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Tag:Al Horford
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 18, 2010 1:10 pm
Edited on: May 18, 2010 1:17 pm
 

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 9

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.  The draft lottery is tonight, so with the lukewarm reception I received with yesterday's submission (and yes I am using the term lukewarm very loosely), I wanted to get out # 9 before tonight's game.  Just to let you know, we can all agree that 2000 is the worst draft of the bunch, so everything after this is entirely subjective and, honestly, I can switch from 9 to 5 as often as I want and I won't feel comfortable with my list.  But comment, agree or disagree, whatever.  Here's number 9 on my top ten draft lists: the 2007 NBA Draft which features some good names but, overall, a lot of dissapointing performances from a lot of the top picks.

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

entry/5993128/21869382?tag=pageContainer;blogInfoWrap

#9: 2007 NBA Draft

Round One:
1) Portland Trail Blazers - Greg Oden, C, Ohio State
2) Seattle Supersonics - Kevin Durant, SF, Texas
3) Atlanta Hawks - Al Horford, C, Florida
4) Memphis Grizzlies - Mike Conley, Jr., PG, Ohio State
5) Boston Celtics - Jeff Green, PF, Georgetown (traded to the Supersonics)
6) Milwaukee Bucks - Yi Jianlian, PF, China
7) Minnesota Timberwolves - Corey Brewer, SG, Florida
8) Charlotte Bobcats - Brandan Wright, PF, North Carolina (traded to the Warriors)
9) Chicago Bulls - Joakim Noah, C, Florida
10) Sacramento Kings - Spencer Hawes, C, Washington

Not a horrible list of top ten players.  Kevin Durant is a bonafide stud and looks to be the, unquestioned, star of this draft.  As one of the exciting young players in the league, Seattle definitely got right.  Portland, bless their hearts, took a chance on another big man over a solid wing player and look to be experiencing deja vu all over again, what with Greg Oden's injuries to both his right and his left knee, and he's missed 164 out of a possible 246 games.  Horford has become a nice pieces for the Hawks as has his Florida teammate Joakim Noah for the Bulls.  Both are probably playing out of position at center, but the league's small lineups have allowed both to become potential perennial all stars at their positions.  Their other Florida teammate, Corey Brewer, finally showed some life in Minnesota this season after two dull years while players like Conley and Yi Jianlian are still waiting to turn the corner and become good players.  Jianlian, especially, made a big deal about being drafted to Milwaukee and not wanting to play there, although he eventually did before being traded to New Jersey after his rookie season.  Jeff Green is another solid contributing piece to those very promising Oklahoma City teams now while players like Wright and Hawes have battled injuries and inconsistency, and haven't yet shown that they can be counted consistently on by either of their rebuilding squads.

11) Atlanta Hawks - Acie Law, PG, Texas A&M
12) Philadelphia 76ers - Thaddeus Young, SF, Georgia Tech
13) New Orleans Hornets - Julian Wright, SF, Kansas
14) Los Angeles Clippers - Al Thornton, SF, Florida State
15) Detroit Pistons - Rodney Stuckey, PG, Eastern Washington
16) Washington Wizards - Nick Young, SG, USC
17) New Jersey Nets - Sean Williams, C, Boston College
18) Golden State Warriors - Marco Belinelli, SG, Italy
19) Los Angeles Lakers - Javaris Crittenton, PG, Georgia Tech
20) Miami Heat - Jason Smith, PF, Colorado State (traded to the 76ers)

This list of 11 to 20 just reeks of mediocrity.  You can't really say anything horrible about any of the players on this list outside of Law and Williams, but nobody, maybe Young, Thornton or Stuckey, has shown they can be really good players in this league.  Law never got on the court in Atlanta and is now sitting as a back up in Chicago.  Young has shown some promise for Philadelphia, especially last season, but regressed badly this year.  Wright showed some potential his rookie season but has done nothing after that for New Orleans.  Thornton has put up the best numbers of this bunch but did so with no expectations for the Clippers and dissapeared after a midseason traded to Washington this year.  Stuckey has been hyped a lot in Detroit but hasn't lived up to his promise any season.  Players like Nick Young and Belinelli have shown in spots that they can be competent players in this league, but neither cashed in on their increased playing time this season.  Meanwhile Crittenton didn't even last the full year with the Lakers and got involved in the infamous Gilbert Arenas gun incident this season while Smith has been a forgettable player for the Sixers but has still stayed on the team.

21) Philadelphia 76ers - Daequan Cook, SG, Ohio State (traded to the Heat)
22) Charlotte Bobcats - Jared Dudley, SF, Boston College
23) New York Knicks - Wilson Chandler, SF, DePaul
24) Phoenix Suns - Rudy Fernandez, SG, Spain (traded to the Trail Blazers)
25) Utah Jazz - Morris Almond, PG, Rice
26) Houston Rockets - Aaron Brooks, PG, Oregon
27) Detroit Pistons - Arron Afflalo, SG, UCLA
28) San Antonio Spurs - Tiago Splitter, PF, Brazil
29) Phoenix Suns - Alando Tucker, SF, Wisconsin
30) Philadelphia 76ers - Petteri Koponen, PG, Finland (traded to the Trail Blazers)

This isn't a bad 21-30 list either.  Cook, Dudley and Afflalo became really solid contributing pieces for playoff teams this season.  Wilson Chandler and Rudy Fernandez have both shown some promise although neither has shown that they can be great.  Aaron Brooks won the Most Improved Player of the Year award this season and really broke out in last year's postseason after becoming the starting point guard for the Rockets.  Almond and Tucker never did work out in their respective organizations and are now no longer in the league (as far as I know).  Meanwhile, Splitter and Koponen are hyped prospects by both of their respective fanbases but are still playing overseas.  Splitter, especially, is being counted on to be the big man of the future in San Antonio, although all that has yet to be seen.  Rounding out the first one, there's a lot of nice, solid players on this list but Durant looks like the only great player in the first round.

