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Tag:J.R. Smith
Posted on: May 26, 2010 3:07 pm
 

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 3

I figured since I didn't do a playoff preview this season for each team as I did last year, I'll do a fun little countdown to this year's draft, since that's where my team is going to be instead of the postseason.  Well we're getting down to the nitty gritty now in terms of the countdown.  With only three drafts remaining, I went into a lot of due diligence to research and review each draft before putting in this submission.  I feel as if I was wrong in a few of my early seedings in this draft and I wanted to really try as hard as possible to make the top five as acurate as I feel it could be.  I think I've done that now.  Coming in at number 3 in our countdown is the 2004 NBA Draft which actually featured a hot pre-draft debate on who would be drafted number one and a pretty good group of players in general.  So here goes it loyal readers, number 3 on our countdown!

Top Ten Drafts of the Last Ten Years
#10: 2000 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21869382

#9: 2007 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21895619

#8: 2006 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21928696

#7: 2001 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21957208

#6: 2002 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/21979856

#5: 2009 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/22042511

#4: 2008 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/22065028

#3: 2004 NBA Draft:

Round One:
1) Orlando Magic - Dwight Howard, C, Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy
2) Charlotte Bobcats - Emeka Okafor, C, UConn
3) Chicago Bulls - Ben Gordon, SG, UConn
4) Los Angeles Clippers - Shaun Livingston, PG, Peoria High School
5) Washington Wizards - Devin Harris, PG, Wisconsin (traded to the Mavericks)
6) Atlanta Hawks - Josh Childress, SF, Stanford
7) Phoenix Suns - Luol Deng, SF, Duke (traded to the Bulls)
8) Toronto Raptors - Rafael Araujo, C, BYU
9) Philadelphia 76ers - Andre Iguodala, SF, Arizona
10) Cleveland Cavaliers - Luke Jackson, SG, Oregon

Not a bad group of guys coming in at the top ten.  Going into the draft, it was largely rumored that Orlando would take established college star Emeka Okafor and that the expansion Charlotte Bobcats would take high schooler Dwight Howard and they'd grow as a franchise and player together.  However, Orlando felt Dwight's talents were too good to pass up and they eventually made the right choice.  Howard has become an perennial all star in this league and is already a two time Defensive Player of the Year award winner and already the best center in the league.  Okafor, meanwhile, has turned out a nice little defensive career himself, although he's nowhere near the caliber player that Howard is.  Ben Gordon took the league by storm his rookie season, showing explosive offensive talents and eventually becoming the first rookie in NBA history to win the Sixth Man of the Year award.  Livingston was viewed as some to be the "next Magic Johnson" when he was coming out of high school.  A great athlete with fantastic court vision, Livingston actually struggled to put together consistent stretches of success before severely injuring his knee in his third season in the league.  After going up for a routine layup, Livingston landed awkwardly and tore the ACL, PCL and the lateral meniscus while badly spraining his MCL and dislocating his patella and tibia-femoral joint.  He has struggled to stay in the league since, but he showed some late signs this season in Washington and will probably get another look there next season.  Harris was a lightning quick guard out of college and became a nice change of pace for Dallas during the year they went to the NBA Finals.  He eventually struggled over a definitive role in Mavericks coach Avery Johnson's system, and he was eventually traded to the Nets where he became an all star.  Childress was a really solid player for his four years in Atlanta, and started a short fad in the 2008 offseason that consisted of average NBA players going to play overseas for big money.  He may return to the NBA in due time, though.  Luol Deng has shown a lot of promise in his short career with the Bulls, but injuries and inconsistencies haven't allowed him to truly take that next step, and there's still some resentment towards the Bulls management giving him a big contract instead of Gordon, who eventually left to go play for the rival Detroit Pistons.  Aaraujo was a horrible bust from the very beginning, as Toronto was criticized for drafting by need and reaching for a player who was projected as a mid to late first round pick.  Araujo was lost out on the court and was out of the league by 2007.  The same can be said for Luke Jackson, a really solid scorer in college who was looked to be a coveted three point shooter for Cleveland.  However, Jackson couldn't do much other than shoot and never got on the court.  He last played in the NBA in 2007 as well.  The Sixers found a nice player at 9 in Iguodala.  A freakish athlete in college, he's been able to develop a semblance of a jump shot (even if he relies way too much on it) and is the current face of the 76ers franchise. 

