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Tag:Roger Mason
Posted on: November 13, 2009 2:27 pm
 

Making The Argument For Jeff Bower

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do I want to accept losing and do I want to make excuses for Jeff Bower?  No.  But I understand the situation and I know why the team made the moves they did.  So I can't, in the same breath, sit and blame Bower for the same team that he was praised for a few years ago.  He tried to shake things up and keep the team competitive even though the franchise was over the luxury tax this offseason.  He still may; you never know.  As the interim coach now, it's basically his chance to win with the players he put together or bring in a big time coach who can win (Tim Floyd is not the answer and if he hires him as Head Coach I demad that this post be stricken from the records and I will personally call for Bower's termintation).  I still have hope in the Hornets and if the franchise decides to strip it bare and build it back up again, I would like Bower to still be the general manager of the team.  Why?  Because he's oversaw a rebuilding process that resulted in a big turnaround before.  There's reason for me to believe he could do it again.
Posted on: May 3, 2009 3:34 pm
Edited on: May 10, 2009 7:44 pm
 

2009 NBA Postseason First Round Review

My Postseason Preview - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/

entry/5993128/14555500


Eastern Conference
(1)
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (8) Detroit Pistons - The Cavs came into the postseason determined and really took it to Detroit in all areas of the game.  Defensively the Pistons had no answer for LeBron James and the anemic play of their three stars (Tayshaun Prince, Richard Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace) resulted in just absolute destruction from beginning to end. 
My Prediction: Cavaliers in five
Result: Cavaliers in four
Where I Was Right: I mentioned that the opposite ends at which these teams were entering the postseason was going to affect how they could perform.  The Pistons frontcourt was small enough to where the Cavs' lack of size wouldn't be such a flaw. 
Where I Was Wrong: I mentioned that the Pistons would be competitive in their games in Detroit and that Mo Williams would probably struggle in this series.  Williams' shot was inconsistent but for the most part he was solid as the team's second option.  The Pistons never really posed much of a threat to Cleveland aside from the first half of game one in Cleveland.  It was sad to watch that proud franchise go out the way it did.

(4) Atlanta Hawks vs. (5) Miami Heat - This series has been really bad to watch because it hasn't given us great basketball from either team.  For three games the Hawks have played terrific defense, for three games the Heat have taken it to the basket and gotten to the line and have made their three point shots.  Neither team has shown any kind of consistency and the fact that it's gone to seven isn't fitting, seeing as how there hasn't been much competition or consistency from either squad.
My Predicton: Hawks in seven
Result: Hawks in seven
Where I Was Right: I mentioned that Al Horford would be huge for Atlanta and would most likely have a very good series against Miami.  His injury may have slowed him down near the end of the series but he really was the difference as the Heat had no options down low.  I stated that home court would be crucial in this series and, although both teams dropped one game at home, the fact that game seven was in Atlanta was the difference between these two teams. 
Where I Was Wrong: I looked for every home team to win and was wrong in stating that would happen.  I envisioned this series being the best in the entire postseason and it's been one of the more unwatchable ones from start to finish.

(3) Orlando Magic vs. (6) Philadelphia 76ers - This series was highlighted by three buzzer beating shots and gave plenty of tough basketball from both teams.  Dwight Howard's lack of touches in the clutch got plenty of attention and Stan Van Gundy's pose on the sidelines was brought into question multiple times throughout the series.  All that considered, the Magic's two losses were by buzzer beaters where three of their victories were convincing victories.
My Prediction: Magic in six
Result: Magic in six
Where I Was Right: I stated that Andre Iguodala would have to basically do it by himself if the 76ers were to win and stated he'd be unable to do so.  He got contributions from Andre Miller but Iguodala never commanded attention as the best player on the team, and he needed to be for them to win.  I figured Samuel Dalembert and Theo Ratliff would be left one on one with Howard but stated that it would be for naught if Howard was assertive.  Also, I figured Turkoglu would struggle due to the injury, although it was probably his shot selection that was more questionable.
Where I Was Wrong: Not to sound cocky but my preview was pretty spot on, although I stated it would be the least interesting series and this postseason was full of uninteresting series.  So I guess I was wrong in that regard.

(2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Chicago Bulls - If not for this series, the first round would have been full of uninteresting, unmotivated players and performances.  However, both teams here played fantastic basketball from start to finish and really brought out the best in eachother.  It had theatrics on the bench, the young upstart squad versus the defending champions, fantastic buzzer beaters and tremendous basketball.  It's a shame one of these squads had to lose, but the Celtics earned this on the court.
My Prediction: Celtics in seven
Result: Celtics in seven
Where I Was Right: I mentioned that Rajon Rondo would be huge in this series as it was important for him to win the one on one battle with Derrick Rose with Kevin Garnett on the bench.  I also stated that Rose would be key for the Bulls if they were to win, and both of those guards did not dissapoint.  I also mentioned that the fact that the Bulls weren't great scoring in the point wouldn't be exposed because of Garnett's absence, and they managed to allow big men like Brad Miller and Tyrus Thomas shoot jumpers from all areas on the court.
Where I Was Wrong: I mentioned that the Celtics would win on the defensive end, but they actually won by outscoring the offensive Bulls.  I was surprised they went that route, but it looked as if they had no other options.  Either way, the Celtics still found ways to win and I figured they would.

Western Conference
(1)
Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Utah Jazz - From start to finish the Jazz looked out of place on the court with the Lakers.  They played hard but their bad play down the stretch continued on the defensive end here in the first round.  Andrew Bynum's comeback looked very promising at the end of the season, but his play in this series could bring future questions for the Lakers in the postseason.
My Prediction: Lakers in five
Result: Lakers in five
Where I Was Right: I mentioned that Lamar Odom would be huge for the Lakers as he consistently dominates Utah when he's in the game and by the end of the series he was starting in place of Andrew Bynum.  I also mentioned that nobody outside of Deron Williams was playing consistent ball for Utah and that it was on Carlos Boozer to step up and help them matchup with Los Angeles. 
Where I Was Wrong: I did mention that every game would be tough and that the Lakers would have to fight to win, but the Lakers really took it to them from start to finish.  Unfortunately for Utah they just never had a chance in this series and it took an attrocious shooting night in game 3 from Kobe Bryant for them to steal one game in the series.

