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Tag:Quentin Richardson
Posted on: October 21, 2010 12:42 am
 

2010-2011 NBA Southeast Division Preview

2010-2011 NBA Southeast Division Preview

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: May 30, 2010 10:23 pm
 

Previewing The 2010 NBA Finals

Now that we've sat through, what seems like, a 13 month sabattical to finally get to the NBA Finals, it's here.  After series sweeps and poor basketball, the conference finals finally brought some life that had been missing to the NBA Postseason.  And, honestly, I don't think any basketball fan can be upset with this matchup.  Even though the Lakers and Celtics are matching up for what seems, to us small market teams fans, like the 6,000th time in the NBA Finals, they are genuinely the two best teams at this point and two of the best franchises in the NBA (as evident by their 6,000 matchups).  Both teams have faced adversity, have won with defense, have won with offense, have coaches who have been there and have players who have been there.  This matchup was physical and contested back in 2008 and we can expect the same here.  But how did both teams arrive to this point?

The Boston Celtics entered the 2010 postseason on a really sour note.  As has been documented, the Celtics were 23-5 after Christmas but then went 27-27 over the next 54 games to stumble into the postseason as the 4th seed.  Everything ranging from Doc River's interest in coaching the team to injuries to age had been used as reasons for the Celtics ailments.  But a confrontation between Kevin Garnett and Quentin Richardson in Game 1 of the Heat vs. Celtics series highlighted what was a terrific comeback in Game 1 for Boston and they rode that momentum to a very convincing five game series victory over the Heat.  Next up, the Celtics were matched up against the team that finished with the best record in the NBA and the team that had the two time defending MVP in LeBron James.  Using the same tenacious defense and physical style of play that swarmed fellow NBA great Dwyane Wade, the Celtics contained LeBron as best as any team could possibly do and saw Rajon Rondo step up as the team advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for a rematch with the team that knocked them out of the postseason last year: the Orlando Magic.  Like Wade and LeBron, Orlando had its own superstar in Dwight Howard that posted a huge threat to Boston's quest for a championship.  But showing the stuff that champions are made of, Boston won both Games 1 and 2 in Orlando and held on to eventually eleminate the Magic on the Parquet in Game 6.  The Celtics now enter this postseason looking for their second championship in three years with the starting lineup that Doc Rivers will tell you has never lost a postseason series.

Coming off two Western Conference Championships and after winning their 15th NBA Championship in Franchise History (second only to Boston's 17), the Lakers entered this season as the resounding favorites to repeat; at the very least in the Western Conference.  They seemed to coast through the season on talent alone but still managed to establish home court advantage in the Western Conference.  Being one of the most decorated teams in NBA history, the Lakers faced a polar opposite in the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder, who were the youngest team, collectively, in the NBA.  The Thunder gave the Lakers fits with their athleticism, youthful energy and fantastic home court.  The Lakers faced a challenge many didn't think would come so early, but fought it off and eleminated the Thunder in six games.  Up next was a familiar postseason foe: the Utah Jazz.  The Jazz and Lakers always seem to face eachother in the postseason, and this season the big bodies and matchup advantages that the Lakers possesed  helped history repeat itself, as the Lakers managed to sweep Utah in four games and rest comfortably before a matchup with the rival Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals.  Even in a tough matchup with a motivated, game Phoenix Suns team, the Lakers looked like champions throughout the series; winning convincingly in Games 1 and 2 and playing a great game of basketball to close out Game 6 in Phoenix.  The Lakers look to close the gap between them and Boston in terms of the NBA's greatest franchise (17 championships for Boston to 15 for Los Angeles), and Kobe Bryant looks to add a 5th Championship to his storied career and allow for Phil Jackson to collect his 11th. 

How do these teams match up and who has the advantage in what area?  That will now be addressed.
Western Conference Champion: (1) Los Angeles Lakers (57-25; 12-4) vs. Eastern Conference Champion: (4) Boston Celtics (50-32; 12-5)

Why The Lakers Will Win: First and foremost, the Lakers enter this series with the Home Court after finishing the season with a better record than Boston.  Both teams won on the other's court this season and it's well known how the Celtics were able to take that historic Game 4 at Staples back in 2008, but at the end of the day you'd still rather be the team playing its pivotal games at home as opposed to being on the road.  They will still have the best player on the court for the entire series as well in Kobe Bryant.  Bryant has shown as the postseason has continued that he's still, arguably, the best player in the Game.  In a late game situation, there's no better player to give the ball to.  Also, the Lakers have brought in Ron Artest for matchups like this, where they can throw him at Paul Pierce or Ray Allen defensively.  Also, this Lakers team is better equipped to match up with a physical Boston team than the 2008 version of the Lakers.  Now having won a championship as a team and having been battle tested as a team, there won't be any deer in the headlights looks that the Lakers had in 2008.  Also, this is the first series Boston will have where they have to stay in the paint and guard every one of the Lakers big men.  Teams like Cleveland and Miami didn't have the front court depth to give Boston's defense fits whereas the Lakers have the size to cause Boston problems. 

Why The Celtics Will Win: Every bit of experience that the Lakers bring to the table, the Celtics bring as well.  It could be argued that the only reason these teams aren't matching up for a third consecutive Finals is because of the injury to Kevin Garnett last season.  The Celtics have shown the last two rounds that home court can be taken with just one victory on the road and they've shown the ability to do that.  Even though Kobe Bryant is the best closer in the game, the Celtics have a player in Paul Pierce who is very adept in those late game situations as well: as highlighted in his Game 6 performance against Orlando.  Furthermore, this Celtics team is still relatively healthy.  They have problems with Rasheed Wallace's back, but everyone else has managed to stay hungry, motivated and on the court for the entire postseason whereas the Lakers have issues with Andrew Bynum that could hinder one of their on court advantages.  Also, this Celtics team looks motivated and after knocking out three legitimate superstars in Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Dwight Howard, there's nothing that Kobe Bryant can do that would intimidate the Boston Celtics team. 

Key Player for the Lakers: Derek Fisher has managed to step it up offensively when the Lakers have needed him to this postseason, and opposing point guards haven't trashed the Lakers as they did last postseason and all of this season.  However, Rajon Rondo is the most difficult matchup in the series.  Fisher will either have to guard Rondo or Ray Allen (if Phil decides to put Kobe on Rondo), which are both disadvantages for the Lakers.  However, Fisher brings championship intangibles that most teams just can't find and, even just last postseason, Fisher showed that when needed he can still nail the crucial three pointer that can change a series.  If his defense is going to be a problem this series, which looks likely, his offense will be needed to offset whatever disadvantage his guarding Rondo or Ray Allen may create.