11) Golden State Warriors - Andris Biedrins, C, Latvia
12) Seattle Supersonics - Robert Swift, C, Bakersfield High School
13) Portland Trail Blazers - Sebastian Telfair, PG, Lincoln High School
14) Utah Jazz - Kris Humphries, PF, Minnesota
15) Boston Celtics - Al Jefferson, PF, Prentiss High School
16) Utah Jazz - Kirk Snyder, SG, Nevada
17) Atlanta Hawks - Josh Smith, SF, Oak Hill Academy
18) New Orleans Hornets - J.R. Smith, SG, St. Benedict's Prep
19) Miami Heat - Dorell Wright, SF, South Kent Prep
20) Denver Nuggets - Jameer Nelson, PG, Saint Joseph's (traded to the Magic)

As you can tell, by this draft, the whole concept of jumping from high school to the pros had become quite the phenomenon, as by the top 20, eight players that were drafted were high school seniors.  Biedrins, not being one of them, has become a nice player for Golden State, fitting in perfectly with their system although he seemed to take a major step back this season due to some serious confidence issues.  But he has the ability to overcome those.  Robert Swift continued Seattle's trend of "draft a center and see what happens," and nothing happened.  He was constantly injured and never showed much promise when on the court in the first place.  Telfair was a lauded prospect coming out of school and his family ties to Stephon Marbury and friendship with LeBron James created a stir over his potential talents.  However, he's never been able to stay in a rotation and has struggled thus far in his NBA career.  Humphries has managed to stay in the league as a nice hustle player and is currently playing for hte Nets.  Al Jefferson showed some promise in Boston and was eventually the centerpiece in the trade that brought Kevin Garnett to the Celtics.  He's become a great scorer for the Timberwolves but not much more and has suffered with injuries of his own the last two years.  Snyder was a fantastic athlete who had a good year with the Hornets following his rookie season with the Jazz, but fizzled out of the league by 2008 and is now serving a three year jail sentence for a home invasion.  Josh Smith took awhile to put all of his talents together, but the hometown Atlantan has become one of the most exciting players in the league and a nice building block of the future for Atlanta.  J.R. Smith had a terrific second half to his rookie season in New Orleans, but quickly clashed with coach Byron Scott and was traded to Chicago for Tyson Chandler.  Chicago then immediately traded him to Denver, where he's shown flashes of being a terrific scorer but is still every bit the immature head case he was for his two years with the Hornets.  It's taking awhile, but Wright just may be coming into his own as a nice reserve rotation player for the Heat.  Nelson, meanwhile, was the college player of the year and his story of falling down in the draft clashed with the number of high school players that were being chosen.  Nelson eventually ended up with Orlando where he became their starting point guard and has since emerged into an all star player. 

21) Utah Jazz - Pavel Podkolzin, C, Russia (traded to the Mavericks)
22) New Jersey Nets - Victor Khryapa, SF, Russia (traded to the Trail Blazers)
23) Portland Trail Blazers - Sergei Monia, SG, Russia
24) Boston Celtics - Delonte West, PG, Saint Joseph's
25) Boston Celtics - Tony Allen, SG, Oklahoma State
26) Sacramento Kings - Kevin Martin, SG, Western Carolina
27) Los Angeles Lakers - Sasha Vujacic, SG, Slovenia
28) San Antonio Spurs - Beno Udrih, PG, Slovenia
29) Indiana Pacers - David Harrison, C, Colorado