Round Two Notables:
31) Seattle Supersonics - Carl Landry, PF, Purdue (traded to the Rockets)
35) Seattle Supersonics - Glen Davis, PF, LSU (traded to the Celtics)
48) Los Angeles Lakers - Marc Gasol, C, Spain
49) Chicago Bulls - Aaron Gray, C, Pittsburgh
56) Milwaukee Bucks - Ramon Sessions, PG, Nevada

Not a bad list of 2nd round guys.  Actually some really solid names on this list minus Gray, who I only put on here because he's still playing in the league and because he plays for the Hornets.  Landry has become the consumate tough guy, has lost almost all of his teeth playing basketball and become a really good player for the Rockets and then the Kings this season.  Big Baby Davis was part of the deal that sent Jeff Green to Seattle, and after an OK rookie season, really exploded in the playoffs last year and is a solid bench player for some great Boston teams.  Marc Gasol was used later that season in the trade that brought his brother Pau Gasol to the Lakers and Marc is now the starting center for the Memphis Grizzlies.  Meanwhile, Sessions has shown so much promise every single season that he plays, but is still struggling to put it all together consistently. 

2007-2008 NBA Rookie of the Year: Kevin Durant
All Stars from the 2007 NBA Draft: Kevin Durant, Al Horford

2007-2008 NBA All-Rookie First Team
Al Horford
Kevin Durant
Luis Scola (who was originally drafted in 2002 by the Spurs before finally being traded to, and then signing with, Houston in 2007)
Al Thornton
Jeff Green

2007-2008 NBA All-Rookie Second Team
Jamario Moon (who went undrafted in 2001 before finally signing with the Raptors in 2007)
Juan Carlos Navarro (who was originally drafted in 2002 by the Wizards before being traded to, and the signing with, Memphis in 2007)
Thaddeus Young
Rodney Stuckey
Carl Landry

Posted on: April 16, 2010 2:05 pm
 

GoHornets21's 2010 First Round Playoff Preview

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

Eastern Conference

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

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

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

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


Western Conference

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

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

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

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

Posted on: November 19, 2009 12:28 pm
 

The 2010 Sweepstakes: High Reward of High Risk?

We all know the big phrase for every team that has a losing record ten games into the season.  "Let's trade this bad contract for this guy with an expiring contract."  These kind of moves have been made for the past two seasons all with anticipation of this upcoming offseason: the big 2010 free agent class.  Teams are shedding payroll like Rex Ryan sheds tears in hopes of being able to afford the plethora of superstars available this upcoming July.  Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson, Amar'e Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki and, of course, LeBron James headline the class this summer and have every team in the league hoping to changes its fortunes in quick fashion.  Out of the mentioned prospects, Nowitzki is the only player almost guaranteed to stay with his current team.  The rest are all targeted players for that team looking to return to glory, for that team trying to establish a glorious rotation or just for a team looking to make a little bit of a profit with some ticket sales.  But I'm here to tell you that shedding all that salary cap is probably more of a risk than some are mentioning.

The New York Knicks have been bad for awhile.  They were the league's most consistent and glorious franchise in the 1970s and in the 90s into the early part of this new millenium, they were able to remain competitive and even had two Eastern Conference Championships to show for it.  But ever since 2002 the Knicks have fallen on very hard times.  They've had one playoff appearance since then, a crazy amount of bad contracts, displeased fans and one of the worst win-loss records in the league during that span.  But the Knicks, even at 2-9 today, will sell to you that they're a team on the rise.  Why?  Not because of any young talent on the team (although Danilo Gallinari and David Lee are nice, young players) but because they're going to land one of the big free agents in 2010.  Playing in the most famous arena in the world, Madison Square Garden, in the biggest market in the league, the Knicks are always formidable players in the free agent spending department (look at the contracts they were able to give to Allan Houston, Jared Jeffries, Jerome James and Eddy Curry).  They've just never spent the time to focus on spending on talented players. 

But at least they can sell you that they're New York and that's why you should play there.  The other team that's been building for 2010 for a few seasons now is the New Jersey Nets.  The Nets have had more success than the Knicks in recent history and made the NBA Finals two seasons in a row back in 2002 and then in 2003.  But after this season, they will have missed the postseason for three consecutive seasons.  They do have Devin Harris, Brook Lopez and Courtney Lee, but even with all that young talent on board, they play in an immensely small market, in an old stadium and in front of some of the most lackluster crowds east of the Clippers.  Even with young talent in place, it's hard to sell to a potential star how important it is to sign with New Jersey.  Until they get their ownership and the impending relocation to Brooklyn in order, the Nets will struggle to build as a franchise.  And that includes playing any role in this offseason.

But those teams assume the risks of this offseason and do so with high hopes.  They've put all of their eggs in the 2010 basket, but how reliable is that really?  The Knicks have a city desperate for success and that's used to being at least remotely competitive.  Donnie Walsh and Mike D'Antoni were to turn things around but decided bringing in established superstars was the route to go.  Fans have been patient for two seasons and even though the Knicks have fielded fun teams, they have not fielded successful teams nor do they bear any resemblance of a team on the rise.  Unless they get that big piece.  But what happens if you don't?  That could be killer for this New York franchise.  When you're a team like the Knicks and the Nets, if you swing and miss this offseason it's fatal for your franchise.  The Nets are trying hard to sell a relocation and trying to bring on board an owner who's committed to winning, those will be even harder sells if the team that is currently 0-12 boasts no superstar power after this offseason.  They all want LeBron James and LeBron has teased everyone involved, but let's not forget that Cleveland will still be able to give him the most money.  When you resign your own players, it does not matter how big the contract is.  Sure it goes against your payroll, but the NBA does not charge cap penalties when you improve within the organization.  That's why Cleveland, even while spending 50 million dollars on Anderon Vareajo back in the summer, can offer LeBron the most money to get him to stay.  It's his hometown, they've been a consistently good team for the past five seasons.  They're on the verge of becoming a championship team.  His best chance to win is in Cleveland.  Sure LeBron has done nothing to disassociate himself from the notion that he's all about the money, but at the end of the day if you have a franchise that can give you the Benjamins and Franklins and still guarantee you an opportunity at the Larry O'Brien Trophy, you think he'll easily turn his nose up at that as opposed to a team that may become a formidable player with him on the roster?  Look at how long it took the Cavaliers to build around LeBron.  A player of his skill set is easy to surround with players, but to find a formidable roster that can win with one person controlling the ball a majority of the time is very difficult.  Look at the problems the Heat are having now with Dwyane Wade.  Look at the problems the Hornets are having with Chris Paul.  Look at the Cavaliers during LeBron's first years in the league.  It's hard to run a one dimensional offense, and if you spend all of your money on LeBron James that's what you'll have. 

