long and if he captures the form he showed last season then they'll be right up there at the top of the eastern confrence.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers (1) - Rejoice, Cavs haters!  Zydrunas Ilgauskas has gone down to injury and the Cavaliers dropped two games this week, including an embarassing defeat at the hands of Washington today.  For at least a week anyways, the team looked like last season's team, which relied entirely too heavily on LeBron James.  What's happened to Wally Szczerbiak this season?  He's the definition of a non factor, and with his expiring contract, if he showed any bit of production they could get a really good player in return for Wally World.  But so far his value is worth about the same as Eric Snow's.

6. San Antonio Spurs (6) - Manu Ginobili had a huge week for the Spurs.  Greg Popovich has done a fine job with his roster and has seemingly settled on a nice rotation.  Tim Duncan is having the best year he's had in the past two or three and Tony Parker is currently playing like their best player.  They're a dangerous unit and they're going to be there in the end, regardless of their difficult start. 

7. Denver Nuggets (7) - Carmelo Anthony played hero on two separate occasions for the Nuggets this season, even if they were underwhelming in barely defeated Oklahoma City and blowing a 26 point lead at home to New Orleans.  An injury to Nene for the Oklahoma City game showed no immediate hamper on the Nuggets, but if he misses any prolonged period of time they're in bad shape.  They lack serious depth in the frontcourt.

8. New Orleans Hornets (9) - They still lack the consistency that they showed for so much of last season but Chris Paul is playing the best ball of any player in the NBA.  The fact that he's not up there with Kobe Bryant in all star voting is unbelievable and truly speaks to the knowledge of the average NBA fan.  David West has really picked up his game as of late and don't look now, but the Hornets rank among the league's best at the defensive side of the ball. 

9. Detroit Pistons (15) - I've ridden no team as hard this year as I have the Pistons, but Rodney Stuckey has resurrected what was a dead season for Detroit after the Allen Iverson trade.  The readdition of Antonio McDyess is as much a factor as any in the team's current winning streak and even though they may not be blowing teams out, victories are victories and the Pistons are winning ball games.

10. Portland Trail Blazers (8) - Playing without Brandon Roy hurt this team this week as they looked bad against New Orleans and the Lakers.  Overall, they managed to pull out a victory against Boston and they're still playing hard even without Roy in the lineup.  McMillan will never let this team play a weak game but they can't win without their all star guard in the lineup.

11. Dallas Mavericks (11) - Today's loss at Memphis was embarassing but Dirk Nowitzki has carried the Mavericks to a very strong season thus far.  They're a team of wing players and that will doom them in the playoffs, but they will exceed any expectations they were given this season.  Rick Carlisle has done a really good job with the Mavericks this season.

12. Phoenix Suns (13) - Shaquille O'Neal is having his best year since his last year in Los Angeles for Phoenix and the team is maintaining a steady play so far this season.  Jason Richardson hasn't added much since his addition, but the team continues to win so his presence alone must be enough for the Suns to get by. 

13. Utah Jazz (12) - Word of Carlos Boozer now needing surgery has to demoralize this squad even with Paul Millsap playing as fantastic as he has this season (I forgot to mention him in my most improved players list last week).  The C.J. Miles experiment has worked well with him playing so steady this season.  He's never going to be more than an average starter in this league but he's solid enough to where the Jazz can continue to use Andrei Kirilenko on the bench, which has worked very well for them so far this season.

14. Miami Heat (14) - An injury to Shawn Marion has thrusted Daequan Cook into the starting lineup and I think with a shipping of Marion and his expiring contract at the deadline, that can be a nice spot for Cook.  Michael Beasley has been underwhelming so far this season but has shown flashes of being a nice player in this league.  It's safe to say that he was a tad overhyped coming into the draft, though.

15. Houston Rockets (10) - Tracy McGrady's play this season has been absolutely pathetic.  He's beyond bad at this moment and Yao Ming is shooting a percentage in the low 40s the past few games as well.  With Ron Artest in and out of the lineup as well, this team is currently in a great deal of turmoil and it's evident when you watch them out on the court.  Aaron Brooks has tailed off considerably since his start this season but the talent is still there for this team to turn it around.  You just have to wonder if their players are tough enough to do it.