It was pretty cool to see three consecutive Russian players drafted in the first round.  However, not one of the Russians turned out memorable careers.  Podkolzin only played six games in two seasons with the Mavericks and was out of the league by 2006 while Khryapa and didn't fare much better.  Khryapa became a starter in Portland by his second season, but was then traded to Chicago and was out of the league by 2008.  Monia continued the hat trick and only played 26 games in the NBA before expressing a desire to return overseas after not cracking a rotation in the NBA.  West and Allen became nice players for Boston during their short time there.  West showed a penchant for coming up in clutch situations and his versatility at either guard position has allowed him to become a nice role player for Cleveland.  Meanwhile, Allen's defense and athletic ability have allowed him to stay in Boston (even through their bad years where they got rid of, almost, everybody) and he's become a great reserve for a solid team this season.  Martin was an explosive scorer in college and has become the exact same in the NBA, although injuries have limited his effectiveness the last two seasons.  Vujacic was a wild shooter who struggled his first three seasons in the leauge, finally put it all together in 2008 (a contract year) and was resigned to a big deal, and has now gone back to struggling.  Udrih struggled to stay on the court for San Antonio and eventually wound up in Sacramento, where he's found a home as the team's starting point guard the last seasons.  Harrison was another really talented prospect, but his off the court issues and immaturity were a theme for some troubled Pacers teams at the time and he was out of the league by 2008.

Round Two Notables:
30) Orlando Magic - Anderson Varejao, PF, Brazil (traded to the Cavaliers)
37) Atlanta Hawks - Royal Ivey, PG, Texas
38) Chicago Bulls - Chris Duhon, PG, Duke
43) New York Knicks - Trevor Ariza, SF, UCLA

A couple of really solid second rounders here.  Varejao has become a really popular player in Cleveland and, even if overpaid, is an important rotation player for some successful Cleveland teams the last few seasons.  Ivey is a defensive point guard who's managed to stay in the league thus far and even started some for Atlanta.  Duhon was a great back up in Chicago but struggled when given starter's minutes in New York.  His future in the league is uncertain.  Meanwhile, Ariza struggled to stay on the court in New York and Orlando due to injuries and inconsistency, but was eventually traded to the Lakers where he struggled with injuries again before becoming the team's starting small forward when they won the championship in 2009.  He parlayed that into a nice contract with the Houston Rockets, where he's currently their starting small forward.

Notable Undrafted Players
Damien Wilkins, SF, Georgia - Signed with the Seattle Supersonics

I mention Wilkins because he's managed to stay in the league thus far.  Nephew of NBA Legend Dominique Wilkins, Damien has stuck in the rotation for some playoff teams in Seattle and is still playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves today. 

2004-2005 NBA Rookie of the Year: Emeka Okafor
All Stars from the 2004 NBA Draft: Dwight Howard, Devin Harris, Jameer Nelson

2004-2005 NBA All-Rookie First Team
Emeka Okafor
Dwight Howard
Ben Gordon
Andre Iguodala
Luol Deng

2004-2005 NBA All-Rookie Second Team
Nenad Krstic (who was originally drafted by the Nets in 2002 before finally signing in 2004)
Josh Smith
Josh Childress
Jameer Nelson
Al Jefferson

Posted on: May 3, 2010 2:32 am
 

Had The Hornets Stayed In OKC

Amidst all the uncertainty surrounding the Hornets franchise currently, and then sitting back and watching the Ford Center packed to the rafters with blue shirts cheering on the Thunder in the postseason, I can't help but be a little bitter.  I find myself rolling my eyes when people continuously talk about how great Oklahoma City's fans are.  I find myself trying to disprove the Thunder as a team on the rise.  Want to know why I do that?  Because I'm jealous.  I look at the Hornets and I see a franchise struggling to stay afloat amidst financial uncertainty.  I see George Shinn shopping the team to anybody who would take them, and although primary candidate Gary Chouest is a Louisiana native and has the benjamins to back up what could possibly be a lucrative situation with the Hornets, I doubt the long term prospects of a successful operation for the Hornets in New Orleans.  And it all goes back to those people in the blue shirts in Oklahoma City.  If the Hornets were playing in front of crowds like that in the New Orleans Arena, things wouldn't be as bleak as they currently are for the team.  Had the Hornets stayed in Oklahoma City, there's no doubt in my mind they wouldn't have the struggles they are currently having.