(4) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (5) Houston Rockets - Coming into the series, the Trail Blazers were the popular pick to make a run at the Lakers and give them trouble in the semifinals, and they proceeded to get destroyed in game 1 on their home court.  After that loss, they never gained any momentum in this series and it never felt like they'd have a chance to win. 
My Prediction: Trail Blazers in six
Result: Rockets in six
Where I Was Right: I did mention that Houston was more talented but that it would all be mental with them.  I guess I was at least right that the Rockets were the more talented bunch.
Where I Was Wrong: I mentioned that Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla would give Yao Ming fits and Ming just took it to them and was unstoppable around the basket.  I also mentioned that the fact the Rockets didn't have Tracy McGrady would hurt, since I assumed they'd have no one to take the shots in the clutch.  But Aaron Brooks, Luis Scola, Shane Battier and Ron Artest went and gave them critical baskets in stretches when they needed them.  They had a "closer by committee" and that worked against Portland.  I also stated that the Rockets would mentally question if they could win this series, and there wasn't a more confident bunch in the entire first round of the playoffs. 

(3) San Antonio Spurs vs. (6) Dallas Mavericks - This series pitting two division rivals against one another seemed to be one that was sure to bring fireworks from start to finish, but the Mavericks really dominated the Spurs on both sides of the court and gave them fits from all angles.  The Spurs only had Tony Parker and Tim Duncan show up while the Mavericks had five players every night that gave tremendous production and really just overpowered the Spurs.
My Prediction: Mavericks in seven
Result: Mavericks in five
Where I Was Right: I mentioned that the Mavericks abundance of options and Dirk Nowitzki alone always gives the Spurs troubles and has forever.  It proved right again in this series.  I stated the Mavs would have no answer for Tony Parker and he would be huge but the fact that the Mavericks had better role players would be what gave them the edge.  I also stated that Jose Juan Barea would be a huge factor for the Mavericks off the bench and he really gave the Spurs fits on both ends of the court.  I mentioned the Spurs would need to rely on players like Roger Mason Jr. to play better since they were going to miss Manu Ginobili, but that I wasn't sure if he would be huge in the postseason.
Where I Was Wrong: I was wrong in imagining that the series would go seven games but I covered all bases and really thought Dallas would win.

Oh no, now onto this next series.

(2) Denver Nuggets vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets - In a matchup of two teams entering the playoffs on two opposite runs (Denver was hot going into the postseason whereas the Hornets stumbled entering the playoffs), the Nuggets thoroughly exposed the Hornets as the least talented team in the entire postseason.  A dominating performance by Denver was highlighted by a 58 point game 4 victory in New Orleans
My Prediction: Hornets in six
Result: Nuggets in five
Where I Was Right: I gave the Nuggets the edge on the bench and I mentioned that the frontcourt would kill Chandler and Sean Marks, both which happened.  But anything I said would go right for New Orleans went wrong ...
Where I Was Wrong: I was pretty much wrong in all areas in this series.  I stated Tyson Chandler would be huge as I thought his injury had healed, I mentioned that David West would really shine and stated the Nuggets would struggle trying to contain Chris Paul.  However it was Chauncey Billups who the Hornets had no answer for, Kenyon Martin really took it to West and Chandler was awful on both sides of the court.  I also mentioned this would be a tightly contested series, which was obviously wrong.

Posted on: April 16, 2009 11:54 pm
Edited on: May 10, 2009 7:45 pm
 

2008-2009 NBA Postseason Predictions

 Team By Team Previews
Western Conference:
1) Los Angeles Lakers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14206197

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

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

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

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

6) Dallas Mavericks - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14440073

7) New Orleans Hornets - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14427724

8) Utah Jazz - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14393609

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

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

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

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

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

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

7) Chicago Bulls - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14504657

8) Detroit Pistons - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14467742

1st Round Matchups
Eastern Conference

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (8) Detroit Pistons - The Pistons bring their experience to Cleveland to stand opposite the Cavaliers. The Cavs are really riding a huge wave of momentum into the postseason, the complete opposite way which Detroit is entering the playoffs. The Cavs have beaten the Pistons the last time they played in the postseason as well, and there's no reason for Detroit's intimidation factor to affect Cleveland. This is a solid matchup for the Cavs, because their lack of size won't affect them as the Pistons, likewise, lack significant size in their frontcourt.
Prediction: Cavaliers in five.
Cavaliers Player to Watch: Mo Williams - It will be interesting to see how Williams, the Cavs' second option, responds to having that kind of pressure on him in the postseason.
Pistons Player to Watch: Kwame Brown - With the Cavaliers lack of size, Brown can continue his solid play down the stretch with solid defense on Zydrunas Ilgauskas if called upon. He can really help the Pistons if he elevates his play.

(4) Atlanta Hawks vs. (5) Miami Heat - Dwyane Wade and the Heat are a tough out for anybody in the postseason, including an unproven playoff team like the Hawks. The Hawks are still a tough team to take seriously, although we all should, and they can look at that as a rallying cry. This is the most even matchup in the entire Eastern Conference, and the Hawks fantastic play at home should help this squad get out of the first round for the first time since 1999. Dwyane Wade and company will put up a fantastic effort, but I look for every home team to win in this series.
Prediction: Hawks in seven.
Hawks Player to Watch: Al Horford - The Heat's lack of a true center should speak for a good series for Al Horford. Also, the Hawks are nearly unstoppable when Horford averages over 15 points a game. So his play is critical for the advancement of Atlanta.
Heat Player to Watch: Michael Beasley - Beasley is entering the postseason on a tear, and if he can continue to be that consistent second option for Miami then the Heat have the chance to pull off the upset.

(3) Orlando Magic vs. (6) Philadelphia 76ers - This is a matchup of slumping teams running head to head and will probably provide the least interesting of all of the playoff matchups in the NBA. The 76ers, even though they'll throw Samuel Dalembert and Theo Ratliff at him, really have no answer for Dwight Howard. Andre Iguodala will have to do it by himself and I don't believe he's the kind of player capable of doing that. Also, his dissapointing performance in last season's playoffs has to weigh on his mind. However, Hedo Turkoglu's injury is something to look for in Orlando.
Prediction: Magic in six.
Magic Player to Watch: Hedo Turkoglu - It will be intersting to see how he plays with this injured ankle. This team can really take off if he can somehow go back to the style of play and consistency he showed last season.
76ers Player to Watch: Samuel Dalembert - His defense on Dwight Howard will be critical for the 76ers chances to advance. However, he's had moments where he dissapears.