16. New Jersey Nets (16) - They're incredibly inconsistent and continue to be without a victory when Devin Harris is out of the lineup, but the Nets still, week after week, find themselves in the picture in the NBA.  Vince Carter has had his fair share of last second theatrics this season and that's been a major reason for the Nets' position at the moment.  They have to wonder if a postseason appearance is worth a possible run at a championship in the next two or three seasons when it comes to Carter, but we'll see what it is they're offered for Vince.

17. Milwaukee Bucks (17) - The Bucks are a team that's so difficult to put a finger on, because they have no player who's consistently great every night and they don't really scare you in any facet of their play.  Yet they've been near .500 all season long and they're still in the playoff race thus far.  That speaks wonders for Scott Skiles, even though I'm confused at his reluctancy to give Ramon Sessions big minutes.  I've seen an increase in Tyronn Lue as of late and I don't believe he's better than Sessions.

18. Toronto Raptors (23) - Two weeks ago the Raptors were left for dead, and since then they've had a very impressive past two weeks.  Chris Bosh has found the form he displayed earlier this season and the team is winning ball games without Jermaine O'Neal and Jose Calderon in the lineup.  Anthony Parker has been a steady player at the shooting guard position and the Raptors have found themselves back in the discussion as far as the playoffs are concerned.  It's a nice turnaround for a team that I wrote off just two weeks earlier.

19. Philadelphia 76ers (19) - If you were to look up the word "bland" in the dictionary, you would see this team's photo right beside it.  Their play hasn't inreased without Elton Brand (even though I thought it would) and maybe they are what they are, a below .500 team that can't score and that isn't even that special on the defensive side of the ball.  It seems like the two years of momentum that was built up by this squad was ruined with possibly unfair expectations with the Elton Brand acquisition.

20. Chicago Bulls (18) - A loss at home to Minnesota highlights a woeful week for the Bulls which was heightened even further with a horrible showing by Derrick RoseBen Gordon deserves serious all star consideration this season beyond the three point shootout and he's been the team's steadiest, most consistent option thus far.  That probably is why they're down here at 20, but he deserves a little bit of credit after the way he was blasted and treated this offseason.  He may, yet, see his big payday this offseason.

21. Indiana Pacers (25) - Mike Dunleavy is set to debut this week for the Pacers and that should help a team that still is looking to make a run at sneaking into the last playoff spot.  Danny Granger has been tremendous this season even in the dissapointing year for the Pacers and Jarrett Jack has been tremendous since being inserted into the starting lineup as of late.  T.J. Ford has done fine off of the bench but you have to wonder if he's the type of player that would be content with coming off of the bench.

22. Charlotte Bobcats (22) - I still can't speak enough for Boris Diaw's play since coming over from Phoenix.  This Bobcats team has raised its level of play since that trade and currently has shown that they can be a pesky bunch to put away.  Adam Morrison, on the other hand, is now officially ready to be labeled as a bust.  He was a horrible selection as a 3rd overall draft pick (don't even get me started on Sean May).  Little known Matt Caroll is better at what Morrison does than Morrison is and that's why Morrison scored for the first time in six games Saturday night.  I still remember when Dick Vitale said we were all stupid for saying J.J. Reddick and Morrison wouldn't be great in the NBA.

23. Memphis Grizzlies (20) - Darius Miles made his debut this week for the Grizzlies and Steve Francis may be set to dress up anytime soon.  It's amazing that those two players found their way onto the Grizzlies roster, but it's safe to say both are in dire need to prove that their careers aren't over in the NBA. 

24. New York Knicks (24) - The Knicks have lost all of the good will they built up with a strong opening to the season, but still continue to play hard for coach D'Antoni.  Al Harrington off of the bench has payed huge dividends as of late, including a victory today over Boston.  David Lee has been tremendous this season and if they package him with a contract of Jerome James or Eddy Curry they can get another building block for the rebuilding of this proud franchise.

25. Minnesota Timberwolves (28) - The Timberwolves got back to back victories for the first time all season and got Mike Miller back from injury.  Still, though, a lot is left to be done in Minnesota in order to get this team back to respectability.  Kevin Love has been inconsistent in his performance this season and doesn't look like a great acquisition by Kevin McHale (and nobody honestly believed he would be) but I think, with the investment they made in him, that he needs to be shown more minutes as the season progresses. 