George Shinn shocked a lot of people when he briefly flirted with the idea of keeping the Hornets in Oklahoma City following the team's two year lease with the Ford Center in Oklahoma City.  It looked like a genuine public relations nightmare.  Shinn's name (what was left of it after the Charlotte debacle, anyways) was tossed in the mud and insults were thrown at him left and right.  But look at what Shinn saw in Oklahoma City.  I'm sure he won't admit it, but Shinn has to know that the Hornets relocation to New Orleans has been a mistake.  The Hornets were such a successful and popular franchise in the mid 90s, and felt a resurgence of sorts during their two years in Oklahoma City.  In OKC, Shinn found a city and community that finally embraced one of his teams again and he felt the financial benefits of doing so.  After all, this is a business, and I'm positive Shinn knew that financial situations would be better in OKC than they would be in New Orleans.

The main basis for this argument is attendance numbers.  Contrary to popular belief, the Hornets haven't been a joke of a franchise their entire existence.  They've never been great, but they've been above average a majority of the time in this league.  There's rarely been a period of prolonged uncertainty or long term mediocrity for the Hornets, which is why I don't think the Hornets get the credit they deserve as a franchise.  This isn't a difficult team to embrace, yet they've had difficulty finding the community support in New Orleans necessary for a successful franchise.  Some people will argue it's the product on the court that's keeping the fans in New Orleans from coming, some fans stating they want a winner to watch.  But they don't understand that it can't happen if they don't show up in the first place.

Since the Hornets relocation to New Orleans in 2002, they have played six full seasons in New Orleans.  Of those six seasons, four have resulted in postseason births for the Hornets.  In 2003, 2004, 2008 and 2009, the team made the playoffs with a rebuilding 2005 and injury ridden 2010 resulting in the team missing the playoffs those years.  However, the attendance didn't reflect the Hornets on court success.  In 2003, the Hornets inagular season in New Orleans, the team finished 19th out of 29 teams.  That's the best attendance number they've gotten since relocating to New Orleans.  They would finish 28th out of 29 teams in 2004, a year where the team was in the top half of the Eastern Conference for a majority of the season, and would even post up horrible numbers in the best season in franchise history, 2008, where the Hornets finished 26th out of 30 teams in attendance, and would follow up that season by finishing 19th out of 30 teams in attendance in 2009.  We'll try and refrain from dwelling on attendance numbers during the Hornets non playoff seasons (which include finishing 30th out of 30 teams in 2005 and 26th out of 30 teams this season), but I do want to shake my head at the lack of support for legitimate postseason teams in each of those years in New Orleans. 

Had it not been for Oklahoma City, it's a wonder how long that rebuilding year in 2005 would have dragged out.  After Hurricane Katrina forced the Hornets to temporarily call Oklahoma Citiy home, the Hornets saw a support system that they hadn't had in almost a decade.  Fans came out in droves to support a team that wasn't even there's, and the Hornets reaped the benefits financially.  Let's not discredit the team's drafting of Chris Paul in 2005 as well, but the Hornets improvement to 38 wins in 2006 and seeing the true benefits of a home court advantage had Hornets supporters (regardless of the city they played in) secretly wishing there was a chance the team could stay in Oklahoma City.  Look back at those attendance numbers in New Orleans.  While supporting two teams that missed the playoffs in 2006 and 2007, the Hornets would finish 6th and 8th, respectively, in attendance in Oklahoma City.  And those attendance numbers helped encourage some very bold moves by George Shinn. 