Fans have been patient in New York because they feel as if it's their God given right to have a superstar sign in 2010.  Amar'e Stoudemire and Chris Bosh are likely candidates to switch jerseys this offseason because neither of their teams have been successful as of late and neither seems very commited to their organization.  But are either of those guys going to be centerpieces for a championship?  Don't you think that if they were, their teams would be better than they are now?  Some team will overspend on Bosh or Stoudemire this offseason because the market will be so high on them.  But that team better hope that those players mature and develop into something that they're currently not, or else they're looking at limited cap space and medicore results (see the Washington Wizards). 

It's always attractive to look at good players and wonder what they'll do if they get to your team.  But look at how the Hawks built around Joe Johnson.  They have Josh Smith, Mike Bibby, Al Horford and a franchise on the rise.  Look at Dwyane Wade.  He's won a championship, has a lot of young, growing pieces in Miami and a franchise and city that adores him.  Same goes for Dirk Nowitzki (minus the championship part).  It's a hard sell to look a player in the eye and say "trust me" than it is to say "look what we've done for you."  When you cut this much space, you're basically putting all your cards and chips on the table.  In the New York Metropolitan area, you better hope that river card turns up a LeBron or a Wade.  Because if it doesn't, years of futility will follow and the backlash will be catastrophic for the franchise.
Posted on: September 29, 2009 2:19 pm
Edited on: May 3, 2010 2:45 am
 

NBA 2009-2010 Southeast Division Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


2. 
Atlanta Hawks – Pigs may not be able to fly.  Dogs may not able to speak English and Tony Romo may not be able to win a playoff game.  But another miracle is taking place right before our eyes, consistency is residing in the Atlanta Hawks franchise.  Not that they hadn’t been consistent before; if you include consecutive last place finishes consistency.  But with Mike Woodson entering his fifth year at the head coaching spot and with the Hawks fresh off not only their second straight postseason appearance but their first playoff series victory in ten years, the Hawks display promise, direction and, dare I say it, consistency.  The acquisition of Joe Johnson has a lot to do with that, as he’s given the Hawks a solid first option for the last four seasons and has stepped up continuously when the team has needed it.  The acquisition of Mike Bibby also has done a lot, as it’s given the Hawks leadership and experience when they had none of it outside of Johnson prior to Bibby arriving.  But, when you show promise expectations arrive, and now it’s time for the Hawks to start showing that they can take a new step in the right direction.  Al Horford really proved to be key for the Hawks last year, and there’s no doubt that his injury played a big factor in why the Hawks were so outmatched against Cleveland in the Semifinals.  He needs to stay healthy and continue to improve his game as the Hawks are a much better team when he’s being assertive and looking for possessions.  The Hawks also missed Marvin William in the postseason, as the guard and forward was beginning to play a huge role in the team’s development.  But his injury also derailed the team’s momentum. 

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

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


3. 
Washington Wizards – Last season was disastrous in our nation’s capital.  Washington had injuries to everyone on the roster outside of Antawn Jamison, got their coach fired and watched an abysmal season get worse until it mercifully ended with 63 losses.  But there’s a new feeling of refreshment in Washington and it has everything to do with players on the team getting healthy, and not the turnover from last season’s squad.  Gilbert Arenas has played all of 15 games the last two seasons and his scoring and ability to give the team options in the clutch was sorely missed last season.  He had another knee surgery after signing his big free agent contract last offseason, but the Wizards seem determined to give him, Caron Butler and Jamison one more run at a championship.  The biggest setback to this is that the Wizards never showed any kind of elite potential when all three were on the court together in the first place, and Butler, himself, has missed an average of 19 games a year since arriving to Washington.  But the Wizards are still optimistic and the arrival of Flip Saunders should help fuel that optimism.

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

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


4. 
Miami Heat – It’s amazing, but it seems so long ago that Shaquille O’Neal was manning down the center position in Miami and the Heat were winning championships.  Amazingly, it’s only been three seasons.  But the Heat hit bottom hard when the injury bug bit start guard Dwyane Wade and they seemed to be a franchise heading nowhere in a hurry.  Wade stayed healthy last season, though, and followed up his spectacular play in the Summer Olympics with an MVP-Caliber season and leading the Heat to a postseason appearance.  The biggest problem in Miami, though, was that Wade seemed to be doing it all by himself.  Michael Beasley took a long time to develop and then crumbled this offseason.  Mario Chalmers was solid all season as a starting point guard, even as a second round rookie, but still heard rumors about being replaced all offseason.  Even a flirting session with free agent Allen Iverson didn’t seem to do much to give Wade hope that help was on the horizon, so it’s hard to imagine the Heat believing they can be any better than they were last season. 

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

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


5. 
Charlotte Bobcats – The Charlotte Bobcats are a hard team to figure out.  They have one of the greatest coaches in NBA history on the bench.  They have the best player to play the game as an executive and talent scout, and they have a solid bunch of role players, veterans and young players on the squad to really make up a solid team.  However, there just seems to be no reason for excitement in Charlotte.  The environment there didn’t change much this offseason when the Bobcats traded Emeka Okafor to the Hornets for Tyson Chandler.  Chandler has a long history of injuries and inconsistent play, although he’s just as good as Okafor at the center position.  If he can stay healthy, it will really do wonders for this squad and it’s ability to run the floor.  But chances are he won’t be able to do that.  In order to make a run at the postseason, the Bobcats acquired veteran role players Raja Bells, Boris Diaw, Vladimir Radmonovic, and DeSagana Diop.  But it didn’t pay off as the team narrowly missed the postseason and is now stuck with bloated contracts from all four players. 

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

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

Posted on: May 29, 2009 11:29 am
 

Ranking No. 3 Draft Picks of Draft Lottery Era

Well I volunteered to do a recap and ranking of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd overall draft picks of the draft lottery era and the 1st and 2nd picks are in the book.  With the strong first pick and horrid second pick behind us, we now look at a selection that's filled with players ranging from bad, to solid, to really good.  There is no great, or franchise, player on this list but you'll be surprised to see how many contributors and talented all stars there are that were selected third overall.  This was a tough list for me because it's pretty top heavy.  But here we go: Ranking the No. 3 Draft Picks of the Draft Lottery Era.