(2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Chicago Bulls - Without Kevin Garnett, the Bulls lack of inside scoring can really be masked in this first round matchup. These two units play spectacular basketball at home and can really put points on the board. The key will be which team can make the defensive stops when it's necessary to get them. The defending champions, even without their defensive leader Garnett, have experience doing so and can really put the inexperienced Bulls on the ropes. I look for the Bulls to put up a great fight, and push the C's to seven but I look for the Celtics to somehow prevail.
Prediction: Celtics in seven.
Celtics Player to Watch: Rajon Rondo - Rondo's play in this series is going to be crucial for Boston. Without Garnett, the teams are very evenly matched and Rondo's defense on Derrick Rose will be key for the Celtics.
Bulls Player to Watch: Derrick Rose - The Rookie of the Year will have a lot of pressure playing point guard in his first postseason against the defending champions. He can really blow skeptics away or he can struggle against the insurmountable odds.

Western Conference

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Utah Jazz - The Lakers get the unfortunate task of facing the inconsistent Utah Jazz in the first round. The Lakers should be confident, seeing as how Utah simply cannot win on the road, but the Jazz always give the Lakers fits. Kobe Bryant and company, though, should replicate last season's conference semifinals and really look to push Utah to the limit. Nobody outside of Deron Williams is really playing consistently for Utah, and he simply cannot do it alone. The Jazz will put up a fight in every single game, but they don't have the weapons or the confidence to pull games out.
Prediction: Lakers in five.
Lakers Player to Watch: Lamar Odom - Odom always plays well against the Jazz, and coming off of the bench he can match up against Andrei Kirilenko and really take it to the Jazz. Without pressure Odom always seems to shine, and this is a perfect chance for the Lakers to develop a playoff rotation that includes Odom on the bench.
Jazz Player to Watch: Carlos Boozer - Boozer struggled mightily last season against the Lakers and without him scoring inside, the Jazz are simply a jump shooting team. That plays well into the Lakers' hands, so it's on Boozer to improve from last season's (and mainly this season's) performance.

(4) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (5) Houston Rockets - The Rockets were coming into the postseason on a huge positive note, but stumbling to the 5th seed and having to face Portland is not what the Dr. ordered for a team looking to make it out of the first round for the first time since 1998. It's all mental with the Rockets, and Yao Ming should really be a force, but Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden are big enough to stay in front of Yao and really alter his shots. With that being negated, the Rockets must rely on Ron Artest, Aaron Brooks and Von Wafer and none of the three shoot consistently enough to match the late game heroics of Brandon Roy.
Prediction: Trail Blazers in six.
Trail Blazers Player to Watch: Greg Oden - He's dissapointed all season long, but his defensive capabilities give the Blazers a lot of hope in their matchup with Yao Ming. If he can stay out of foul trouble, he can give the Blazers a good 20-25 minutes of solid defense on Yao and has the best size to matchup with the Rockets center.
Rockets Player to Watch: Kyle Lowry - Aaron Brooks is the better offensive player, but Lowry will most likely draw the assignment of guarding when he's in the game. His defense will be critical if he can slow down Roy for stretches and affect his confidence for the late game situations when Roy will be forced to take the shot for Portland.

(3) San Antonio Spurs vs. (6) Dallas Mavericks - The Spurs pulled off an amazing run to win the Southwest Division, but if there's one team that always troubles the Spurs it's the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks have peaked at the right time and are entirely capable of winning games in San Antonio. Tim Duncan always plays fantastic ball against Dallas, but the same can be said for Dirk Nowitzki matching up against San Antonio. The role players will be huge in this matchup, as will Tony Parker, but the Mavs role players (Jason Terry, Josh Howard, Brandon Bass) should give the Mavericks the edge they need to pull the upset.
Prediction: Mavericks in seven.
Spurs Player to Watch: Roger Mason Jr. - With Manu Ginobili out, Mason's contributions will be critical. After an unbelievable first half to the season, he's been rather inconsistent as of late. If he can provide good minutes and consistently hit his jump shot, the Spurs will be in great shape.
Mavericks Player to Watch: Jose Juan Barea - Coming off of the bench, Barea has the speed to really give Tony Parker fits when the Mavs have the ball. If he can come in and play well alongside either Jason Kidd or Jason Terry, the Mavericks will really have a leg up in the matchup.

(2) Denver Nuggets vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets - This is a fantastic matchup here as the Hornets and Nuggets engage in a tightly contested head to head battle. Chris Paul may be too quick for Chauncey Billups to guard one on one, and if the Nuggets go to Anthony Carter that will give the Hornets the advantage defensively seeing as how Carter struggles with his shot. The Nuggets frontcourt could provide a lot of problems for the Hornets, especially Chris Andersen, who can really provide problems for Tyson Chandler and Sean Marks. When called upon, though, the acquisition of James Posey will pay off with his defense on Carmelo Anthony in this tough matchup.
Prediction: Hornets in six
Nuggets Player to Watch: J.R. Smith - Coming off of the bench, J.R. Smith gives the Nuggets a huge advantage with his ability to take games over with his shot making ability. However, he takes possesions off on defense and can also shoot the Nuggets out of games, so he has to one day his erratic play to be fully helpful to the Nuggets.
Hornets Player to Watch: Tyson Chandler - Coming off of an injury, Chandler should be monitored. If he doesn't play many minutes then that could prove to be a huge problem for the Hornets. However, the Hornets are infinitely better when Chandler plays and it will be crucial to see to it that he contributes as much as possible.
 


Conference Semifinals
Eastern Conference

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (4) Atlanta Hawks - The Cavaliers will still be riding that wave of emotion heading into the semifinals after their dispatching of the Pistons. However, they're going to run into a tough, battle tested Hawks squad that could steal a game in Cleveland. Joe Johnson and LeBron James give the fans quite the one on one matchup and fans will be tuned in to watch those two go at it. However, Cleveland's role players outshine Atlanta's in critical spots and the Cavs will escape in seven.
Prediction: Cavaliers in seven.
Cavaliers Player to Watch: Zydrunas Ilgauskas - There's no reason anywhere near his height in Atlanta, and he can really pull defenders away from the basket with his jump shot. If he has a big series, the Cavaliers will undoubtedly advance.
Hawks Player to Watch: Ronald Murray - Murray is the best player on a shallow Atlanta bench, and he can really jumpstart Atlanta's role players and give the Hawks a ton of energy in spots where they least expect to receive it.