Following the very lucrative first season in Oklahoma City, Shinn used that money to open up his wallets and make moves that the Hornets organization hadn't made in over a decade.  We saw an aggressive George Shinn, one willing to spend money to put a winner out on the court for Oklahoma City and knowing he had the financial backing in a city in order to do so.  In that 2006 offseason, Shinn signed Bobby Jackson to a 3 year, 15 million dollar deal.  He signed David West to a 5 year, 45 million dollar contract extension.  He signed Peja Stojakovic to a five year, 64 million dollar contract.  And then he traded J.R. Smith to take on the remaining 5 years and 54 million dollars remaining for a center in Tyson Chandler who was coming off a horrid season in Chicago.  Some of you may look at those players and kind of snicker, but three of those four players were hugely crucial to the best season in franchise history in 2008.

Now I'm willing to admit that I like the team in New Orleans.  I certainly wish, though, that the crowd would show up more often.  I don't think Shinn was hesitant to spend money, but he knew that if he had to fork out money to overspend past the luxury tax for the team in New Orleans, he wouldn't get that money back in attendance numbers like he did in Oklahoma City.  Outside of the James Posey signing in the 2008 offseason, the Hornets have mainly been cost cutters as opposed to the aggressive "spending to win" team that they were in 2006 following the first season in Oklahoma City.  I know injuries to a lot of key players on the team are important to why the Hornets are where they are right now, but you can't understate the importance of a home crowd to the success of a franchise.

In 2007, Chris Paul missed 18 games.  David West missed 26 games.  Bobby Jackson missed 26 games.  Peja Stojakovic missed 69 games.  The Hornets still managed to win 39 games.  Oklahoma City fans still allowed for the Hornets to finish 8th out of 30 teams in attendance.  In 2010, Chris Paul missed 37 games.  Peja Stojakovic missed 21 games.  The team still managed to win 37 games.  New Orleans fans finished 25th out of 30 teams in terms of attendance numbers.

Those numbers are alarming.  I see that you can't predict injuries.  Had the team stayed in Oklahoma City, I'm sure injuries still would have affected the team.  George Shinn still would have gotten prostate cancer (the big reason why he wants to move on and sell the team) and I'm sure Shinn wouldn't have been so aggressive every offseason in Oklahoma City.  But for two years, I saw a willingness to spend.  I saw fans come out in bunches to watch the Hornets play basketball.  I saw a team that mattered.  In the three years that have followed, I've seen waned interested.  I've seen empty seats in the New Orleans arena.  I saw a division champion finish 26th in attendance in 2008.  I see a team that's not appreciated.

Say what you want about Shinn, residents of New Orleans, but don't forget that he was aggressive for teams in Charlotte and Oklahoma City.  And I think the attendance numbers for those cities are a big indiciation of why he did.  I can't help but think if the Hornets had stayed in Oklahoma City, how differently things would have turned out for the team.

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

Worst Teams In The NBA Of The Last Decade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted on: November 13, 2009 2:27 pm
 

Making The Argument For Jeff Bower

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do I want to accept losing and do I want to make excuses for Jeff Bower?  No.  But I understand the situation and I know why the team made the moves they did.  So I can't, in the same breath, sit and blame Bower for the same team that he was praised for a few years ago.  He tried to shake things up and keep the team competitive even though the franchise was over the luxury tax this offseason.  He still may; you never know.  As the interim coach now, it's basically his chance to win with the players he put together or bring in a big time coach who can win (Tim Floyd is not the answer and if he hires him as Head Coach I demad that this post be stricken from the records and I will personally call for Bower's termintation).  I still have hope in the Hornets and if the franchise decides to strip it bare and build it back up again, I would like Bower to still be the general manager of the team.  Why?  Because he's oversaw a rebuilding process that resulted in a big turnaround before.  There's reason for me to believe he could do it again.
Posted on: May 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: April 16, 2009 11:54 pm
Edited on: May 10, 2009 7:45 pm
 

2008-2009 NBA Postseason Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1st Round Matchups
Eastern Conference