26. Los Angeles Clippers (26) - Baron Davis, in addition to his pathetic displays on the court this season, caused controversy with a recent report of his wanting to return to the team he shafted just five months earlier.  His homecoming has been nothing short of brutal but the team has got to be happy with the play of Marcus Camby and Eric Gordon as of late.  They look like a team capable of hanging in tough games as long as Davis doesn't continue to shoot them out of ball games.

27. Washington Wizards (29) - The Wizards, with a run over Cleveland today, move out of the bottom two for the first time all season.  Getting Caron Butler back this week has been good for the Wizards and the increase in minutes for Javaris Crittenton is a solid move by coach Tapscott.  Andray Blatche has been a nice spot for what's been a dreadful season thus far and the Wizards are now starting to play harder each and every night.  It's not going to amount to any kind of success this year, but it's a far cry from the team that regularly would get beat by 20 every night just a couple months prior.

28. Golden State Warriors (21) - With Stephen Jackson and Corey Maggette now publicly speaking about trade requests the horrid season for the Warriors has now reached rock bottom.  The dissapointing performance has taken a back seat to the fact that the group of players that they've assembled has now made the franchise one without any kind of positive direction.  It's tough to be a loyal Warrior fan, and this season is a perfect explanation of why that's so.

29. Sacramento Kings (27) - Kevin Martin came back this season and looked fantastic in his return and Brad Miller has been a steady force all season for Sacramento, but they still continue to lose.  This team looked like a team with a direction this season, but so far this season hasn't shown anything other than that they're a team without much talent or direction.  It's tough to see what the future holds for this franchise.

30. Oklahoma City Thunder (30) - The Thunder are really playing good basketball as of late and I wanted to move them out of the last spot for the first time all season, but can't justifiably do so.  Jeff Green, this season, has looked like a player that was worthy of the draft slot they used on him and Kevin Durant have played at a very high level as of late.  They're playing with more intensity than they did earlier in the season and have showed signs of a team that's on the right path as of late.  That's good for that loyal fan base.

 

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 15, 2008 1:57 am
Edited on: March 21, 2009 1:25 am
 

NBA Power Rankings Through December 14th, 2008

1. Boston Celtics (1) - This team is absolutely on a roll and every bit as dominant as last season's champions were.  Kendrick Perkins is a force down there in the middle and the bench, despite Kevin Garnett's in game criticism, is fantastic.  Players like Glen Davis, Eddie House and Leon Powe have spearheaded a very fun team over in Boston.

2. Los Angeles Lakers (2) - A quiet week for the Lakers, despite their loss to Sacramento.  They seem to be in cruise control at the moment and aren't as smooth and dominant as they were at the beginning of the season, but they're still winning and are still 20-3.  I was surprised by Luke Walton's promotion to the starting lineup, and even though coach Phil Jackson stresses Vladimir Radmanovic is not in the doghouse, the team's depth at the small forward position may leave him on the outside looking in.  Something to keep an eye on.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (3) - A loss at Atlanta keeps this team from jumping up in the rankings but they're still playing fantastic ball and are still looking every bit as talented as both Boston and the Lakers.  I understand and agree with the high praise for Dwyane Wade but LeBron James is currently in another atmosphere.  He's playing tremendous ball and they're getting great production out of everyone else on the team.  Zydrunas Ilgauskas' injury is something to keep an eye on but the team is still playing good ball.

4. Orlando Magic (4) - They've solidified their spot with a fantastic road trip this week.  Tough wins at Portland and Utah couldn't be overshadowed by a tough, last second loss without Dwight Howard to Phoenix.  Rashard Lewis is carrying this team currently and even with Hedo Turkoglu playing inconsistent ball, they continue to quietly win and that seems to be enough for them.

5. Denver Nuggets (5) - Carmelo Anthony is currently on fire.  His 33 points in one quarter against Minnesota on Wednesday was the highlight of a quiet two game week for the Nuggets.  This team continues to roll along with Chauncey Billups and are even getting good minutes out of their big men.  Their lack of depth and inconsistent production out of those 4 and 5 positions may do them in but currently it's not so you have to keep them up here.

6. San Antonio Spurs (11) - Yeah they've shot up here quickly and the San Antonio Spurs have arrived.  This team's offense is clicking and just as quickly as Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili returned this team has reeled off a string of successive victories.  They're going to be in the race all season and their slow start seems like it was years ago.