24) Chris Washburn, C, Golden State Warriors out of North Carolina State University in 1986 NBA Draft (72 Games, 3.1 PPG, 2.4 RPG) - Long viewed as one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history, Washburn was an extremely talented athlete, gifted with extremely soft hands and incredible speed for someone his size.  A high school prodigy of sorts, Washburn was extremely inconsistent at North Carolina State under legendary coach Jim Valvano.  However, teammates would question his work ethic and criticize the fact that he never went to class.  He also served jail time for stealing a stereo while in college.  After one good season at NC State including a game where he outplayed eventual number one draft pick Brad Daugherty, Washburn declared for the NBA draft and was snagged third overall by the Golden State Warriors.  The Warriors looked to bring him along slowly, to cope with his immaturity.  However, it didn't work as Washburn was largely ineffective and rarely got off of the bench in Golden State.  After only three seasons in the league, Washburn was suspended from the NBA for life after testing positive for cocaine three times in three years.

23) Dennis Hopson, SF, New Jersey Nets out of Ohio State University in 1987 NBA Draft (334 Games, 10.9 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.6 APG) - As a dynamic scorer at the colleigate level, Hopson was projected to be a fantastic offensive weapon at the next level, even drawing comparions to Michael Jordan.  However, after New Jersey selected Hopson, he struggled on the court and clashed with coaches and only lasted three seasons before being shipped, ironically, to Jordan's Bulls.  Although he won a championship in 1991 with the Bulls, Hopson barely got on the court and frequently was dismissed by Jordan.  He spent one more year with the Kings but never caught on with another team after only five years in the league.

22) Adam Morrison, SF, Charlotte Bobcats out of Gonzaga University in 2006 NBA Draft (130 Games, 8.7 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 1.6 APG) - While in college, Morrison could score from all angles and was unstoppable while with Gonzaga.  After a fantastic junior season in which he and J.J. Reddick took the college world by storm, Gonzaga declared for the 2006 NBA Draft and was looked by many as a newer version of Larry Bird.  One of many questionable executive decisions by Michael Jordan, Morrison showed flashes of the dynamic scoring that made him such a high draft pick in his rookie season, but in the preseason of his second year in the league, Morrison suffered an extremely ugly looking ACL tear.  He missed all of his second season and then struggled to get off of the bench in his third year with the Bobcats before being shipped to the Los Angeles Lakers and being left entirely out of their rotation.

21) Raef LaFrentz, F-C, Denver Nuggets out of University of Kansas in 1998 NBA Draft (563 Games, 10.1 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.6 BPG, 1.1 APG) - As a very steady player at the University of Kansas, racking up many individual accolades as a Jayhawk, LaFrentz graduated from Kansas and was promptly selected third overall in the 1998 NBA Draft.  In a sign of things to come, LaFrentz suffered a torn ACL in his rookie season with the Nuggets and would play only 12 games in the lockout shortened 1998-1999 season.  However, over the next three years, LaFrentz would emerge as a solid inside presence, routinely averaging among the league leaders in blocked shots before being traded to the Dallas Mavericks in his fourth year, the last year of his rookie contract.  LaFrentz benefitted from the spending binge that relatively new owner Marc Cuban was in the middle of in Dallas and received a huge 7 year deal from Dallas and promptly lasted one of those seven seasons as the starting center for Dallas.  After being traded to the Boston Celtics, knee problems continued to hamper LaFrentz and he played only two full seasons with the Celtics before being traded to the Portland Trail Blazers.  LaFrentz does not get into the games in Portland, although he is still contractually a member of the Trail Blazers.  Of the seven year deal he signed with Dallas, LaFrentz has played only 314 out of a possible 574 games.

20) Darius Miles, SF, Los Angeles Clippers out of East St. Louis High School in 2000 NBA Draft (446 Games, 10.1 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.1 BPG) - Before your Kwame Brown's and LeBron James', Darius Miles was the highest selected high school player in NBA history.  Miles immediately took the league by storm in his first few seasons in Los Angeles with his dynamic aerial game and being named to the 2000 All-NBA 1st Rookie Team.  After being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who hoped to turn Miles into a superstar, Miles was largely inconsistent and his production took a huge nosedive.  Sensing what was on the horizon, Miles was then shipped to the Portland Trail Blazers where he would then contribute to the "Jail Blazers" nickname with continuous antics off the court.  Miles would openly clash with Trail Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks, even calling him racial slurs, and was a huge factor in why Cheeks was fired from his position in Portland.  Miles was inexplicably given a huge contract by Portland, and after suffering through knee problems Miles was forced to sit out the entire 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 seasons due to recovery from microfracture knee surgery.  He's probably best known, though, for a situation this year where if he were to play ten games this season then he would count against the Blazers salary cap for the next two years.  After public disputes from the Portland organization, Miles signed on to play 34 games with the Grizzlies this year.

19) Benoit Benjamin, C, Los Angeles Clippers out of Creighton University in 1985 NBA Draft (807 Games, 11.4 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 1.3 APG) - An intimidating presence at 7'0" and 250 pounds, Benjamin was drafted to man down the middle for the Los Angeles Clippers in the 1985 NBA Draft.  Benjamin would prove to a stellar, if not good, player for the Clippers for the duration of his five and a half year stint with the Clippers.  Benjamin would leave the Clippers for the Supersonics in 1991 and that would begin a chain reaction that saw Benjamin play for nine different teams in his fifteen year career. 

18) Billy Owens, SF, Sacramento Kings out of Syracuse University in 1991 NBA Draft (600 Games, 11.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 2.8 APG) - After a smooth colleigate career for the Syracuse Orange, Billy Owens was drafted by the Sacramento Kings in the 1991 NBA Draft and refused to go to Sacramento, inciting a hold out.  After unsuccesfully attempting to get Owens to sign, the Kings traded his rights to the Golden State Warriors for Mitch Richmond in what is largely regarded a lopsided trade in favor of the Kings.  Owens drew many comparions to Larry Bird but rarely showed effort and spent the majority of his career not trying in practice and suffering through problems with his weight.  Owens did have a few good seasons in Golden State but he never did develop into a solid player.  Ironically enough, he went to play in Sacramento for a few seasons before disappearing from the league after the 2001 season.