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

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

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

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

Western Conference

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

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

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

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


Conference Semifinals
Eastern Conference

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

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

Western Conference

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

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


Eastern Conference Finals

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

Western Conference Finals

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


NBA Finals

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

Posted on: April 16, 2009 11:45 pm
 

2008-2009 NBA Regular Season Awards

Rookie of the Year:
1) Derrick Rose, G, Chicago Bulls (81 Games, 16.8 PPG, 6.3 APG, 3.9 RPG while shooting 78.8 FT Pctg., 47.5 FG Pctg.) - In a runaway for this award, Rose has emerged past his competition and led his team to the postseason. He was taken number one, proved to be the correct selection and has the Bulls in the playoffs. Nobody's even close.
2) O.J. Mayo, G, Memphis Grizzlies (82 Games, 18.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.1 SPG while shooting 87.9 FT Pctg., 38.4 3PT FG Pctg., 43.8 FG Pctg.) - Put up great stats all season long but had stretches where he really suffered. Time will tell if he's a game changer or not.
3) Brook Lopez, C, New Jersey Nets (82 Games, 13.0 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.8 BPG, 1.0 APG while shooting 79.3 FT Pctg., 53.1 FG Pctg.) - Far exceeded any expectation given to him at the center position. He proved that he can really score the basketball and he proved to be a really good find for New Jersey.
4) Russell Westbrook, G, Oklahoma City Thunder (82 Games, 15.3 PPG, 5.3 APG, 4.9 RPG, 1.3 SPG while shooting 81.5 FT Pctg., 39.8 FG Pctg.) - When Kevin Durant went out this year, Westbrook took over and really elevated his game. He finished strong this year and he looks like a really good player. Whether he'll be a point guard his entire career or not, though, is to be determined.
5) Kevin Love, F, Minnesota Timberwolves (81 Games, 11.1 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.0 APG while shooting 78.9 FT Pctg., 45.9 FG Pctg.) - Put up really good numbers this year and was overlooked all season long. I don't know why people hate on his game so much. He's a nice shooter and a fantastic rebounder. He's not great, but he's a really good player.

Most Valuable Player:
1) LeBron James, F, Cleveland Cavaliers (81 Games, 28.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 7.2 APG, 1.7 SPG, 1.1 BPG while shooting 78.0 FT Pctg., 34.4 3PT FG Pctg., 48.9 FG Pctg.) - What's left to be said that hasn't been said in regards to LeBron's run this season? He's taken the Cavs to the best record in the league and has been tremendous across the board in doing so.
2) Dwyane Wade, G, Miami Heat (79 Games, 30.2 PPG, 7.5 APG, 5.0 RPG, 2.2 SPG, 1.3 BPG while shooting 76.5 FT Pctg., 31.7 3PT FG Pctg., 49.1 FG Pctg.) - Wade had the best single season by anyone in the league. Unfortunately, his team isn't spectacular (though they're not as bad as people make them out to be) and Wade really carried the weight to get the team to the 5th seed. The most important statistic: 79 games played.
3) Chris Paul, G, New Orleans Hornets (78 Games, 22.8 PPG, 11.0 APG, 5.5 RPG, 2.8 SPG while shooting 86.8 FT Pctg., 36.4 3PT FG Pctg., 50.3 FG Pctg.) - Overlooked all season long, but Paul actually had a better year this year than he did last year. In the Hornet's tumultuous season, Paul was the main staple and did a fantastic job of holding this depleted Hornets squad together for 49 wins.
4) Brandon Roy, G, Portland Trail Blazers (78 Games, 22.6 PPG, 5.1 APG, 4.7 RPG, 1.1 SPG while shooting 82.4 FT Pctg., 37.7 3PT FG Pctg., 48.0 FG Pctg.) - Another overlooked player who does a little bit of everything for that Portland franchise, does it with class and really takes oveor in the clutch for Portland.
5) Paul Pierce, F, Boston Celtics (81 Games, 20.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.0 SPG while shooting 83.0 FT Pctg., 39.1 3PT FG Pctg., 45.7 FG Pctg.) - With the injuries on this Boston team, Pierce was the main staple in the rotation and had a fantastic statistical season. With all the time that Kevin Garnett has missed, the Celtics probably had no business winning 60 games and Pierce led the team in doing so.