(2) Boston Celtics vs. (3) Orlando Magic - Without Garnett, Dwight Howard looks to dominate against Boston and may very well do so. These two squads meet head to head and give a fantastic first four games in this series and the series should head back to Boston tied at 2 apiece. However, the Celtics will miss Garnett as they look fatiqued from a tough series with the Bulls. That gives the Magic an opportunity to steal a game and close out the series in Orlando. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen will really shine in this series, but Boston's lack of options will do them in.
Prediction: Magic in six.
Celtics Player to Watch: Glen Davis - Assuming he'll be playing the power forward position without Kevin Garnett in the lineup, he can really get his shot off against the smaller Magic. His ability to knock down the 15 footer could really help open the floor up for Boston.
Magic Player to Watch: Rashard Lewis - With the Celtics throwing out a bigger, slower lineup Lewis can really put the Magic over the top. He'll create the fantastic offensive mismatch for Orlando if he remains aggressive and looks to take it to the basket more than settling for his jump shot. Furthermore, he's long and quick enough to guard Davis and Powe if he stays out of foul trouble.

Western Conference

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (4) Portland Trail Blazers - Coming off of facing the Jazz, the Lakers match up with another hated rival in Portland and have to be worried about this contest. The Lakers struggle against Portland, especially at Portland, and the Trail Blazers are one of the dangerous teams playing with no expectation to win. The Trail Blazers should give the Lakers lots of fits, but the Lakers have the best player on the court in Kobe Bryant, and have players outside of Kobe who can hit the big shot to win crucial games. The Blazers really will give the Lakers all they can handle and should take them to seven games.
Prediction: Lakers in seven.
Lakers Player to Watch: Andrew Bynum - Portland has very servicable big men, so Bynum's effort, play and intensity level should speak volumes on if the Lakers will advance or not. If he isn't as commanding as he can be, then the Lakers may have to go small with Odom and Gasol in the lineup instead.
Trail Blazers Player to Watch: LaMarcus Aldridge - Going up against Pau Gasol or Lamar Odom, Aldridge is talented enough to get his points against either of those defenders. If he takes to the basket more often and stays aggressive, then the Lakers will be hard pressed to find options to stop him. However, he has a tendency to fall in love with the jump shot and that could hurt the Blazers more than help them.

(6) Dallas Mavericks vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets - In this matchup of underdogs to advance, the Hornets and Mavericks both should count their blessings to be so close to the conference finals. These two teams will meet up for the second straight postseason, providing a lot of intense moments of basketball. However, the Mavericks have always struggled with the combination of Chris Paul and David West. Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Brandon Bass always give the Hornets trouble, but Nowitzki will be guarded closely by James Posey and the Hornets can allow Peja Stojakovic to run relatively free, giving the Hornets the series victory.
Prediction: Hornets in six.
Mavericks Player to Watch: Brandon Bass - Bass has always given the Hornets fits since signing as a free agent from New Orleans a few years ago. His strength, speed and ability to hit the mid range jump shot give the Hornets plenty of fits and he really can take over games if given significant minutes by Rick Carlisle.
Hornets Player to Watch: Peja Stojakovic - Peja's struggled mightily against more physical teams, but the Mavericks usually throw Josh Howard at Peja, and Peja generally gives the Mavericks problems. If he's able to run free and hit his jump shot, like he did last postseason, the Hornets will dispose of the Mavericks.


Eastern Conference Finals

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (3) Orlando Magic - LeBron James should really dominate in this matchup, as the Magic simply have no answer for him. Courtney Lee will provide the best line of defense, but having to rely so many minutes to a rookie could hurt the Magic on the offensive side of the basketball. Dwight Howard may go off in this matchup as well, but his role players will be hard pressed to knock down the jump shot consistently against the fantastic defense of Cleveland's.
Prediction: Cavaliers in five.
Cavaliers Player to Watch: LeBron James - When times get thick, your best player is the one that can carry you out of tough situations. The Cavaliers will all feed off of the play of their MVP and if he plays well, the team will play well.
Magic Player to Watch: Courtney Lee - His defense on LeBron will be crucial, and if he can stay in front of and attempt to contain LeBron then the Magic can allow Howard to really take adavantage of Cleveland's lack of strength inside.

Western Conference Finals

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets - The Lakers, after two extremely draining matches will now be faced off with the postseason's cinderella team. However, the Hornets will be vexed from their two tough series as well, and their lack of size will finally come back to hurt them. Players like Odom and Bynum always perform well against the Hornets lack of height and the Lakers have more options to turn to than the Hornets do. They'll both be tired, but the Lakers have much more talent than New Orleans does and that will be enough for the Lakers to advance.
Prediction: Lakers in five.
Lakers Player to Watch: Pau Gasol - The Hornets have no option to defend Pau Gasol. He can basically get his shot off at will against David West or Tyson Chandler and can really take over the series and give the Lakers the easy victory.
Hornets Player to Watch: James Posey - Posey was brought to this team for critical spots like these, and he will be assigned the task of guarding Kobe Bryant. Posey will look to feed off of last season's finals to get into Kobe's head, and if he can stay in front of Kobe and keep him around a percentage near 40%, the Hornets will be in contention.


NBA Finals

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (1) Los Angeles Lakers - And now for the matchup that the nation, David Stern and ESPN want and that haters across the world will despise. Kobe Bryant and LeBron James will match up head to head in a battle between the two best teams in the NBA all season long. Coming into the finals, both teams will have been tested although the Lakers will have had the tougher time getting there. The Cavaliers can use Los Angels' fatique to their advantage for at least the first game of the series, but after a co uple days rest, the Lakers should shock Cleveland in game 2 on their home court. Once the series returns to Los Angeles, the Lakers should really use their size to their advantage and pound it into the paint against Cleveland's smaller lineup. LeBron's heroics will be tested against the defense of Trevor Ariza and the Lakers bench will do just enough to send the series back to Cleveland with the Lakers ahead 3-2. With a fantastic sixth game being held in Cleveland, the game of the year will come down to the wire but the Lakers prove to be too much for Cleveland and take the series.
Prediction: Lakers in six.
Cavaliers Player to Watch: Daniel Gibson - Gibson can be the true catalyst for a Cavaliers bench that is deep in body's but shallow in terms of point production. If he can come in and hit the three point shot consistently, that should bring more to the table nightly than anybody the Lakers can throw off of the bench. He also can spell either guard in critical moments and has hit big shots in the postseason before, and should be comfortable taking them when called upon.
Lakers Player to Watch: Trevor Ariza - His athleticism and defensive prowress will really come into play here against the Cavaliers. He's quite possibly the best option to defense LeBron as he is strong enough to where LeBron can't entirely muscle Ariza and Ariza's quick enough to stay in front of him as well. If he makes the open jump shot as well, that makes things all the better for the Lakers.