17) Al Horford, F-C, Atlanta Hawks out of University of Florida in 2007 NBA Draft (148 Games, 10.8 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.1 BPG) - Drafted as one of many lottery picks by the Atlanta Hawks in the early turn of the century, the Domincan born Al Horford would go on to win two national championships for the Florida Gators before going pro after his junior season.  Horford would become the first legitimate center in Atlanta's history since the days of Dikembe Mutombo and would become an intregal part on two Hawks playoffs teams, being part of a revival of sorts in Atlanta.  Horford has the potential to be a really great player although he's not showed that he can consistently be a great player at this level in the league.  The potential is there, though.

16) O.J. Mayo, G, Minnesota Timberwolves out of University of Southern Cal in 2008 NBA Draft (82 Games, 18.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.1 SPG) - An extremely talented offensive weapon, O.J. Mayo is an eccentric character known best for admitting he was only going to school for one season to meet the NBA's age requirement.  After choosing Los Angeles to play his only season in college, O.J. Mayo would come under scrutiny after being investigated by the NCAA for possibly hiring an agent while in college.  Mayo, though, left it all behind and left after the one season in USC.  Mayo would be drafted by Minnesota but immediately be traded to the Memphis Grizzlies where he continued his scoring knack in his rookie season.  It's unclear whether he will ever become much more than simply a scorer, but Mayo was a successful rookie and the jury is still out on him.

15) Mike Dunelavy Jr., SF, Golden State Warriors out of Duke University in 2002 NBA Draft (499 Games, 12.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 2.7 APG) - The son of current Los Angeles Clippers coach Mike Dunelavy Jr., Dunleavy would play three successful colleigate seasons with the Duke Blue Devils, being a key contributor on the 2001 NCAA Championship team.  Billed as a versatile player with a fantastic jumpshot, Dunleavy seemed to be a lock at the next level for the Golden State Warriors.  Dunleavy would spend all four nad a half of his seasons of his time with Golden State being yanked in and out of the starting lineup and going in and out of shooting slumps.  After being routinely criticized and booed by the Golden State fans, Dunleavy was traded to the Indiana Pacers in 2006.  While in Indiana, he has shown flashes of the promise that made him the third overall selection in the 2002 NBA Draft.  He averaged a career high 19 points a game in the 2007-2008 season before suffering through injuries in the 2008-2009 season.  Time will tell if the great 2007-2008 season for Dunleavy was a fluke or a sign of things to come.

14) Charles Smith, PF, Philadelphia 76ers out of University of Pittsburgh in 1988 NBA Draft (564 Games, 14.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.4 BPG) - After being drafted by the 76ers, Charles Smith's rights were immediately traded to the ill-fated Los Angeles Clippers.  Smith, an olympian for the United States in 1988, went on to become among the Clippers leaders in points and rebounds among the next few seasons before being traded to the New York Knicks.  While with New York, he will probably be best remebered for missing four consecutive layups in a crucial game 5 for the Knicks in the 1993 Eastern Conferece Finals.  Smith soon fell out of favor in the Knicks lineup and was shipped off to San Antonio where he finished his career as an unimportant reserve on the 1996-1997 Spurs team.

13) Chris Jackson, SG, Denver Nuggets out of Louisiana State University in 1990 NBA Draft (586 Games, 14.6 PPG, 3.5 APG, 1.9 RPG) - Partnered with Shaquille O'Neal at LSU, Chris Jackson was part of some very successful seasons for the LSU Tigers.  A fantastic scorer, gifted with a beautiful looking jump shot, Chris Jackson had a handful of extremely successful seasons with the Denver Nuggets, even winning the 1993 NBA Most Improved Player of the Year award.  Jackson continued to routinely average in the 20 points a game range until the end of his career in Denver.  After about his fourth season in the league, while being a key contributor to the Denver Nuggets, Jackson became a devoted member of the nation of Islam and would change his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.  Mahmoud would then receive much criticism by refusing to stand for the Star Spangled Banner played before games and would battle with fans as a result of it.  Mahmoud was even suspended by the NBA for refusing to stand.  After being traded to the Sacramento Kings, Abdul-Rauf would become a shell of his former self and would quietly exit the NBA in 2001. 

12) Christian Laettner, PF, Minnesota Timberwolves out of Duke University in 1992 NBA Draft (868 Games, 12.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.0 SPG) - As a college player, there's probably none better than Christian Laettner was in four seasons at Duke.  As the starting center for the Duke Blue Devils in a four season stretch where they won two National Championships and made the final four all four seasons Laettner was a player.  Laettner used this to win every college player of the year honor, be named the 1991 Most Outstanding Tournament player and then actually winning a gold medal on the extremely famed 1992 USA Olympic Basketball team.  In the 1992 NBA Draft, Laettner was drafted behind Shaquille O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning and became an all star in Minnesota.  However, Laettner never developed into the great player that he was in college and after productive, but quiet, seasons in Minnesota, he was traded to the Atlanta Hawks.  While in Atlanta, Laettner was a member of some mediocrely successful Hawks squads before floudering on benches in Detroit, Dallas, Washington and Miami.  A stellar player throughout his career, Laettner never was great and never delivered on the promise he showed in college.

11) Ben Gordon, SG, Chicago Bulls out of University of Connecticut in 2004 NBA Draft (392 Games, 18.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 3.0 APG) - An extremely talented scorer, Gordon teamed with Emeka Okafor to lead some very successful UConn Huskies teams in his colleigate years before declaring for the NBA Draft after his junior season after winning the 2004 NCAA Championship and being named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.  Viewed as a hybrid guard of sorts, nobody felt as if Gordon had the size to consistently play shooting guard or the ball handling skill to be a point guard, but he continued to be a dynamic scorer at the professional level.  After shooting up the draft due to pre draft workouts, Gordon would be drafted third overall by the Chicago Bulls and would go on to become the first rookie in league history to win the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award.  Viewed as an extremely clutch player and one who is tough to guard when hot, Gordon has carved a niche in this league as one of the better scorers in the NBA and looks to be a hot commodity in free agency in 2009.  Time will tell what the future holds for Ben Gordon.