Coach of the Year:
1) Nate McMillan, Portland Trail Blazers (54-28 Record) - McMillan did a fantastic job of managing this young team and rotating everyone in, giving everybody a share of the glory. Portland has a deep squad but it was really young and he handled injuries and minutes distribution well enough to have this team gelling at the right time.
2) Stan Van Gundy, Orlando Magic (59-23 Record) - Really helped the Magic take their game to a new level. He's preached to them a defensive philosophy this year as well and it's evident watching them play that they've grown a lot from last season.
3) Mike Brown, Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16 Record) - Mike Brown has done a fine job putting players in the right position to win. His commitment to defense has always made the Cavaliers better than their talent indicated, but when he finally got some players he led his team to 66 wins. Solid season.
4) Greg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs (54-28 Record) - With all the injuries the Spurs went through this year, it's amazing to see that everybody has forgotten about Greg Popovich. Pop has had to go with smaller, defensively deffecient squads to get the Spurs to the Southwest division crown and really deserves a lot of credit.

Executive of the Year:
1) Danny Ferry, Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16 Record) - Obviously the huge acquisition of Mo Williams was the biggest reason for the Cavaliers resurgence this season. Ferry had the guts to pull it off and worked it to perfection.
2) Kevin Pritchard, Portland Trail Blazers (54-28 Record) - Pritchard has just put together a fantastic squad over in Portland. They're deep, talented, young, they draft well; just a model organization.
3) Mark Warkentien, Denver Nuggets (54-28 Record) - When the team traded Marcus Camby for a trade exemption in the summer, Nuggets fans were up in arms. But cost cutting moves like signing Chris Andersen coupled with landing Chauncey Billups in a trade and now the Nuggets are the number 2 seed in all of the western conference.

Defensive Player of the Year:
1) Dwight Howard, C, Orlando Magic (79 Games, 13.8 RPG, 2.9 BPG, 1.0 SPG) - His presence around the rim and ability to change games with his shot blocking ability is the biggest reason why Howard is in here.
2) Chris Andersen, F-C, Denver Nuggets (71 Games, 6.2 RPG, 2.5 BPG) - The Birdman has returned from a very publicized, very ugly drug abuse problem and was 2nd in the league in blocks with only 20 minutes a game; a fantastic story.
3) Dwyane Wade, G, Miami Heat (79 Games, 2.2 SPG, 1.3 BPG) - Wade became one of the shortest players of all time to record 100 blocks, and that's the biggest reason why Wade sneaks into the DPOY category.
4) Chris Paul, G, New Orleans Hornets (2.8 SPG) - Paul's ability to steal the ball this year was highlighted by recording 103 consecutive games with a steal.

Sixth Man of the Year:
1) Jason Terry, G, Dallas Mavericks (74 Games, 11 Starts, 33.7 MPG, 19.6 PPG, 3.4 APG, 2.4 RPG, 1.3 SPG while shooting 88.0 FT Pctg., 36.6 3PT FG Pctg., 46.3 FG Pctg.) - He's not technically a sixth man, but by definition he is so Terry is going to run away with this award.
2) J.R. Smith, G, Denver Nuggets (81 Games, 18 Starts, 27.7 MPG, 15.2 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.0 SPG while shooting 75.4 FT Pctg., 39.7 3PT FG Pctg., 44.6 FG Pctg.) - He also falls moreso into the Jason Terry category, but J.R. Smith's scoring ability has been humongous off the bench for Denver this season.
3) Travis Outlaw, G-F, Portland Trail Blazers (81 Games, 6 Starts, 27.7 MPG, 12.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.0 APG while shooting 72.3 FT Pctg., 37.7 3PT FG Pctg., 45.3 FG Pctg.) - The truest sixth man to the sense of the word is Travis Outlaw. He comes into the game, is versatile enough to play three different positions, can knock down the three and play strong defense.
4) Eddie House, G, Boston Celtics (81 Games, 0 Starts, 18.3 MPG, 8.5 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 1.1 APG, 79.2 FT Pctg., 44.4 3PT FG Pctg., 44.5 FG Pctg.) - House was fantastic from beyond the arc this season and was the main staple for a Celtics bench that was depleted by injuries as well. He's probably the truest sixth man in this category.