Key Player for the Celtics: Rasheed Wallace's back should be better by June 3rd and hopefully that shows in his play.  He looked really bad in Game 6 against Orlando, but if he's able to go for Boston then he makes all the difference in this Finals matchup.  Lamar Odom is one of the toughest matchups in the NBA, but Rasheed Wallace is a player that can keep up with him and guard Odom.  Criticized for his play all year long, Wallace has emerged into an absolutely terrific bench contributor this postseason for Boston and has been extremely important to Boston's ultimate success.  If Bynum, Pau Gasol or Odom have to guard Wallace out on the perimeter, it opens up the door for players like Pierce and Rondo to get to the basket.  If Wallace consistently hits that jump shot, it makes even more of a difference.  All in all, Wallace brings the offensive and defensive intangibles off the bench that can offset whatever bench production the Lakers may or may not get on a nightly basis. 

Prediction: Celtics in six

Key As To Why They Will Win: Honestly, I'm just a believer.  I've picked against Boston all postseason long and, for that reason, Crotch and other Celtics fans probably don't want me to pick them here.  But they've really emerged as the best team in the postseason so far.  They've faced off against the best players in the league and knocked out two terrific, game Cleveland and Orlando teams.  And they did so without home court advantage.  Even though I think the subraction of James Posey this postseason from the 2008 NBA Finals matchup is something that some fans may forget, I truly believe Wallace is going to be a huge difference maker off the bench to combat Lamar Odom and, when it comes down to it, the Celtics have shown that they can win pivotal games in hostile territory.  And they only need to win one in this series.

Conclusion: This series is a toss up and could really go either way.  The two most storied franchises in the league meeting up once again creates for financial interest and also interest from a basketball perspective.  There aren't two teams playing better ball at the moment and that's why they're here.  After seeing Boston guard Dwyane Wade and LeBron James the way they did, you have to imagine there's going to be plans in place as to how to guard Kobe Bryant.  Also, they were able to do it in 2008 and that put a lot of onus on his teammates who just weren't ready for that moment.  They may be ready now, but I'm not sure that they're capable of overcomign what Boston does.  Paul Pierce, in that 2008 matchup, was the first player I've seen in a long time take it at Kobe and dominate him as easily as Kobe can do to other players.  That speaks volumes to his importance in this matchup.  It should be a fun series and I wouldn't be surprised if I'm wrong, but I'm a believer.  Your 2010 NBA Champions will be the Boston Celtics.
Posted on: May 17, 2010 3:21 pm
 

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 10

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.  With the draft lottery coming tomorrow, now seems to be the perfect time to evaluate each of the last ten drafts and rank them in terms of talent involved each season.  The first draft to make the list, is the 2000 NBA Draft which features a whole lot of wasted potential and overall dissapointment.  Let's dive in shall we?

Top Ten Drafts of the Last Ten Years
#10: 2000 NBA Draft

Round One:
1) New Jersey Nets - Kenyon Martin, PF, Cincinnati
2) Vancouver Grizzlies - Stromile Swift, PF, LSU
3) Los Angeles Clippers - Darius Miles, SF, East St. Louis High School
4) Chicago Bulls - Marcus Fizer, PF, Iowa State
5) Orlando Magic - Mike Miller, SG, Florida
6) Atlanta Hawks - DeMarr Johnson, SG, Cincinnati
7) Chicago Bulls - Chris Mihm, C, Texas (traded to the Cavaliers)
8) Cleveland Cavaliers - Jamal Crawford, SG, Michigan (traded to the Bulls)
9) Houston Rockets - Joel Przybilla, C, Minnesota (traded to the Bucks)
10) Orlando Magic - Keyon Dooling, SG, Missouri (traded to the Nuggets who traded him to the Clippers)

Not an impressive top ten obviously.  Martin is easily the best out of the bunch but knee injuries derailed what could have been a really solid career from him.  Players like Stromile Swift and Darius Miles were athletic hybrid players without true positions and it showed throughout their careers.  Neither are in the league anymore.  Fizer had the shortest tenture out of all of the players involved.  He never really made a solid impact in Chicago, and a lot of people feel had Tim Floyd (his former coach at Iowa State) not been coaching the Bulls, Fizer wouldn't have been picked that high.  Johnson was involved in a serious car accident two years into his career that nearly left him paralyzed although he had a brief return with the Denver Nuggets before eventually disappearing from the league.  Mihm and Przybilla were both solid centers in this league although neither were top ten pick worthy.  Mike Miller and Jamal Crawford are still solid players in this league, although unspectacular and Dooling is still playing as a back up for the Nets.  Overall, not a very star studded or overly impressive top ten here.

11) Boston Celtics - Jerome Moiso, PF, UCLA
12) Dallas Mavericks - Etan Thomas, C, Syracuse
13) Orlando Magic - Courtney Alexander, SG, Fresno State (traded to the Mavericks)
14) Detroit Pistons - Mateen Cleaves, PG, Michigan State
15) Milwaukee Bucks - Jason Collier, C, Georgia Tech (traded to the Rockets)
16) Sacramento Kings - Hedo Turkoglu, SF, Turkey
17) Seattle Supersonics - Desmond Mason, SG, Oklahoma State
18) Los Angeles Clippers - Quentin Richardson, SF, DePaul
19) Charlotte Hornets - Jamaal Magloire, C, Kentucky
20) Philadelphia 76ers - Speedy Claxton, PG, Hofstra

This group isn't overly impressive either, although it has a few really good names.  Turkoglu and Claxton contributed to some really successful Magic and Spurs teams, with Claxton winning a championship as the back up point guard for the 2003 San Antonio team.  Moiso, Alexander and Cleaves had very short stints in the NBA.  Cleaves, the more highly publicized of the three, was drafted as a hometown guy for the Pistons but he never caught on in the rotation.  Mason, Richardson and Magloire carved nice niches throughout their careers, although Richardson is the only one who is still producing in the league.  Etan Thomas was a solid player for the Wizards before heart problems derailed his career while Collier died during a practice before the 2005-2006 season while with Atlanta because of an enlarged heart.  Overall, not a really bad list of 11-20 but still nothing to look up at.