Posted on: April 3, 2009 12:09 am
Edited on: May 10, 2009 7:42 pm
 

2009 NBA Playoff Preview: San Antonio Spurs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well now that teams are clinching divisions and spots in the postseason I thought it would be cool to go ahead and preview each team that is going to be a part of the 2009 NBA Postseason. I will do one for each team as they clinch a playoff spot and since we already have teams that have clinched, we will start with them. Now we will continue with a team that has won four championships in ten seasons: the San Antonio Spurs.

Strengths
You look at the Spurs and you look at a core group of players that have been there and done that and have no problem doing it again. Tim Duncan and Greg Popovich both have four rings, and Tony Parker, Bruce Bowen, and Manu Ginobili each sport three championship rings and that alone is worth giving your vote of confidence to the San Antonio Spurs.  The Spurs ability to play their style on the road and win on the road has spurred (no pun intended) a very successful stretch that has seen the Spurs win four championships in ten NBA seasons.  Their emphasis on defense, amazing ability to shoot the three point shot, letting that shot stretch the defense and allow Tim Duncan room to opperate and Pop's uncanny ability to find and manage players that can fill roles and provide key plays for the Spurs have allowed the franchise to be great for all of recent history.  They've won at least one playoff series every year since Tim Duncan came into the league in 1997, minus the 2000 playoffs which Tim Duncan missed due to injury. 

The Spurs defense is having an off year but you know that, even through Bruce Bowen and Jacque Vaughn have seen limited minutes all season, they and players like Kurt Thomas will will step in and provide tough, tenacious minutes on their opposing man and provide the frustration necessary for great team defenders in Manu and Tony to possibly create turnovers and lead to fast break opportunities for the Spurs.  And when the Spurs get on offense, they have a perfect inside-outside game that makes them dangerous from all angles.  They have two of the top ten players percentage wise from behind the three point line in Roger Mason Jr. and Matt Bonner.  Other players like Manu Ginobili, Bruce Bowen and Michael Finley can and have hit big three point shots in the postseason when called upon.  And of course, Tim Duncan is possibly the best power forward of this generation.  He can step out and hit the 20 footer and his footwork makes him nearly unstoppable around the basket as well.  He's nearly unguardable.  Add to the fact that players like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili also thrive driving to the basket, and the Spurs get to the free throw line a respectable amount of times as well.

Weaknesses
Age and athleticism have been brought up as problems since around the 2006 postseason loss to Dallas for the Spurs.  Tim Duncan and Tony Parker have actually thrived this season, but Manu's problems with injury and a reliance on older players like Bowen, Vaughn, Finley and Thomas may prove to be tough for the Spurs as minutes and games stretch out with time.  We've seen them play against younger, athletic teams this season and really struggle to stop them.  Since they've played Mason at the shooting guard position and Matt Bonner at center, the Spurs have given up a lot as far as defense is conerned.  Bruce Bowen and Fabricio Oberto usually stood in at those positions for the Spurs and neither hardly gets into the game, although that seems like it will change for Bowen in the postseason.  The Spurs also seem to have an infatuation with the three point shot, and sometimes can get caught up taking too many of them, instead of driving to the hoop and creating offense in the paint.  Granted, Tim Duncan is the only person who you can give the ball to under the basket and watch him create, but you can't have too many games where you shoot 4 for 20 something from beyond the arc.

Also, depth may prove to be a problem for this Spurs team.  They've always brought Manu off of the bench as a coaching ploy, and Pop should look to do that this year as well, but Tony Parker has played a lot of minutes this season for this Spurs team and George Hill, as a rookie, doesn't figure to get many minutes in the postseason.  When Parker goes to the bench, Jacque Vaughn comes in and provides effecient basketball, but can't hit a jumper to save his life, and Roger Mason sometimes handles the ball but he can be turnover prone at the point guard position.  Fact of the matter is, although Tony Parker is one of the biggest workhorses in this league, you have to wonder if his body can hold up and if it can't then the Spurs are in big trouble.  Also, because of Manu's inability to stay healthy this season, a sense of chemistry and continuity seems to be lacking on this Spurs team that has been prominet on previous squads.  That all still has time to be worked out, but could be a problem in early rounds, and the Spurs aren't guaranteed a first round victory this season.

Why They Will Win It
The Spurs have been there, done that, and this is an odd year, which bodes will for San Antonio's pride and joy.  They shoot the three point ball well, they play solid defense and they have the best low post player in the game in Tim Duncan.  With all of those intangibles, it's hard to ever count the Spurs out of championship conversations.  They can beat you in so many ways and are actually a versatile squad that can outscore you if called upon (see the Phoenix series of the past few years).  But still, the Spurs bread and butter is slow, grind it out defensive basketball which usually is the poster of postseason basketball.  They're a team that's always confident and always seems to be built for the postseason.

Why They Won't Win It
Continuity is a problem with this team.  Ime Udoka, Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas, Jacque Vaughn and George Hill have had inconsistent minute distributions all season and therefore you don't really know who's going to be where in what situation.  Drew Gooden was added to give another low post scoring threat, but he's been eased very slowly into the rotation and still doesn't look completely comfortable.  Add to the fact that the Spurs may have a tendency to rely on the three point shot too much this season, and they can catch themselves becoming jump shooters.  They've also had problems keeping Manu healthy all season, and even if he plays, if he's not 100% it's going to hurt the Spurs (see last season's Western Conference Finals).

Conclusion
History tells us the Spurs are on in these odd years.  Tim Duncan and company have been there, done that, and will always be among those mentioned as favorites for a championship.  This team and city embraces the work ethic and no nonsense approach that the Spurs bring, and they always play their best basketball in the postseason.  Pop always does a great job of managing his star player's minutes in the regular season, and this year will be as important as any to see if that really paid off.  However, something seems to be missing from this Spurs squad.  That spark, that "it" factor that's kept you always believing in them seems to be missing this year and an overreliance on the three point ball may cause them problems in tough games.  However, with Tim Duncan and company in the mold, you have to consider them a contender for a championship every season.  Even with all of their problems, you can't be surprised if the Spurs make a run at a title.  After all, they're the most effecient, consistant team in the league and they've done a great job of coming out of nowhere to win championships before.  So the Spurs will be right there in the end among those mentioned as possible championship contenders.  Even if by reputation.