7. Atlanta Hawks (8) - Mike Bibby has played like his former self here lately and has eased some of the pressure off of Joe Johnson.  The team's getting healthy and a big, impressive win over Cleveland helped the Hawks get some of their much deserved recognition.

8. New Orleans Hornets (9) - Friday's dissapointing third quarter at Boston has taken some eyes off of the fact that the Hornets have been highly successful the past three weeks.  Tyson Chandler's stiff neck is room for concern but if he can return at full force the Hornets can work at reclaiming the spot they held last season.

9. Houston Rockets (9) - That loss to the Clippers was embarassing but we'll give them a break since they were without Ron Artest.  The fact that Yao Ming has been the most consistently healthy out of the big three this season is room for concern but the team has stayed up around the top ten all season long and continue to play solid, cohesive ball.

10. Utah Jazz (10) - They looked great against Portland but couldn't take care of business against the Dwight Howard-less Magic at home.  They still look like the class of their division but seem to be lacking something so far.  Even though Paul Millsap continues to prove his early season production is no fluke, they're better suited with Carlos Boozer and need him to return.

11. Portland Trail Blazers (6) - The Blazer's big drop was more one of those "everyone else around you" situations more than their actual play, though their play hasn't been very inspiring this week.  Brandon Roy has been amazing this season but aside from him, nobody else can consistently keep up.  This team is deep but they're unpredictable.  All of this will change as the season goes on as this team just needs to grow.

12. Dallas Mavericks (12) - You inhale and take a step back, and the Mavericks are right there.  Again.  Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry are shouldering the load but they usually get somebody different to step up every single night.  I'm pleased to see the increase in Brandon Bass' minutes and think he's more important to that team than his production shows.  Carlisle needs to utilize him a little better.

13. Detroit Pistons (14) - Right now in Motown, there's no such thing as bad wins.  This team is still trying (months later) to transition into the Allen Iverson era and even though their victory over the Charlotte lacked punch, this team has lost bad games and the fact that they won needs to be acknowledged moreso than how they won.  Tayshaun Prince has fallen off big time since Iverson's arrival and I'm not sure if this small lineup that has him at the power forward position is going to help that, but Antonio McDyess' return gives this team some more front court depth.  Rodney Stuckey has done great with the starting role, but you have to move either Iverson or Richard Hamilton to the bench.  Their lineup stands no chance in the postseason.

14. Phoenix Suns (15) - I'm one of the few that doesn't like the arrival of Jason Richardson in Phoenix but I'm going to give it some time.  The loss of two important role players in Raja Bell and Boris Diaw (regardless of fickle fans' loss of interest in the two) will hurt the team just as the loss of McDyess did to Detroit.  Richardson is a scorer, but not much else, and I'm not too sure if he was any kind of missing piece to anything.  Looks like a desperate move by Steve Kerr to me.

16. Miami Heat (16) - Dwyane Wade is trying to do it all by himself, but they can't get anyone else to step up and compliment the spectacular season the former Finals MVP is having.  Coach Spoelstra and Wade actually have this team overacheiving but they should still stay above average all season long.

16. New Jersey Nets (13) - Welcome back to Earth, Nets.  Vince Carter's 0 for 13 performance against Toronto highlighted a woeful week for the Nets.  They've played over their heads this year but have been too good for me to drop them too far.  I like what they're currently getting out of Brook Lopez.

17. Chicago Bulls (18) - I'm a little dissapointed in the season Joakim Noah is having for the Bulls as I felt with last season's late surge he would carry that over into this year but he seems to be lackadaisical at times out there.  Ben Gordon and Derrick Rose are night in and night out doing it for Chicago and they have to be pleased with the recent production out of Drew Gooden.  By the way, I like Luol Deng but they have to be displeased with his production given the contract that he received this offseason.

18. Toronto Raptors (19) - This team has responded well to coach Triano and played some inspired ball this week.  Jose Calderon has been solid this season, but so much more was expected after last season.  He has struggled as the team's second option although he's still putting up the same numbers as last year.  I'm surprised with Andrea Bargnani's decrease in minutes lately and wonder if the Raptors will look to move him at the deadline.

19. New York Knicks (17) - A Jerome James sighting!  D'Antoni has finally started to play more than 7 people (it's too early for his typical short rotation) and the team got Jared Jeffries back this week.  He's not a great player in any category but is versatile enough to where I could see him succeeding in D'Antoni's system.  It was sad to see Cuttino Mobely to retire.  He was always a classy guy and a fantastic shooter.  His lefty release always looked like it was going in.  I give best wishes to him and hope the enlarged heart condition doesn't substantially shorten his life. 