21) Toronto Raptors - Morris Peterson, SG, Michigan State
22) New York Knicks - Donnell Harvey, SF, Florida (traded to the Mavericks)
23) Utah Jazz - DeShawn Stevenson, SG, Washington Union High School
24) Chicago Bulls - Dalibor Bagaric, C, Croatia
25) Phoenix Suns - Jake Tsakalidis, C, Greece
26) Denver Nuggets - Mamadou N'Diaye, C, Auburn
27) Indiana Pacers - Primoz Brezec, C, Slovenia
28) Portland Trail Blazers - Erick Barkley, SG, St. John's
29) Los Angeles Lakers - Mark Madsen, PF, Stanford

Now the list takes a bit of a nosedive.  Out of all of these players, only Peterson had a somewhat decent NBA career while players like Stevenson and Madsen have found ways to bounce around rosters and stay in the league.  Picks 24 through 27 showed just how desperate some teams are for size as all of the difficult to pronounce centers had very short and very uneventful careers in the NBA.  Players like Harvey and Barkley were able to play for a couple years in the NBA before being weeded out as well.  Overall, 21-29 is pretty bad; especially if Peterson, who had some really solid years for Toronto, is your MVP of the bunch.

Round Two Notables:
30) Los Angeles Clippers - Marko Jaric, PG, Italy
37) Miami Heat - Eddie House, PG, Arizona State
38) Houston Rockets - Eduardo Najera, PF, Oklahoma (traded to the Mavericks)
43) Milwaukee Bucks - Michael Redd, SG, Ohio State

Not a lot of productive second round names to choose from, but a pretty solid bunch of guys here.  Jaric started for a few years with the Clippers and got a huge contract and may be expiring soon for some lucky team.  Plus, his marriage to the insanely attractive Adriana Lima has to land him somewhere on here.  Eddie House bounced around from team to team, finding a way to contribute for all of them while being only a shoot first point guard.  He eventually found a home in Boston where he was a key contributor on their 2008 championship team.  Najera is the poster child for what a second rounder usually is, a grappler, physical, hustle-type player who's managed to carve out a pretty nice career thus far.  Michael Redd is probably the best player out of the entire draft (which is saying something about the draft).  By his third year in the league, Redd had become a solid contributor for some mildly successful Milwaukee teams before signing a huge contract and then suffering unfortunate knee injuries.  He still won a Gold Medal for the 2008 USA Olympic Team and still can shoot, but his body may not allow him to do much more.

2001 Rookie of the Year: Mike Miller
All Stars From The 2000 NBA Draft: Kenyon Martin, Jamaal Magloire, Michael Redd

2000-2001 NBA All-Rookie First Team
Mike Miller
Kenyon Martin
Marc Jackson (who was originally drafted by the Warriors in 1997 before finally signing in 2000)
Morris Peterson
Darius Miles

2000-2001 NBA All-Rookie Second Team
Hedo Turkoglu
Desmond Mason
Courtney Alexander
Marcus Fizer
Chris Mihm

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

Worst Teams In The NBA Of The Last Decade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: January 23, 2009 4:18 pm
Edited on: January 23, 2009 6:20 pm
 

The Rise And Fall of the Phoenix Suns (Part 1)

For four years, few teams matched the excitement and mystique that surrounded when the Phoenix Suns were set to appear in a basketball game.  Led by the innovative Mike D'Antoni and highly successful Steve Nash, the Suns resurrected a moribound franchise and turned the NBA upside down in the process.  With quick cuts, fantastic slams around the basket, a plethora of three point baskets and with absolutely no defense (which in turn allows the other team to follow through with all of those aforementioned offensive attractions) the Phoenix Suns became the team for the casual NBA fan, and the team that most of us wanted to watch when we felt like being assured entertaining basketball.  But funny things happen when you tinker with the system and bring things that people are not used to to the forefront.  When you introduce basketball's version of the spread offense, success can be attained but only when you bring championships are your efforts truly respected.  Many people passed off D'Antoni's philosophy on basketball and said that it could not win championships.  That same criticism turned the greatest period in Phoenix Suns basketball upside down, and seemingly prolonged the franchise's now 40 year history. 

It all started with a trade back in 2001, when the Suns traded future hall of fame point guard Jason Kidd for the insanely talented Stephon Marbury.  This trade was supposed to be a nice swap of talented guards which would result in hardly a change for either squad.  Instead, the Suns went to the lottery and the Nets went to the NBA finals.  Stephon Marbury's frustrating first season in Phoenix resulted in a trip to the lottery for the Suns, which resulted in Amar'e Stoudemire being added to the team.  With Stoudemire garnering rookie of the year honors and the team's quiet acquisition of guard Joe Johnson from the Boston Celtics, the Suns sneaked into the playoffs with the 8th seed and surprised the top ranked San Antonio Spurs in game 1 of their first round matchup.  Shortly thereafter, though, the Spurs would emerge victorious and things took a turn for the better; eventually.

The 2003-2004 season started off with mediocre expectations for a seemingly dirrectionless Phoenix franchise.  Then in midseason, amidst the team's struggles and inability to show any immediate progress, owner Robert Sarver steamheaded a complete reconstruction of the Suns.  Both Jerry and Brian Colangelo went to work on putting the pieces in place for this team to fully take off.  Frank Johnson was removed from the head coaching position and assistant coach and longtime European league coach Mike D'Antoni would be given the reigns.  Also, in what would headstart a completely opposite direction for the two franchises, the Suns sent Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway to the New York Knicks for five players who would not finish the season as Phoenix Suns players in addition to two first round draft selections.  Although the Knicks made the playoffs that season, nobody could have predicted the decline that would soon follow Stephon Marbury's fourth franchise.  Then again, nobody could have predicted the ascension that awaited in Arizona.

In the offseason, the Suns quickly gave Mike D'Antoni a vote of confidence despite his 21-40 record finishing the season as Phoenix's head coach.  The team's late surge, which was spurred by guard Joe Johnson, rookie guard Leandro Barbosa and now second year forward Amar'e Stoudemire could have been a huge factor in why D'Antoni was given a second chance.  Once free agency started, the Suns made a big splash by signing free agent point guard Steve Nash and free agent forward Quentin Richardson.  D'Antoni would move Stoudemire to center and insert forward Shawn Marion at the power forward position (a move Marion continuously complained about despite putting up the best numbers of his career) giving the team a ridiculously small lineup.  What ensured was pure, utter, fast break basketball.

Steve Nash spearheaded a revolutionary style of play as the Suns quickly brought offense back to the forefront in the NBA.  Gone where the days of walking a ball upcourt while your seven foot center could set up under the basket.  With quick, athletic big men like Stoudemire and Marion and with an intelligent and talented point guard like Steve Nash leading the way, the Suns went on to average 110.4 points per game (although giving up 103.3 PPG) and posted an NBA best 62-20 record.  Steve Nash shocked all by winning the NBA MVP award while D'Antoni and Colangelo were given the coach and executive of the year awards respectively.  In the playoffs, guard Joe Johnson would succumb to an eye injury and the Suns would sorely miss his leadership and skillset.  A sound defeat of the Memphis Grizzlies and a trouncing of the Dallas Mavericks set the Suns up with who would become the main reason for the Suns eventual decline: the San Antonio Spurs.