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

Posted on: October 2, 2008 11:50 am
Edited on: March 21, 2009 1:22 am
 

My 2008-2009 NBA Preseason Predictions

 Well with the season nearing and with all of the players basically signed up to play for the upcoming 2008-2009 NBA season, I'm going to throw my predictions out there (even if it is too early).  Their playoff seeding will be by the team name.

 

 

 

Eastern Confrence

 

 

Atlantic Division
1. Boston Celtics (1) - The defending NBA champions throw out, roughly, the same roster and the biggest question is how hungry the big three will be after winning their championship.  That may be a problem down the road but Kevin Garnett and company will not have hunger issues this season.

2. Philadelphia 76ers (3) - Obviously the addition of Elton Brand was huge for this team but it will be interesting to see how he meshes with this up tempo type team.  Andre Miller is getting up there in age and Andre Iguodala had an awful postseason so there's room for skepticism but for some reason everything just looks as if it will mesh.  Maurice Cheeks will have pressure to get out of the first round and if he can't deliver then he may be gone by next season.

3. Toronto Raptors (6) - Picking up Jermaine O'Neal gave them virtually a Chris Bosh carbon copy as both have similar games.  Still the addition of another big man will always help and if O'Neal can be healthy and man down the center position (two tall tasks), if Chris Bosh plays like he did in the olympics, and if Jose Calderon plays like he did last season then this team could surprise.  Too many if's for me, though.

4. New Jersey Nets - Even though this team was virtually in firesale mode this offseason I really liked the moves that they made.  They picked up Yi Jianlian and I think he's going to be a great player in the league.  Devin Harris is coming into his own as a point guard and the additions of role players like Bobby Simmons, Jarvis Hayes, and Eduardo Najera will keep this team playing hard.  Is it just me or does anyone else see Vince Carter having a great season this year?

5. New York Knicks - Mike D'Antoni's gimmick offense worked when it had talent on his team.  People forget how "great" his offense was when Leandro Barbosa was running the point the year before Steve Nash arrived.  I don't know how he's going to involve Zach Randolph, Eddy Curry and company but if the offensive genius can do it then he'll have to do it with Chris Duhon at point guard.  Good luck with that. 

Central Division:
1. Detroit Pistons (4) - The talks of the Pistons demise have been dramtically overexaggerated.  I, too, thought that Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace needed to go but that Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince should be retained.  Turns out all of them are there.  This doesn't mean that the team is going to lose in the first round.  This team is every bit as talented as any of the teams that have gone to the last six eastern confrence finals.  The problem is, it's as talented as all of the teams that have collapsed in those same confrence finals the last three seasons.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers (5) - The addition of Mo Williams was drastically overrated as his style doesn't look like it will match up with LeBron James.  Maybe they know something I don't, though.  It looks like a shoot first point guard who didn't really run an offense (Delonte West and Daniel Gibson) were already on the roster so it looks like he was brought in for his gaudy stats.  Unless LeBron James truly can do it all and play center then this team will have no inside presence.  Zydrunas Ilgauskas tries but he's too old to be a dominat presence.  Ben Wallace and Anderson Varejao don't deserve mention.

3. Indiana Pacers (8) - For the first time in a couple years I see the Pacers coming into the season with a direction.  It may not be talented enough to make a huge splash but the playoffs are every bit a possibility.  Mike Dunleavy finally came into his own last year and now the key is doing it on a good team.  Danny Granger is as talented as they come and the additions of T.J. Ford and Rasho Nesterovic will help make this team better than it was last year when it fielded Jamaal Tinsley and Jeff Foster in those spots.  Foster is better off the bench and the Pacers could be in position to make a legitimate run at the postseason.

4. Milwaukee Bucks - Scott Skiles was a huge addition for this team.  He'll be able to get the pass-first point guards like Ramon Sessions and Luke Rindour get the ball into Andrew Bogut and Richard JeffersonMichael Redd is still a one trick pony and any team with him as your best player is not going to go anywhere deep in the postseason so the key is to get Bogut going this season.  Now's as good a year as any.

5. Chicago Bulls - Last year I had them in the confrence finals, this year they still haven't proven to me they've overcome last year's turmoil.  I said it would be interesting to see how everyone responded to almost being traded for Kobe Bryant and sure enough they collapsed.  Was last year just that or is that mental weakness and turmoil still in the clubhouse.  Vinny Del Negro as your head coach is a head scratcher and who knows where this team is headed this season.  I don't think it's the postseason.  Joakim Noah should have an awesome season, though.

Southeast Division:
1. Orlando Magic (2) - Dwight Howard is right behind LeBron James and Kobe Bryant as far as best players in the league go.  Rashard Lewis is going to put up similar numbers as he did last year (Though you'd like to see more rebounds) and the key is getting Hedo Turkoglu to repeat his performance from last season.  Seeing that this is a contract year I think it's a big possibility.  I wish Jameer Nelson would play all season like he did in last year's postseason and this team would be much better.  They still lack that legitimate power forward and shooting guard but overall this team will be carried wherever Howard takes them.

2. Washington Wizards (7) - Losing Gilbert Arenas and replacing him with Juan Dixon isn't a blueprint for success and neither is dedicating all your money to two players on a team who haven't gotten your team out of the first round the past few seasons.  This is a team destined for mediocrity and even though I love the games of all three members of the big three, they just don't spell championship success for a team.  Caron Butler is great and I think with Arenas missing most of the season he can lead this team to the postseason.

3. Miami Heat - Dwyane Wade has made me a believer.  After watching him in the olympics I can't wait to see him do it for a whole season.  Problem is it's not likely he'll do it for more than 65 games.  This year, though, they have Shawn Marion and Michael Beasley to pull some weight but the lack of a point guard or center could definitely kill this team.  Spoelstra is a great selection as coach, though.

4. Charlotte Bobcats - Larry Brown was a fine addition to this club and they finally have a legitimate head coach.  They just don't have legitimate players on the club.  Jason Richardson and Gerald Wallace don't mesh well together and Emeka Okafor would be better serves as a power forward on a contender.  He's a fine player who was wrongfully given great player expectations.  The selection of D.J. Augustin over Brook Lopez makes me scratch my head but it goes to show how much they don't think of Raymond FeltonAdam Morrison and Sean May's production expectations are anyone's guess.