10) Sean Elliott, SF, San Antonio Spurs out of University of Arizona in 1989 NBA Draft (742 Games, 14.2 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.6 APG) - A great athlete with fantastic shooting touch, Elliott was brought into San Antonio in 1989 and shared a rookie season with San Antonio great David Robinson.  Elliott and Robinson would go on to be staples and key contributors to some successful Spurs squads, spending only one of his 12 seasons outside of San Antonio.  Elliott is probably best known for what is dubbed as the "Memorial Day Miracle."  With the Spurs up 1-0 in the 1999 Western Conference Finals, still without a championship in the franchise's history, Elliott would get hot in the second half and lead the Spurs to a furious comeback against the Portland Trail Blazers.  Down by 18 in the third period against Portland, Elliott would catch an inbounds pass that was almost stolen by Stacy Augmon before standing idly above the out of bounds line and launching an improbable shot that would give the Spurs the 86-85 victory.  The Spurs would go on to win the 1999 NBA Championship, and Elliott would admit that he played the entire season with a severe kidney ailment.  Elliott would become famed in the NBA as the first player in NBA history to play an NBA game after receiving a kidney transplant from his older brother.  A legend in San Antonio, Elliott eventually succumbed to the kidney ailment and retired in 2001.

9) Shareef Abdur-Rahim, PF, Vancouver Grizzlies out of University of California in Berkely in 1996 NBA Draft (830 Games, 18.1 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.0 SPG) - After one successful freshman season at Cal, Shareef Abdur-Rahim would be selected third overall by the Vancouver Grizzlies in the talent loaded 1996 NBA Draft.  Statistically speaking, Abdur-Rahim never dissapointed.  He routinely put up fantastic numbers for the largely unsuccessful Vancouver Grizzlies franchise and signed an extension to stay on board even though the team routinely was among the worst in the leauge.  Abdur-Rahim would also win a Gold Medal with the 2000 USA Olympic Basketball team.  After being traded to the Atlanta Hawks, Abdur-Rahim would continue the formula of putting up great numbers on bad teams and would continue to be among the league's best inside scorers even though he never made the postseason.  After signing as a free agent with the Sacramento Kings in 2005, Abdur-Rahim finally made the postseason as a reserve player for the Kings in 2006.  However, Abdur-Rahim's production would continue to drop while in Sacramento and a knee injury that forced him to fail a physical for the New Jersey Nets in that 2005 NBA Offseason eventually caught up to him in 2008, where the persistent knee injury forced him to retire at the age of 32 after only playing six games in the 2007-2008 season with the Kings.

8) Jerry Stackhouse, SG, Philadelphia 76ers out of University of North Carolina in 1995 NBA Draft (854 Games, 18.4 PPG, 3.7 APG, 3.4 RPG, 1.0 SPG) - Following a dynamic career for the North Carolina Tar Heels, Stackhouse was viewed as one of the many "Next Jordan's" and would promptly declare for the 1995 NBA Draft following his sophomore season.  After being drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers, Stackhouse proved that he could become a multi talented player on the offensive side of the basketball.  After clashing with 76ers superstar Allen Iverson in his second and third seasons, Stackhouse would be traded to the Detroit Pistons where he put together the greatest stretch of offensive production in his career.  Stackhouse would win the 2001 NBA Scoring title and would lead the Pistons to the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2002 before being traded to the Washington Wizards.  After unsuccessfully partering with Michael Jordan in Washington, Stackhouse would be shipped to the Dallas Mavericks where he became a great leadership figure and bench contributor for the Mavericks.  Many various injurise have gotten the best of Stackhouse since his arrival in Dallas and it looks as if they will get the best of him and force him to prematurely end his career.

7) Deron Williams, PG, Utah Jazz out of University of Illinois in 2005 NBA Draft (310 Games, 16.2 PPG, 8.7 APG, 2.0 RPG, 1.0 SPG) - After a successful performance in the 2005 NCAA Tournament with the Fighting Illini that saw Williams lead Illinois to the National Championship Game, Williams would forego his senior season to enter the 2005 NBA Draft and be drafted as the point guard to finally replace John Stockton in Utah three seasons after he retired.  After being brought along slowly in his rookie season, Williams would leap onto the scene in his second year in the league and then become an established superstar in the league after leading the Jazz to the Western Conference Finals in 2007.  Williams has continued to lead the Jazz to the postseason in the two seasons following and won a gold medal on the 2008 USA Olympic Basketball team.  The sky is the limit for Williams, who is already arguably the best point guard in the league.

6) Baron Davis, PG, Charlotte Hornets out of University of California in Los Angeles in 1999 NBA Draft (673 Games, 16.9 PPG, 7.3 APG, 4.0 RPG, 1.9 SPG) - Baron Davis would overcome an ACL tear in his freshman season at UCLA to have an extremely successful sophomore season with the UCLA Bruins before declaring for the 1999 NBA Draft.  After being drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, Davis would be named the team's starting point guard in only his second year in the league and would then become a huge contributor for two successful postseason runs for the Hornets during their last two years in Charlotte.  In 2002, the Hornets moved from Charlotte to New Orleans and Davis would then become a routinely injured player.  After missing games in both the regular season and postseason with the Hornets, Davis would be shipped to the Golden State Warriors and would look rejuvenated after being moved to his homestate of California.  However, Davis clashed with Warriors coach Mike Montgomery and it would look like more bad luck for Davis.  However, Don Nelson's rearrival in Golden State prompted the Warriors run to the 2007 postseason.  While in the 2007 postseason, Davis would win over fans and critics alike with a fantastic performance for the eight seeded Warriors, leading a humongous upset over the first seeded Dallas Mavericks.  However, Davis would again become a problem for the Warriors when he clashed with coach Don Nelson and then told the team one thing and did another when he opted out of his contract to sign with his hometown Los Angeles Clippers.  Proving that he'll probably never overcome his immaturity, Davis battled injuries and his coach in the first year of his five year contract with the Clippers and time will tell how this deal pans out.