The San Antonio Spurs are basically the anti-Phoenix Sun.  They don't dazzle you with fantastic athleticism or bombard you with a multitude of points, they systematically and soudnly defeat their opponents by way of Tim Duncan and a group of role players that are fine performing their tasks for the sake of the greater good: a Larry O'Brien Trophy.  The Spurs two centers that year, Nazr Mohammed and Rasho Nesterovic, would probably not even get a sniff from D'Antoni yet wound up becoming productive players on championship teams.  Was D'Antoni's emphasis on speed and offense neglecting all that you were tought growing up?  Is a great offense truly better than a great defense?  Can you win scoring 110 points instead of focusing on holding your opponents below 90?  These all came to a head in this true battle of wits.

Amar'e Stoudemire would experience a coming out party against the Spurs, as San Antonio had no answer for the young player on his way to averages totaling over 30 PPG in the series.  But the Spurs, with two championship trophies already to their credit, would be able to answer every trick Phoenix tried.  Bruce Bowen was there to contain Steve Nash's explosiveness, Tony Parker was there to expose Nash's glaring defensive deffeciences, Tim Duncan was there to take care of Stoudemire's similar weaknesses, and the Spurs took the Suns out in 5 games, bringing end to the fantastic first season in the D'Antoni era. 

Many people did not know what to expect for an encore in Phoenix.  The gimmick offense was sure to be stopped when teams were given ample time to prepare for it.  Expectations can always ruin a team not used to winning, and Joe Johnson and Amar'e Stoudemire would be gone, Johnson in a trade to the Atlanta Hawks and Stoudemire due to knee surgery.  The Joe Johnson trade brought Boris Diaw, an afterthought in many instances and then the Suns shipped Quentin Richardson and the draft rights to Nate Robinson to New York for a center in Kurt Thomas that they believed would be able to counter Tim Duncan's effectiveness in a seven game series.  The team also obtained guard Raja Bell, a player praised for his on the ball defensive prowress and three point effeciency.  But the sky was not the limit this season, as, without Stoudemire, many expected the Suns to fail.

Stoudemire's absence meant wonderful things for Shawn Marion who turned in the best year of his career.  Boris Diaw proved out to be a fantastic find by the Colangelo's, winning the NBA most improved player of the year award, and Steve Nash went on to win his second consecutive NBA MVP award after helping lead the Suns to a 54-28 record in the regular season.  But the signs of the eventual decline already started to take shape.  Bryan Colangelo was said to have major conflicts with owner Robert Sarver and bolted to take the General Manager position with the Toronto Raptors.  Stoudemire received heavy criticism from the organization when he spent a majority of the season away from the squad while tending to his knee.  And although the team managed to avoid the Spurs in the postseason, draining seven game series with both the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers took alout of Phoenix, as they simply had nothing left by the time they met the Dirk Nowitzki led Mavericks in a second consecutive Western Conference Finals.

The 2006-2007 season brought about great expectations for the Phoenix squad.  With Boris Diaw teaming with Leandro Barbosa on the bench, the Suns were supposed to finally have that deep squad that would allow for D'Antoni to stray from his favored 7-man rotations and still provide the same innovative offensive schemes that had been prominent the previous two seasons.  Phoenix struggled with chemistry some, including Stoudemire back into the lineup and it showed.  The team, though, rebounded quickly to the tune of 61 victories and a No. 2 seed in the playoffs.

Elsewhere in the NBA, the 67 victory Dallas Mavericks had been upset by the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs in what would be largely noted as the greatest upset in playoff history, and the Utah Jazz would celebrate their return to the playoffs after a three year absence with a victory over the Houston Rockets, giving the Suns home court advantage, now, throughout the playoffs and seemingly the drivers seat to an elusive championship.  After the Suns quickly dispatched of the Lakers for a second consecutive season, they saw themselves standing opposite the 3rd seeded San Antonio Spurs, and a fantastic conference semifinals ensued. 

Bruce Bowen and Tony Parker quickly asserted physiciality into the already deeply rooted rivalry with the Spurs, as Steve Nash left game 1 with a bloodied nose recieved from Parker and could not finish the game, as the Spurs pulled out a close victory.  This brought about major criticism as some felt it was unfair for the Suns to lose without their best player due to excessive blood loss, but the rules would stay and the Spurs maintained a 1-0 series lead.  After taking game 2, Phoenix would head to San Antonio for one of the most controversial games in recent memory.  Game 3 between the Spurs and the Suns was known for its excessive fouls called, constant whistles and annoying lack of gamesmanship in the contest.  The Spurs would ride a questionable free throw advantage to the victory and then all hell broke loose.  With Phoenix rebounding to take game 4, Robert Horry stepped in front of Steve Nash on a harmless drive down the baseline, and changed the Phoenix Suns forever.

With the series tied at 2 games apiece and heading back to Phoenix, all cards seemed to be in place for Phoenix to finally nudge past their nemisis and gain ground towards becoming NBA Champions.  But Horry's flagrant foul on Steve Nash sent the Suns into a frenzy, which resulted in both Stoudemire and Diaw leaving the Suns bench and therefore forcing the NBA's hand in having to suspend those two players for a critical game 5 in Phoenix.  Mike D'Antoni criticized the decision but his efforts went unnoticed as the suspensions stood.  A game Phoenix crowd and shorthanded squad gave the Spurs trouble but eventually succumbed in a game 5 loss.  The team returned to San Antonio demoralized, and could not take advantage of Stoudemire and Diaw's reintroduction into the lineup and would lose game 6 in San Antonio.

In effect, the Robert Horry foul gave Phoenix their first leigitmate gripe of the D'Antoni era.  Being too inexperienced in 2005 and too tired in 2006, 2007 seemed a prime opportunity for Phoenix to grab the franchise's first championship.  The Horry foul took away their best shot at putting a foot down on the rival Spurs' throats, and assured us all that there's always that one squad that prevents you from winning.  For Phoenix, it was San Antonio.  The Spurs went on to win the championship that season, and in the process demoralized alot of the Phoenix fan base.  The same team would essentially return for 2007-2008 but the excitement, hunger and mystique surrounding the franchise had gone away.  After posting a mediocre start to the season, new general manager Steve Kerr would make the move that effectively ended the D'Antoni era in Phoenix.