5. Atlanta Hawks - My how they've fallen.  Say what you want to about Knight but when he was fired I mentioned how bad of a move it was.  Next thing you know this team lets Josh Childress leave, horribly mishandles the Josh Smith contract situation and are going to throw out a frontcourt of Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, and Al Horford.  An aging Mike Bibby and floundering Joe Johnson won't save this team from taking a humongous step back from last season's promising playoff appearance.

Western Confrence

Southwest Division:
1. New Orleans Hornets (2) - This team looks poised to take a step forward from their breakthrough performance last season.  Inside presences like Tyson Chandler, fantastic scorers like David West and Peja Stojakovic, championship experience and toughness/defense in James Posey, athleticism and dedication from Julian Wright and Hilton Armstrong in addition to the best point guard in the league in Chris Paul leaves this team with no glaring weakness.  The only problem for them will be how they handle expecting to win.

2. Houston Rockets (3) - The addition of Ron Artest is big and I really do look for Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming to have huge seasons.  This team will mesh together very well and the flexibility off the bench with players like Shane Battier, Chuck Hayes, and Carl Landry (whose offer sheet I expect them to match) give this team a lot of depth and talent.  But I still can't see a team with Raefer Alston at point guard winning a championship.

3. San Antonio Spurs (5) - The models for consistency are getting up there in age and with Manu Ginobili's health being in question coming into the season you have to wonder what, exactly, this team is going to do this upcoming season.  Tim Duncan may have a couple more seasons like last year stored up but it's not guaranteed.  You know what you're going to get out of Tony Parker but the rest of the team is open to interpretation.  Roger Mason's a nice pickup, though, and this team is still a legitimate title contender with Tim Duncan on the roster.

4. Dallas Mavericks (7) - I stated last year that no team with Dirk Nowitzki as its best player would win a championship.  The Mavericks tried to adress this by giving up Devin Harris for Jason Kidd and again (as properly predicted) it blew up in their face.  Josh Howard has become a public relations nightmare and you have to wonder if this team as presently constructed can ever recover from that series with the Warriors two seasons ago.

5. Memphis Grizzlies - O.J. Mayo, Mike Conley Jr. and Rudy Gay are going to make this team exciting and if Marc Gasol lives up to expectations and Hakim Warrick plays as he did at the end of last season this team has the makeup and talent to be every bit as pesky and annoying as last year's Sacramento Kings team was.  Their lack of a bench will keep us from taking them serious (unless you want to mention Antoine Walker and Darko Milicic, then again why would you?) but this is a team with a very good direction who could be good again in a couple years.

Northwest Division:
1. Utah Jazz (4) *by virtue of winning division - No offense to the rest of the teams in the northwest division but this is the weakest division in the West by far and aside from the southeast may be the weakest in the league.  The Jazz are extremely talented and still lack enough inside power and a legitimate swing man to be taken serious as championship contenders but Deron Williams is the most underrated player in the league and this team will again win this division and be on its way to the postseason.

2. Portland Trail Blazers - Getting Greg Oden back is huge and Bradon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge are already legitimate.  This team, though, still seems to be lacking somethign to take that last step.  They're going to push for a postseason spot but last year this team thrived on everyone writing them off.  They can't get caught up in the hype surrounding them or else they'll fail to live up to those expectations. 

3. Denver Nuggets - Having a frontcourt of Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen isn't the sturdiest nor most dependable assembly of big guys in NBA history and that alone is the reason why the Nuggets will miss the playoffs for the first time in five years.  Allen Iverson was denied a contract extension and will probably finish the year on someon else's team.  J.R. Smith is a good player but you have to scratch your head at the contract he was given.  Who knows how focused Carmelo Anthony is and if his head will ever match his skill out on the court. 

4. Oklahoma City Thunder - Kevin Durant is the real deal.  Everyone who said he had a bland year last season didn't really watch him play.  He and Jeff Green are good cornerstones for this team and players like Desmond Mason, Joe Smith, and Nick Collison will make this team more competitive than last season's Supersonics.  I'm surprised Carlesimo was retained but you can't blame him for last season's debacle of a team.  Sam Presti has this team in the right direction and in a few years they're going to be great.  Kudos to those great fans as well.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves - New logo, new power forward, same Kevin McHale, same Timberwolves.  Trading O.J. Mayo for Kevin Love is confusing regardless of the influx of guards on the Timberwolves roster.  Mike Miller is a fine player and Al Jefferson is the real deal, but why Randy Wittman is a head coach in this league I'll never know.  It's tough for me to see this team being anything better than what was on the court last season.

Pacific Division:
1. Los Angeles Lakers (1) - There's no doubt as to who is going to win this division.  The Lakers are the most talented team in the league and getting Andrew Bynum back is more of a boost to this team than Greg Oden is to Portland.  Bynum should move in and it will be awkward at first before this team catches its groove around December/January.  Bynum's injury status is something to keep an eye on as he hasn't yet played a full season.  Kobe Bryant is the best player in the league and this is the Lakers' best shot at bringing home a championship.

2. Los Angeles Clippers (6) - Yes I put them above Phoenix.  Even though chemistry may be a problem they put a talented team together and it's a team full of players who look like they will fit together.  Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby are going to be deadly inside presences (if Kaman is focused for 82 games) and Baron Davis and Eric Gordon should light it up on the offensive end.  They're not going to win championships but this team is very talented and if Mike Dunleavy can't get them to be legitimate this season then he's just not the coach we thought he was.

3. Phoenix Suns (8) - Signs of Steve Nash's decline are in place and even though Terry Porter is going to be good for this team you have to wonder if it's too late for the Suns to contend for their title.  Shaquille O'Neal is light years past his prime but is still a legitimate center and a fantastic role player at this stage in his career: when he's motivated.  That's the problem.  Amare Stoudemire is a top ten player in this league and if he ever learns how to pass or play defense then he's going to be something special for years to come.  But he's developed a fantastic mid range game to offset what he's lost with those knee surgeries.  Problem is, though, this team is not built around Stoudemire.  In due time, though.