5) Penny Hardaway, G, Golden State Warriors out of Memphis State University in 1993 NBA Draft (704 Games, 15.2 PPG, 5.0 APG, 4.5 RPG, 1.6 SPG) - After foregoing his senior season to enter the 1993 NBA Draft, Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway would be selected third overall by the Golden State Warriors and immediately be traded to the Orlando Magic for the draft rights to number one overall pick Chris Webber.  Hardaway would then partner with young Magic superstar Shaquille O'Neal to lead the Magic to becoming one of the most popular and successful teams of the late 1990s.  Penny and Shaq would lead Orlando to the 1995 NBA Finals and Penny would win a Gold Medal with the 1996 USA Olympic Basketball team before suffering his first of many knee injuries in the 1997 season.  Following Shaq's departure and Penny's battles with injuries, the Magic would suffer and trade Hardaway to the Phoenix Suns.  While in Phoenix, Hardaway teamed with Jason Kidd to lead the Suns to the Western Conference Semifinals in Hardaway's first season in Phoenix and Penny would be rewarded with a lucrative contract from Phoenix.  But shortly after signing that contract, Hardaway would undergo microfracture knee surgery and would then never be the same player that he once was.  Hardaway's fall from grace was difficult to watch and the injuries are probably the biggest factor as to why he dropped so hard, but he was undeniable his first few years in the league and was one of the best players the league had to offer for a handful of seasons.

4) Grant Hill, SF, Detroit Pistons out of Duke University in 1994 NBA Draft (787 Games, 18.5 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 4.7 APG, 1.4 SPG) - Destined for greatness almost from the start, a young Grant Hill would win two national championships as a key contributor for the very successful Duke teams of the early 90s.  After spending all four seasons and being a posterboy for all things wonderful in college, Hill was available for the Detroit Pistons to select in the 1994 NBA draft and he quickly took the league by storm.  Making the "point forward" position in the NBA prominent for the first time since the days of Magic Johnson and Scottie Pippen, Hill would take the league by storm with his dynamic on court style and by routinely posting triple doubles.  Hill would win co Rookie of the Year honors in 1995 with Jason Kidd and would go on to be a great player in Detroit for six seasons.  However, after injuring his ankle in the 2000 postseason, his last with the Pistons, Hill would sign a lucrative seven year deal with the Orlando Magic and immediately succumb to the ankle injuries.  The Magic envisioned teaming him with young star Tracy McGrady but Hill struggled to get on the court in Orlando, playing only 47 of a 328 possible games the first four years of his contract with Orlando.  Hill would eventually return to the league, although not as the same player he once was, and has played in 82 games both of the last two seasons with the Phoenix Suns.

3) Carmelo Anthony, SF, Denver Nuggets out of Syracuse University in 2003 NBA Draft (445 Games, 24.2 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.1 SPG) - A fantastic offensive forward with one of the best inside-outside games in basketball, Anthony would lead the Syracuse Orange to the 2003 National Championship in his freshman season and be named the tournament's most outstanding player, leaping onto the scene and then deciding to join the famed 2003 NBA Draft.  After being selected by the Denver Nuggets, Anthony battled throughout his rookie season with LeBron James over competition with the 2004 NBA Rookie of the Year award.  James would eventually win the award and then go on to stardom while Anthony went through the motions, having productive but relatively quiet seasons in Denver.  However, after the arrival of George Karl, Anthony would finally blossom into a fantastic offensive weapon.  Although Anthony would win a Bronze Medal and a Gold Medal with the 2004 and 2008 USA Olympic Basketball teams, respectively, postseason success would avoid Anthony for the duration of his career with Denver, culminating in a sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2008 NBA Postseason, but Anthony would finally get out of the first round in 2009 and is currently in a battle with the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.  The sky is still the limit for Anthony.

2) Pau Gasol, F-C, Atlanta Hawks out of Spain in 2001 NBA Draft (584 Games, 18.8 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.7 BPG) - After being drafted by the Atlanta Hawks and then immediately being traded to the Memphis Grizzlies for Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Gasol would take the league by storm in 2001.  Largely unknown when drafted, Gasol would go on to win the 2002 NBA Rookie of the Year award and would eventually be a part of the most successful stretch in Grizzlies franchise history when they made the postseason three straight seasons.  The Grizzlies would soon, though, return to their losing ways and Gasol would demand a trade on more than one occasion.  After being traded midway through the 2008 NBA season to the Los Angeles Lakers, Gasol would be a key contributor on the revitalizing of one of the most successful, storied and popular franchises in the league.  Routinely criticized for his soft demanor in the paint, Gasol has still been productive his entire career and posseses fantastic range on his jump shot and amazingly soft hands for a player his size.  If he ever develops a killer instinct, Gasol could become one of the better players in the league.

1) Chauncey Billups, PG, Boston Celtics out of University of Colorado in 1997 NBA Draft (837 Games, 15.1 PPG, 5.6 APG, 2.9 RPG, 1.0 SPG) - After being drafted by the Boston Celtics after two stellar seasons for the Colorado Buffalos, Billups would experience something midway through his rookie season that would become a staple for the next few years of his career.  At the trade deadline, Billups would be traded to the Toronto Raptors.  After his rookie season ended, Billups was traded to the hometown Denver Nuggets where he spent one and a half seasons before being traded to the Orlando Magic.  After playing two successful seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Detroit Pistons would give Chauncey Billups a chance and he would reward them handsomely.  In his six years with Detroit, Billups, or "Mr. Big Shots" would be the catalyst of a team that went to six straight Eastern Conference Finals from 2003 until 2008.  Billups would make two NBA Finals apperances with Detroit in 2004 and in 2005, and after winning a championship in 2004 with Detroit, Billups would be named the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player.  After playing under the radar the remaining years in Detroit, Billups would again be traded to the Denver Nuggets where he led the Nuggets out of mediocrity and turned them into one of the better teams in the league.  His performance earned him votes in the 2009 NBA Most Valuable Player voting.  Largely recognized as a player capable of playing big in crucial moments, Billups has continued that trend this season where he now has Denver in the Western Conference Finals, the seventh straight time in his career he has made the conference finals.
Posted on: May 18, 2009 12:36 pm
 

2009 NBA Playoffs: The Conference Finals

 After a passable second round, the playoffs look to get exceptionally exciting with two very tough matchups.  I will start off by saying that I really went back and forth on both series and can't get a good feel on either one, which speaks to how competitive these should be.  Let's get to it.