Posted on: October 10, 2008 7:05 pm
Edited on: October 25, 2008 1:33 pm
 

2008 - 2009 NBA Atlantic Division Preview

"Man I'm so hyped right now! Anything's possible!" Amidst the crying, yelling, and screaming that followed, we were able to distinguish Kevin Garnett above it all. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were not as overly jubulant and we may have been able to make out what they were saying, but let's not fool ourselves: after years of those three superstars wasting away in mediocrity they were able to come together and give one of the greatest single season performances in NBA history. The Boston Celtics were an extremely proud franchise but had not been able to recover from the retiring of Larry Bird. Many experiments followed. The Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker tandem created the most excitment, but who expected Kenny Anderson and Tony Delk to lead this team to the promised land? Soon Walker left and the Celtics relied on Ryan Gomes and Sebastian Telfair (amongst a strange assortment of other players) to be missing pieces alongside Paul Pierce. Needless to say, the losses piled and the Celtics continued to look at mediocrity as a haven for the current state of their franchise. But then the Celtics found a rebuilding Supersonics team and it all changed. What followed was something right out of a fantasy league. Nobody could have imagined a team pitting Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen on the same NBA squad and hardly anyone could have imagined the three being able to mesh so seamlessly and also be able to generate the most out of a questionable supporting cast. But the "Boston Three Party" quickly came together and created a euphoria in Boston that was unimaginable just one year prior.

It's amazing what a couple of deals can do to the face of a franchise: and all of the teams in the Atlantic division can attest to it. They all seemed to mirror the Celtics vision of changing your franchise's outlook and direction with a couple of transactions and an influx of new players. For better or for worse: the Atlantic division teams are all brand new: except for the Celtics. Nobody can blame the Celtics for staying put, especially since the assortment of players performed so well last season and with Kevin Garnett still serving as the anchor for this squad we have no reason to believe that motivation and hunger should be an issue. But all of the other teams made moves, maybe in a panic, to grab that trophy that's currently in the Celtics possession. From the 76ers acquisition of Elton Brand, to the Raptors rolling the dice on Jermaine O'Neal, followed by the "Firesale For LeBron" sweepstakes in New Jersey and the arrival of a new regime in New York.

Yes, change is abundant in the Atlantic but as the old saying goes, "the more things change the more they stay the same." Plenty of big name players and contracts have been added to the other four competitors, but none of the aforementioned squads will be able to test the Celtics on their quest for back to back championships. All of the other teams will prove to be more competition to the Celtics than they were last year, but at the end of the day the team with the experience, talent, coaching and love for defensive play will stand tall above the rest of the teams in the division. Here's the outlook on the Atlantic division.

1) Boston Celtics - After last offseason's wheeling and dealing, the Celtics won a championship and had the luxury of keeping the team intact for this season. Hunger will be the only obstacle facing this team in its quest to capture a second championship trophy. Kevin Garnett is still the MVP of this team and will handle the onseason leadership role while Paul Pierce continues to show that his spot on the Finals MVP trophy is completely deserved. Ray Allen's production will continue to decrease as he settles into the role of a spectacular spot up shooter (but not much else). Rajon Rondo is already the best defensive point guard in the league and the sky is still the limit for this young guard as he figures to be penciled in as a top ten point guard for the next few years. Kendrick Perkins isn't much more than a big body and bruiser but he isn't needed for much more than his presence. Obviously the departure of James Posey hurts this team (and definitely cripples the bench) and will lessen the Celtics chances at a repeat. His production just simply cannot be replaced by Tony Allen, Eddie House, or Darius Miles. Doc Rivers emerged as someone who looks like he can coach after his taking Phil Jackson to school in the NBA finals. Time will tell if this team is as motivated as it was last season. All signs point to yes.

2) Philadelphia 76ers - Trying to capture the Magic that the Celtics obtained last season, the Sixers set out to pick up an inside presence that would allow Reggie Evans to slide back into a better suited bench role. Elton Brand is just what the doctor ordered; or at least it looks like it on paper. Elton Brand is one of five current players to have career averages of 20 points and 10 rebounds a game. He's had a stellar career but has lacked success regardless of his location. Of course, playing with the Bulls post-Jordan and then suiting up for the Clippers for seven years doesn't give you many opportunities to be successful but now is his best opportunity to show that he's not just a player who puts up good numbers on bad teams. If he can't get it done this season, he's nothing more than Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Andre Iguodala had a solid season last year in response to the critics who bashed Iggy for turning down the contract extension he was offered the previous summer. Iguodala still got his big contract but his performance against the Pistons last postseason is enough to make people second guess his ability to lead and deliver in clutch, crucial situations. As far as point guards go in this league, there aren't many as effecient and effective as Andre Miller is. He never misses games, plays good defense and owns one of the best lob passes in the league. Samuel Dalembert continues to improve at the center position and players like Louis Williams, Thaddeus Young and Willie Green help form the identity of what looks like a promising team. As has been pointed out, their lack of three point shooting could hurt them when the playoffs come around but it won't prevent them from reaching the postseason.

3) Toronto Raptors - Last year was a setback in many ways for the Toronto Raptors players, franchise and fans. The arrival of Bryan Colangelo seemed like a match made in heaven and the 2006-2007 Raptors brought Chris Bosh to the spotlight, got Sam Mitchell a coach of the year award and gave big expectations to Andrea Bargnani entering his second year in the league. Sam Mitchell proceeded to mishandle (badly) the point guard situation with T.J. Ford and Jose Calderon. An injury to Chris Bosh midseason derailed the Raptors and they never recovered. And Andrea Bargnani? When he wasn't pulling down 3 rebounds a game he was shooting near 30 percent from the three point line. Because of his horrible sophomore slump last season, the Raptors looked for an inside presence that could put this team into contention for an Eastern Confrence crown. As far as big names are concerned, acquiring Jermaine O'Neal is a big deal (even if it would have looked much better a few years ago). The team had to part ways with T.J. Ford and Rasho Nesterovic but with Jose Calderon poised and ready to step into the starting point guard role and with Jermaine O'Neal replacing Rasho Nesterovic, this team should be better than what they were last season. Still, let's not fool ourselves. This is a team that was outsted from the playoffs in five games. Unless Jermaine O'Neal turns the clock back three years they will suffer, roughly, the same fate this season. O'Neal never lived up to that humongous contract that the Pacers gave him and it's hard to imagine that playing out of position alongside a player who is a better version of what O'Neal used to be is going to revive O'Neal's game and career. Jason Kapono is deadly from three point range but aside from that, the Raptors don't posses that type of wing player who's capable of taking over a game with his playmaking abilities. Anthony Parker is equally effecient from behind the arc but isn't as lethal a shooter or as much of a threat as Kapono is. Their lack of a true center and their lack of effective, effecient wing players will prevent the Raptors from making a huge splash in the postseason.