4. Golden State Warriors - The Warriors, last year, were the toast of the town.  Losing Baron Davis and trying to replace his scoring with Corey Maggette will show up in the box score but not in the leadership or win-loss column.  After being burned by Elton Brand and Baron Davis and also losing Monta Ellis for the beginning of the regular season Warriors fans have to be wondering what's going to become of that promise that was there at the end of the 2006 season.  Brandon Wright and Anthony Randolph are very good players to grow with but Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington are just like Corey Maggette and nobody knows who's going to run this team.

5. Sacramento Kings - After last season's surprising season this team will not sneak up on anybody this year.  Kevin Martin looks like this generation's Reggie Miller; in other words he can score and try on defense but not much else.  That's not a knock on him as I think he's better in that role than Michael Redd is and he's somebody good to build around.  I just don't know if they'll win a championship with him as the guy on the team.  Giving Beno Udrih that long term contract is quite the gamble but if he plays like he did last season it will pay off.  If not he's going to just be on the roster for three years until they release him.  This team is still talented and I still love Reggie Theus but the perception is they're not a playoff team, yet.  And I agree.

 

Postseason Predictions

Eastern Confrence First Round

1.
Boston Celtics vs. 8. Indiana Pacers - The Pacers surprise run to the postseason may end quickly or the Celtics could start off slowly as they did last postseason.  Either way, Kevin Garnett dominates and the Celtics advance.

2. Orlando Magic vs. 7. Washington Wizards - The Wizards string of seasons backing into the playoffs and losing in the first round will be continued this season as Dwight Howard destroys Brendan Haywood and the Magic advance.

3. Philadelphia 76ers vs. 6. Toronto Raptors - The matchup of Chris Bosh vs. Elton Brand will be hyped uncontrollably and this series should be a lot of fun.  Unfortunately, though, the addition of Jermaine O'Neal gives no new result for the Raptors as they bow out in the first round again.

4. Detroit Pistons vs. 5. Cleveland Cavaliers - Rasheed Wallace and company help the Pistons overcome LeBron James despite a valiant effort from the Cavaliers.  Will be the best matchup of the first round.

Eastern Confrence Semifinals
1. Boston Celtics vs. 4. Detroit Pistons - Last year's big matchup will now be held in the semifinals instead of the confrence finals.  The Pistons, though, will suffer the same fate as the Celtics make relatively quick work of the Pistons in five or six games.

2. Orlando Magic vs. 3. Philadelphia 76ers - This will be a great matchup of last year's two surprising teams.  Stan Van Gundy will try to bombard the Sixers with three pointers while the Sixers will struggle to make some.  Elton Brand and company will give a valiant effort but the Sixers will lose in the semifinals.

Eastern Confrence Finals
1. Boston Celtics vs. 2. Orlando Magic - Dwight Howard will show up in the main stage but the Magic's continued improvement will again halt.  Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu will dissapear in the key stretches and Paul Pierce will carry the Celtics back to the finals.  They lose in the first round in 2007, the 2nd round in 2008, and now the confrence finals in 2009.

Western Confrence First Round
1. Los Angeles Lakers vs. 8. Phoenix Suns - This ridicuously hyped matchup will bring ratings but not much competition.  Andrew Bynum vs. Shaquille O'Neal will be the high profile matchup and Amare Stoudemire will own Pau Gasol but Kobe Bryant will shine again and Lamar Odom will own Grant Hill on both ends of the court.  Lakers advance.

2. New Orleans Hornets vs. 7. Dallas Mavericks - A rematch of last year's first round matchup proves the same result.  Brandon Bass and Dirk Nowitzki will go nuts but Chris Paul will run circles around Jason Kidd and Peja Stojakovic and James Posey will shoot the Hornets past the Mavericks in six games.

3. Houston Rockets vs. 6. Los Angeles Clippers - This will, again, be a very interesting matchup.  The Clippers will steal a game in Houston and everyone will panic and remind themselves Tracy McGrady has never gotten past the first round.  But then when the series shifts to Los Angeles McGrady will take over and Rafer Alston will knock down big shots to help the Rockets win this series in six games.

4. Utah Jazz vs. 5. San Antonio Spurs - A fantastic matchup in the first round will take place but this series will only be for the old school fans.  A lot of tough, inside, rough and tough, physical games will take place but that benefits the Spurs.  Tim Duncan and Carlos Boozer will be a good matchup as will Tony Parker's speed vs. Deron William's strength but Manu Ginobili will out shoot Kyle Korver to help the Spurs advance.

Western Confrence Semifinals
1.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. 5. San Antonio Spurs - The Spurs will come into this series destined to avenge last year's embarassment in the Western Confrence Finals.  The result will be the same, though, as Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, again, prove to be the difference in this series and allow the Lakers to edge the Spurs in six games.

2. New Orleans Hornets vs. 3. Houston Rockets - This will (until the Western Confrence Finals) be the best matchup of the playoffs as the Rockets size and strength will matchup against the Hornets finesse style of play.  Yao Ming will dominate as the Hornets leave Tyson Chandler one on one against the 7'6" superstar.  Peja Stojakovic will be smothered by Ron Artest and Luis Scola will do his best to stay in front of David West.  The Hornets will panic but James Posey and Julian Wright will slow down Tracy McGrady and eventually Chris Paul and David West will run the pick and roll to perfection to advance in seven games.

Western Confrence F inals
1. Los Angeles Lakers vs.2. New Orleans Hornets - The matchup of what would have been the more entertaining Western Confrence Finals last year will take place this season as these two talented teams will fight to see who advances to face the Celtics in the NBA finals.  Kobe Bryant and company will split with the Hornets in Los Angeles before taking game 3.  But the Hornets will come together in game 4 and gell just in time to take the series in seven games due to Peja Stojakovic's surprising play in a series that actually matters.

NBA FINALS
Boston Celtics (home court) vs. New Orleans Hornets - The hungry Hornets will come into town to matchup with the defending champions and the prospects of having James Posey try to take the championship away from the team that he left in the offseason will make for fun storylines.  Chris Paul will be slowed down by Rajon Rondo but David West will step up big time and prove to be a key factor in his matchup with Kevin Garnett.  Tyson Chandler will slow down Garnett on the offensive side of the court and although Paul Pierce will light up the Hornets, Peja Stojakovic will out shoot Ray Allen in the matchup of players who do virtually nothing other than rebound.  The Hornets will win exactly one game in Boston but that will be enough to take the series in six games and allow (homer pick) for your 2009 NBA Champions, for the first time in franchise history, to be the New Orleans Hornets.

Category: NBA
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