Eastern Conference Finals
(1)
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (3) Orlando Magic
Why The Cavaliers Will Win: The Cavaliers enter this series on a roll that is out of this world.  After winning their first eight games of the postseason, they've run an incredible wave of momentum right into this series.  Everyone across the board is contributing and they've gotten an absolutely magnificent showing from LeBron James so far this postseason.  I imagine they'll continue to get great production from LeBron but the defense will be key.  And if you're going to rely on defense, being the number one defensive squad in the league helps in that department. 
Why The Magic Will Win: The Magic look like a confident bunch.  No team has been scrutinized more, outside of Los Angeles, than this Orlando squad.  However, the coaching squad and players have responded to criticism and have shown the ability to win crucial games on the road (winning games 1 and 7 in Boston, and winning critical games 4 and 6 in Philadelphia).  Dwight Howard is a matchup problem for anybody in this league, but with the Cavaliers he should look to have his way around the basket.  Anderson Vareajo can't sporadically give him fits with his ability to draw chargers, but Ben Wallace hasn't received any playing time and I can't imagine him being fresh enough to check Howard.  Even if he is, the offensive holes with him in the game will be glaring.  When that happens, the Cavs become too one dimensional (go to LeBron and spot up). 
Key Player for the Cavaliers: Mo Williams hit some big shots in game 4 against the Hawks but he's struggled with his shot this postseason.  If he plays at the level he did during the first two series then Rafer Alston will be able to match him.  Williams needs to convincingly take Alston to the limit at that position in order for the Cavaliers to win this series.
Key Player for the Magic: Courtney Lee will go unsung, but his defense on Eddie House against the Celtics was huge.  He was big in the 76ers series and although he's lost his starting spot, he stopped a critical role player and I imagine he'll be asked to do the same against Delonte West.  West has had a very good postseason thus far and if he continues to excel it's a huge feather in the cap for the Cavaliers.  However, if Lee can have West struggle with his jump shot, it can further discourage this squad and have them defer to LeBron too often.
Prediction: Magic in seven
Key As To Why They Will Win: Dwight Howard will be the critical factor in this series and I imagine he's going to have a field day in the paint.  This was not a problem for the Cavs in earlier series, but a severely injured Al Horford and a three point friendly Rasheed Wallace aren't necessarily intimidating presences.
Conclusion: I had these two teams in the conference finals before the playoffs started, and I picked the Cavs to win it.  I have no reason to back away from that precition now.  However, I'm riding the Magic bandwagon and really feel as if this team plays great ball together.  I could really fall on my face with this pick as I've rode the Cavs bandwagon all year, but I'm jumping off for this series.  It's not a matter of what the Cavs can't do, they've proven they can play with anybody in the league.  This is all about what the Magic are doing.  They've blown teams out, won tough games, faced adversity and overcome obstacles.  The Cavs could be riding momentum, but no team should be as confident as the Magic are.  That convincing victory in Boston for game 7 should give the Magic the confidence to win a seventh and final game in Cleveland.

Western Conference Finals
(1)
Los Angeles Lakers vs. (2) Denver Nuggets
Why The Lakers Will Win: The Lakers are top to bottom the more talented team.  However, they have a tendency to let up and let Kobe Bryant do all of the work.  Pau Gasol is hit or miss in the paint but came up big in game 7.  Trevor Ariza will be able to guard Carmelo Anthony which should allow Kobe Bryant the freedom to opperate on offense.  The bench, the defense and Andrew Bynum were huge in a critical game against Houston, and that should give the team some confidence going forward.  Also, Dahntay Jones has done a good job against smaller guards, but he won't be able to check Kobe and J.R. Smith isn't a force on defense either.
Why The Nuggets Will Win: The Nuggets are playing the best basketball of anybody in the postseason.  Everyone top to bottom is contributing, playing tough defense, hitting open jump shots and taking it to the basket at will.  The Lakers soft inside should have the Nuggets licking their chops if they continue to play the game that they've been against the Hornets and MavericksChauncey Billups should continue to give the Lakers problems at the point guard position and should be able to continue to keep Derek Fisher a non factor.  Also, now that Kenyon Martin won't be busy guarding Kobe Bryant, he should be able to contain Pau Gasol and give him fits.
Key Player for the Lakers: Andrew Bynum was solid in the last two home games of the Houston series and if he can continue to be productive, even if at home, it will do wonders for the Lakers in the paint.  Nene struggled away from Denver against the Mavericks and that was without any kind of inside presence on Dallas.  If Bynum can play solid ball around the basket on both sides then the Lakers can take it.
Key Player for the Nuggets: The starting lineup is a toss up, but J.R. Smith can give the Nuggets something the Lakers haven't had this postseason, reliable, consistent production off of the bench.  Chris Andersen got into foul trouble a lot in the Dallas series, but Smith was still able to play and has looked great the entire postseason.  It feels as if everything he's letting go is going in.  It's important for him to continue to produce, because if he gets hot Kobe Bryant will have to guard him and that can take away from his relaxing on defense.
Prediction: Lakers in seven
Key As To Why They Will Win: The Houston Rockets did the Lakers all sorts of favors in their second round matchup and I'll tell you why.  The fact that they showed the Lakers they can't win simply by showing up should instill a sense of urgency for the Lake show against the red hot Nuggets.  If the Lakers are on their game they're the most talented team in the league.  Now that they're playing the best competition the West has to offer, I look for them to bring it every game.
Conclusion: This series was tough.  It was left undecided even as I typed this and I feel as if it could justifiably go either way.  The Nuggets should win the point guard and bench battles, but the Lakers should be able to match that at the wing spots and inside the paint.  The Nuggets have faced teams that were inferior to them and they exerted their authoritiy.  They won't be able to do that against the Lakers, and this is a series where a couple of losses could give the Nuggets some trouble.  They haven't faced adversity in the playoffs in years.  They've breezed through this postseason and were hardly in contention in previous years.  It's vital that they go back to Denver with at loss one win if they're going to win this series, and I think the Lakers will ride game seven into games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles.  That was the difference maker.

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.

 
 
 
 
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