4) New Jersey Nets - If you entered last year expecting the Nets to make one last run at an Eastern Confrence crown with Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter then don't feel foolish. It seemed like a match made in heaven - Jason Kidd running the court with outstanding leapers Jefferson and Carter by his side. For whatever reason, that "big three" was never able to get past the semifinals and after watching last season's mediocre season unfold, the Nets went into firesale mode. But don't confuse this as rebuilding. This team has nothing to build around; except for the prospect of landing LeBron James in 2010. Gone are Kidd and Jefferson, in come the promising Yi Jianlian and the ever talented but annoyingly inconsistent Devin Harris to help reshape this Nets team. Jianlian faltered greatly down the stretch last year as he did not handle the 82 game season very well. It's hard to imagine playing for China in the Beijing Olympics helped matters but we'll see what steps he took to improve this season. Devin Harris has been on the cusp the past few years, people eager to see him take over and lead a team. He's yet to do so but posted solid numbers after leaving the Mavericks for Jersey last February. Vince Carter is there in contract and in scoring but not much else. He just seems to glide nowadays and is a shadow of the player that he was back in Toronto. Add that to the frontcourt by committee and it's hard to imagine this team being anything more than competitive this season. But look for them to make some progress this season, especially if Carter is traded by midseason.

5) New York Knicks - Oh, the New York Knicks. What's left to be said of this team that hasn't already been said? After five plus years of torture inflicted onto the fickle New York fanbase courtesy of Isiah Thomas, in comes Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni to save the day. Players love playing for D'Antoni's free spirit and light it up type of offense. Add that to the attractive market that is New York and the Knicks could be perceived as a team ready to turn the corner. Unfortunately, Isiah Thomas left this team stuck in the mud. With atrocious contracts being given to Eddy Curry, Jared Jeffries and Jerome James coupled with taking on ridiculous contracts of Stephon Marbury, Zach Randolph, Quentin Richardson, and Malik Rose, this team is in financial hell and God himself couldn't save them for this season or next. D'Antoni has his work cut out for him asking Curry and Randolph to leave the buffet table to run the floor and fit into his offense. If it looked awkward trying to incorporate Shaq into the Suns offense last season, one can imagine the fun of watching Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph running up and down the court and hustling. Good luck with that. Stephon Marbury seems like he would be a good fit for this offense, but didn't he look like a good fit alongside Kevin Garnett in Minnesota? Didn't he look like a good fit as the cornerstone in New Jersey? Didn't he look like a player who could bring the Suns what Jason Kidd couldn't? Looks can be deceiving. Stephon Marbury has underachieved on every team he's played for and aggrevated plenty of teammates and personnel over that period. The Knicks have players that fit the system in Richardson, Jamal Crawford, Nate Robinson and David Lee but the reigns of the D'Antoni offense will no longer be handled by Steve Nash, but instead should be headed by Chris Duhon. The only big time free agent acquisition for the Knicks is a low key guy who would be a solid backup on a really good team but hardly is a man to run a complex offense of overpaid crybabies nor is he a candidate to lead them anywhere. His "party boy" tendencies also could be further exposed with the New York media paying close attention to him. Look for New York fans to be extremely patient this year and with this roster as currently constructed, they'll need all that patience and then some.

Posted on: February 16, 2008 12:53 pm
Edited on: November 2, 2008 9:33 pm
 

Looking Back At GoHornets' Preseason Predictions

I figured the all star break is the best time to reflect at all preseason comments and predictions .. so why not take this time to boast .. brag .. make fun of myself and shake my head at all that I said before the opening tip off of the 2007-2008 season.

We will start with the Western Confrence. 

1) San Antonio Spurs - this was real close between them and Phoenix but I do believe that staying pat was the right thing for them to do.  Their age, though, may come into question when the playoffs start.

I still agree with that and feel that keeping the team as was was the smartest thing to do.  Only time will tell if they'll win but because of the Lakers and Suns trade my predictions were thrown out of whack.  I, though, do like the Spurs over both of them at this current time.  But as you'll soon see .. my predictions don't stand for much.

2) Phoenix Suns - As much as I've criticized them for their lack of defense there isn't a team that plays with more heart than this one.  A very good team full of good character players.  I'm not going out on a limb .. but I am saying they're my pick for champs this year.

I hate that I picked them to win it all.  It goes against my "Defense wins championships" motto .. but I figured they'd come in with a huge chip on their shoulder after last season.  Maybe the Shawn Marion trade demands hurt the team more than I thought it would .. but they look a lot more fresher with him out of there.  I don't think they'll win the title now but I have them as probably the 3rd best team in the west.

3) Houston Rockets - Yes I do have them ahead of Dallas.  I absolutely loved the moves that they made in the offseason and if Tracy McGrady's brittle back can hold up and if Yao can stay on the court (huge if's) they could be a sleeper to really make some strides this year.  But because of the injury history .. I'm taking a chance by placing them this high.

Ugh.  I hate Houston and always criticize their moves but I bought into the hype.  All offseason I said Van Gundy was so much better than Adelman and that firing him was a mistake .. but then they made the transactions they did and I bought the hype.  I back off of those current statements though they'll still make the playoffs.  I still don't think they'll make it out the 1st round though.

4) Utah Jazz - I do believe that Deron Williams is a player with a huge upside and I could go on for days about how much I love Carlos Boozer and his style of play.  I'm not a big fan of Mehmet Okur though .. and even though I am a huge fan of Andrei Kirilenko .. I'm wondering how he'll really adjust this season .. not only because of last year's dissapointment but also because of the offseason issues.

I pretty much agree with all of that

5) Dallas Mavericks - I know I'm giving them a huge drop off .. but I see it in order.  I'm really confused with this team because they have the most talent but I don't think they play with enough heart.  Not that they don't play hard every night .. but when things get rough .. fingers start getting pointed .. excuses start being made and unfortunately that's not the way to handle situations.  It's cost them the last two years and I don't see why things would change.

I agree with all of that as well.

6) Denver Nuggets - I like A.I. and 'Melo together .. but there's still not much about this team that scares me.  A.I. reverted back to his old ways in the playoffs .. and just because he notches assists doesn't mean he seamlessly gets his teammates involved.  Carmello is a nice talent but I think he's better as a second option type.

I still pretty much agree with this .. though I hope they're the team that doesn't make the playoffs.