20. Milwaukee Bucks (21) - Andrew Bogut and Richard Jefferson have been solid in the starting lineup for the Bucks this season.  Ramon Sessions has quieted a little bit recently but this team still has stayed around .500 all year.  They're not great in any facet of the game, but they're well coached and are solid in all areas.  They're a fun team to follow.

21. Philadelphia 76ers (20) - The firing of Maurice Cheeks was pathetic.  It's a shame that a team that gave an injured, overweight Elton Brand that type of money can blame Cheeks for being unable to work Brand into an offense that's better suited in the open court.  Ed Stefanski should be ashamed of himself and I hope to see bad karma visit this team the rest of the season.

22. Memphis Grizzlies (26) - Don't look now, but outside of Boston and San Antonio, the hottest team in the league is the Memphis Grizzlies!  Benching Rudy Gay seemed to spark the team a bit and they're even getting solid minutes out of Darko Milicic this week.  O.J. Mayo has been nothing short out of tremendous this year and lately has played like the best rookie in the league.  And that's no shot on Derrick Rose, just high praise for Mayo.

23. Los Angeles Clippers (27) - For one week, the Clippers were the team I thought they would be this season.  With great wins over Portland and Houston this week, the Clippers looked like a talented cohesive team and like a team that could hang with the league's best.  It's probably fools gold as far as the record is concerned, but Zach Randolph continues to be the team's best player and Al Thornton looks like a great player to build around for the next couple of seasons.  For one week at least, Clipper land!

24. Indiana Pacers (22) - Their inconsistency and inability to get over the hump is killing me.  Danny Granger is seemingly doing it by himself but this team is just bland all around.  I had picked them to make the poseason this year, and they still may make a run at it, but they're lacking some serious energy and excitement on this team.  This organization still needs that shot in the arm.

25. Golden State Warriors (24) - The Warriors won a couple games this week and that's reason for excitement in the bay area.  Corey Maggette may be ruled out indefinitely and his scoring may be missed, but he hasn't seemed like much of a fit out there on that team.  Kelenna Azubuike deserves a little bit of praise for his performance this season.  It further heightens why teams showed interest in him in the offseason.

26. Sacramento Kings (28) - A victory over the Lakers gives this team a nice little boost and shows that they can still play hard for Reggie Theus.  Kevin Martin is back to missing games after his short return and you have to wonder how serious that injury is.  Brad Miller will most likely be gone by midseason and this team is still two years (including this one) away from being taken serious as postseason contenders.

27. Charlotte Bobcats (23) - I know I bashed Phoenix for the Richardson trade, but it's not as if I like it any better for the Bobcats.  They lack scoring and, again, Michael Jordan is running an organization where pieces just don't fit.  You can't make things work.  His lack of dedication kills this team and the front office is so infatuated with his name that they won't properly evaluate his job.  After all, if they did he would not have gotten the job in the first place after that fiasco in Washington.

28. Minnesota Timberwolves (25) - Memo to Kevin McHale, improve this team or be shown the exit.  Randy Wittman was let go this week and McHale now steps up.  He was solid in the 2005 season but he's not that much of a coach.  Al Jefferson, Randy Foye and Kevin Love (three players McHale has traded for) have all played better under McHale but I don't know if they can be enough for McHale to keep his job.  Or rightfully keep his job anyways.

29. Washington Wizards (29) - Caron Butler is wasting away over there in Washington and their team's response to their struggles was not addressing their extremely small and thin frontcourt, but was instead a decision to add Mike James and Javaris Crittenton to a team that boasts a bunch of run of the mill guards in the first place.  I'd like to see Crittenton to get an opportunity to flourish but this situation is no different from his situation in Memphis.

30. Oklahoma City Thunder (30) - Finally Kevin Durant is grabbing some rebounds and playing some down in the post.  He's too talented to let his game be jump shooting and taking possesions off on defense.  Jeff Green has been tremendous this week and I was surprised at Russell Westbrook being benched today.  They're playing more competitive lately and the talk of them being unable to win 9 games this season is ludicrous.  They'll win at least 10 games this season and this team is talented, just extremely raw.  They need more time.

 

 

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