7) New Orleans Hornets - I know this may be viewed as a homer pick but I don't believe that it is.  They have a ton of talent and the addition of Morris Peterson is huge for the team as he's someone that not only plays tough defense but also stretches the opposing defense with his shooting and tough nosed play.  The team usually gets hit with injuries every year .. but if they can somehow avoid it this year then a trip to the playoffs is in order, I believe.

I caught a lot of flack for putting the Hornets in the playoffs .. but everything I felt was justified.  They're playing good now and should finish a bit ahead of this 7th seed .. but barring some huge collapse .. they should still be in.

8) Golden State Warriors - I don't believe that they're a fluke .. but they are what they are.  They're not better than last year because they gave away Jason RichardsonBaron Davis is great .. but he's also been one with huge injury problems.  The team plays hard .. their fans are great .. but they didn't get any better than last season so I see them right where they were.

I still think they'll finish in the lower seedings in the West so I like this pick.  Only problem is I called Jason Richardson their best player.

9) Los Angeles Lakers - Regardless if Kobe gets traded or not .. I don't see them making it.  This is just not a good team .. there's no type of frontcourt .. and though I love Derek Fisher I don't see how he makes them that much better.  I expect a drop off from a team that's, believe it or not, overachieved the last couple years.  Lamar Odom has put up good numbers but sometimes you forget he's even out there.

I deserve a lot of flack for this one.  I said they had no front court (Andrew Bynum), I said they wouldn't make the playoffs (and then called them a championship contender in this blog), and I called them a bunch of overachievers.  Whoops.

10) Portland Trailblazers - A team well on the right track to something special.  The injury to Oden really hurts the team .. and though they have promise they're still a year or maybe even two away in my estimation.  I love Nate McMillan as a coach though.

I think that turned out pretty fair.

11) Memphis Grizzlies - They did the right move in kind of reshaping the team .. but they just seem so bland to me.  I don't have any reason to get excited about facing them (with the exception of Pau Gasol) and I don't really know which direction this team is heading in.  They'll be better than last year .. but after last year's abysmal season .. that's not saying much.

I agree with that.  Though I should have placed them lower.

12) Los Angeles Clippers - The loss of Elton Brand kills them .. and after last year's sky high expectations .. they're reverting back to the same ol' Clippers.  They've turned into a dissapointment again .. and this is another team where I'm just not sure in which direction they're going.

I agree with that still.

13) Seattle SuperSonics - A very talented team.  At the same time .. a very young team.  I think they will be good in due time but not as quickly as Portland will be.  Durant's exciting .. as is Jeff Green but I'm interested to see how Carleisimo handles the team because he's had a history of not handling young players well.  And that's all this team is.

I like that prediction as well.

14) Sacramento Kings - Mike Bibby has fallen off of the face of this Earth.  He must have held on for dear life and brought Brad Miller down with him.  This team is looking like another stale 33 win season .. or even worse .. and it won't be because of Theus.  I like him as a coach but this is not a good situation.  I look for at least Bibby to be traded by mid season .. if not Artest and/or Brad Miller as well.

Well I was calling for total rebuilding for them but they've turned out a solid team this year.  Though .. I don't see them as a championship contender the way they are .. and even if they stay pat .. they may make the playoffs next year but they won't make any noise.  They still have to make some moves to get back to the Kings of old.

15) Minnesota Timberwolves - At least they're not stuck in the "stale/bland" situation that I've labeled the Lakers, Grizzlies, and Kings with.  There's no hiding that they're rebuilding .. but as a result this year will be VERY tough.  As will next year, more than likely, .. and I don't like Randy Wittman as a coach.  They may be on the right path .. but they're right at the starting line.  It may be rough for them this year.

I still agree with that.  And then I made my playoff predictions.

Playoff Predictions:
Spurs over Warriors
Suns over Hornets
Rockets over Nuggets
Mavericks over Jazz

Spurs over Jazz
Suns over Rockets

Suns over Spurs

I have backtracked my statement of Suns beating the Spurs in a seven game series .. and though the Rockets could probably beat the Nuggets in a seven game series .. they're not gonna play them in the 1st round so .. still on the outside looking in as far as the semifinals is concerned.

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Oh but if you thought that was bad .. wait until you get a load of my Eastern confrence picks.

I will warn you to take my predictions with caution .. because my predictions for the 04-05 Pacers, 05-06 Pacers, and 06-07 Nets have not gone as planned.  So this year's prediction (the Wizards) must immediately put a hit out on me .. or hope that they can break the mold.

1) Cleveland Cavaliers - In a wide oppen Eastern Confrence .. I'm going to go with the only team that can have eleven average players and one fantastic one .. and still manage to win.  This is the East's version of the L.A. Lakers .. what helps them out is .. they play in the East.  I'm a big critic of LeBron's and thinks he gets a little too much attention (as far as the media is concerned) .. but that's my only gripe and his play is undeniable.  I think he's eclipsed Kobe Bryant as far as single best player in the NBA. It's fair to say they won't get the number one seed but they'll still be a really good team in the East.  I was a little premature in calling LeBron better than Kobe, though.

2) Boston Celtics - I do believe that they will be a good regular season team.  Danny Ainge got people to care for this team again and for that deserves a pat on the back.  Other than that, though .. I don't see them winning the title or even making it to the finals .. because none of the "big three" know how to win.  They're all career losers (for a lack of a better word) and where's the help going to come from?

I still kind of agree with that though I was kind of harsh calling them all losers.  I don't think they'll win the championship (I don't know why it's just a gut feeling I've always had .. but I had that same feeling about the 05-06 Heat) .. so who knows what's going to happen.

3) Chicago Bulls - A team that is right on the brink but doesn't have a big man that can score.  They have so many pieces in place .. but for some reason I just don't see hwo they can win a championship.  It's hard to explain .. I just don't see the "it" in them.  I believe Ben Wallace is past his prime .. and who knows how the team is going to react to everyone being on the trading block this offseason.

I was half right and half wrong on this.  Right when I said I didn't know how the team was going to react to everyone being on the trading block .. wrong when I said they would be a top tier team in the East.

4) Washington Wizards - My pick for the East is this team right here.  I don't know why .. since they can't play defense to save their lives .. but I love Gilbert Arenas and have a man crush on Caron Butler.  Jamison is playing in a contract year (as is Arenas) and I see huge production out of those two.  They play a lot of offense and very minimal defense .. and that will bite them when they play the west teams.  Lucky for them .. they don't play the western teams until possibly the finals.  So I'm giving them the dreaded vote of approval to win the East.

I don't know.  I look at my prediction and still don't see anything dreadfully wrong with it .. but they just have become bland to me.  I no longer look at Arenas as an elite player .. I think he's more infatuated with himself than he is winning .. but they may still make noise in the playoffs when fully healthy.  The problem is .. they're never fully healthy.

5) New Jersey Nets - This team is sort of bland.  Jason Kidd is great .. but Vince now has his contract .. and Jefferson's injury history has taken away a lot of his play .. to me anyways.  They still don't have a frontcourt .. and after Kidd .. their toughest player, Mikki Moore .. left.  So they will drop off in my estimation but will still be good enough to get the fifth seed.

Ehh .. I kind of foresaw the decline of the team but I had them at 5 which turned out to be too high.  I also had them ahead of ..

6) Detroit Pistons - My how the once mighty have fallen.  Speaking of bland teams .. this is right up there with them.  They've taken steps back in all positions .. mostly because of age.  Flip Saunders has waisted the last two years with the Pistons .. and unfortunately they just don't seem to play as motivated as they did before.  Nothing on this team excites me (except for Tayshaun Prince) and Billups and Hamilton both took drastic steps back in their game last year.

I'm eating serious crow pertaining to the Pistons and the Lakers.  I can't say anything except for I was wrong .. and putting the Wizards, Nets, and Bulls ahead of them looks horrendously idiotic now.  I still think Saunders will find a way to blow it in the playoffs, though.

7) Toronto Raptors - I'm a big fan of Toronto but don't see where they wind up stepping above anyone I've placed before them.  I like T.J. Ford and absolutely love Chris Bosh .. but the loss of Peterson hurts them.  They got great chemistry and I see them possibly moving up from this spot up to possibly even the second seed .. but I can't get a handle on them and don't think they'll win the division.

I still feel that way about them.  They're better than seventh but I still have a hard time getting a feel for them.

8) Orlando Magic - I pondered them and the Heat .. but I figured I'd go with the younger team that actually has a bit of excitement to them.  They overpayed immensely for Rashard Lewis .. and I'm not sure that Jameer Nelson is the guy at point guard.  Who knows what happened to J.J. Reddick .. and Turkoglu is as streaky a player as I've ever seen.  But Dwight Howard himself should will this team to the playoffs .. but I don't see them making much noise when they get there.

I still don't see them making it deep in the playoffs .. but they're better than eighth.  Who knows what they'll do when they make it though.

9) Miami Heat - I'm probably making a mistake by not putting them in .. but Dwyane Wade will be starting this season on the injured list.  Shaq is also a year older .. and boy did he look sad at times last year.  He's not at all the player he once was .. but that happens to everyone.  It's just he's been "invinceible" for so long that to see him deteoriate like that really shocked me.  This is a team on the downside.

This is a team on the downside.  Unfortunately .. I don't regret not putting them in the postseason and they've declined so rapidly that they can't even sniff the playoffs.  Even in that pathetic eastern confrence.

10) Atlanta Hawks - I really like this team but I just can't put them in the playoffs this year.  Joe Johnson is fantastic .. and the potential .. the players .. it's there.  They strike me as an Eastern version of Portland .. and I guess it's a coincidence I placed both them and Portland in 10th in their respective confrences.  Josh Smith is great as well .. and the two rookies were smart picks .. but I don't know how it will all come together.  I wouldn't be shocked if they made the postseason though .. and if things keep on the right path .. they should make it by next season.

I stand by that.  I hope they make the playoffs though.

11) Indiana Pacers - Speaking of how the once mighty have fallen.  I don't think the trade with Golden State killed them last year .. but they did take a raw deal.  Jermaine O'Neal is the only player on this team that would really scare me.  Other than that there's not much to them .. and O'Neal himself isn't guaranteed to play half a year with his past injury history.  Who knows what direction this team is going to go in.

I still stand by that.  I caught a lot of flack from Pacers fans for this pick too.  Other than hurricane .. none of them are anywhere to be found any longer.

12) Philadelphia 76ers - I like this team and want to think that they'll build upon how they did without Allen Iverson last year .. but I don't see that happening.  Andre Igoudala did great last year .. but I wonder if he'll be able to surpass that this year .. which he'll need to do to get this team in the playoffs.  Andre Miller is one of the best pure point guards in the league because of his passing ability .. but that's basically all he's got is his passing. 

I'm content with that.

13) New York Knicks - I don't like to put them so low but .. man I don't like the Randolph trade.  Now they have two carbon copies of basically the same player with Zack Randolph and Eddy Curry.  The only difference is Randolph can kind of pass out of the paint (and Curry can't pass at all) .. but who do they pass it out to?  Jamaal Crawford, Stephon Marbury, Quentin Richardson, and company are only streaky at best.  And though I want to be wrong here because I really like the guy .. I don't see how much Allan Houston can do for them.  And on a side note .. man how bad do the Jared Jeffries and Jerome James signings look?

I look like a genius with that pick.

14) Charlotte Bobcats - I keep wanting to move them up but just can't.  I actually am one of the few who liked the Jason Richardson deal because it gives them a player who can score now.  But losing Sean May (AGAIN) for the whole year hurts .. Okafor's not very dependable as far as staying on the court is concerned (fouls and injuries) and Raymond Felton is a good player but not a good shooter.  All that factors into another bitter season for them .. which will probably start frustrating the fans.

I still stand by that.  I do hope they make the playoffs though.

15) Milwaukee Bucks - I want to put them up here and I will probably get flack for putting them so low but the drafting of Yi Jianlin made no sense to me and I don't know how Maurice Williams will play now that he's got his contract.  On the flip side .. he did turn down Miami to stay here .. so maybe I'm making a mistake by questioning his drive.  Michael Redd is fantastic .. but he's a one trick pony.  He just shoots.  He's great at what he does .. but I think he's a tad overrated as far as his salary is concerned.

I still stand by that as well.  And then I made my playoff predictions in the East.

Playoff Predictions:
Cavs over Magic
Celtics over Raptors
Bulls over Pistons
Wizards over Nets

Wizards over Cavs
Bulls over Celtics

Wizards over Bulls

And then I have Suns over Wizards in the NBA finals.

I had a lot of people telling me the Bulls wouldn't beat the Pistons in a seven game series and they all were right.  I don't know what I was thinking with Suns and Wizards .. I now would take a safe pick and predict Spurs-Celtics in the NBA finals .. but overall I wasn't horrendously bad in my pre season predictions.  I had some foreshadowing in there and some bad decisions (Lakers, Pistons) .. but overall I thought it was OK.  It's always fun to look back and see what you got right and wrong though .. and I'm not as stupid as I sound sometimes haha.  Take them for what they are .. these are GoHornets21's preseason predictions revisited.

 
 
 
 
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