Most Improved Player:
1) Tony Parker, G, San Antonio Spurs (72 Games, 22.0 PPG, 6.9 APG, 3.1 RPG while shooting 78.2 FT Pctg., 50.6 FG Pctg.) - Tony Parker was always a good player but this season he became a great player. He averaged career highs in points and assists and really carried the Spurs on his shoulders down the stretch.
2) Devin Harris, G, New Jersey Nets (69 Games, 21.3 PPG, 6.9 APG, 3.3 RPG, 1.7 SPG while shooting 82.0 FT Pctg., 29.1 3PT FG Pctg., 43.8 FG Pctg.) - Statistically speaking Harris is the most improved, but a tough finish and a continued run in with injuries are the lasting impression on Harris this year.
3) David Lee, F, New York Knicks (81 Games, 16.0 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.0 SPG while shooting 75.5 FT Pctg., 54.9 FG Pctg.) - Lee took his game to a new level in Mike D'Antoni's system, averaging a double double and becoming an attractive contribution for any team heading into free agency.
4) Nene, F-C, Denver Nuggets (77 Games, 14.6 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.3 BPG, 1.2 SPG while shooting 72.3 FT Pctg., 60.4 FG Pctg.) - The onus was on Nene to rebound from Testicular Cancer and be the Nuggets best big man this league, they had no other options, and Nene has really responded. He's done a great job avoiding injuries and really has posted fantastic numbers as the Nuggets main inside presence.

Posted on: April 1, 2009 4:12 pm
 

2009 NBA Playoff Preview: Denver Nuggets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strengths
The Denver Nuggets are one of the few teams that throws out a point guard who is completely capable of controlling, managing and taking over a basketball game.  Chauncey Billups has a Finals MVP award to his credit and brings the experience, confidence and talent that makes the Nuggets a team that now believes they can win.  Basketball is a mental game just as much as it is a physical, sheer talent game.  Chauncey Billups brings confidence to a team that hasn't made it out of the first round since 1994.  Billups can take over basketball games and can really shine since he is the team's second option behind Carmelo Anthony.  Behind Carmelo and Chauncey, the Nuggets field one of the better offenses in the league.  They move the ball around a lot, they get open shots and they're very effecient at knocking them down.  Carmelo Anthony has matured immensely this year and has developed a really nice inside-outside game that makes it difficult to guard him.  And since Billups is now in town, Carmelo doesn't have all of the pressure to take the big shots.  He can coast out there and pick his spots.

The Nuggets have a really strong bench and that gives them lots of options offensively.  J.R. Smith, Linas Kleiza, Renaldo Balkman and Chris Andersen all have specific roles and all of those players are capable of doing so night in and night out.  Furthermore, they all perform their roles on a consistent basis and don't force Nuggets fans to hope one of them shows up.  They're a pretty reliable bunch.

Weaknesses
The team, although they have masked their lack of size all season, has a huge drop off in terms of talent and production when you move from the backcourt to the frontcourt.  Nene has done a more than serviceable job this season at the center position and is having the best season of his career.  However he's not necessarily a true center, and he's basically the only player on the Nuggets (beside Carmelo and Chauncey when they take smaller defenders to the paint) that has any kind of a back to the basket game.  Kenyon Martin puts up good numbers, but his jump shot is unreliable and a frontcourt of he and Nene really brings caution to Denver when they'll be matched up with taller, more physical teams.  Because of the fact that Nene is the only player who consistently plays hard down in the paint, the team is really a collection of jump shooters.  And teams that have an overreliance on the jumper have moments when they can go cold.  In a seven game series, you're not allowed many chances to make up for lost games. 

Also the Nuggets, although they try harder than they did last season, still go through lapses where they look attrocious on defense.  It's well documented that last season's squad's effort on the defensive end was laughable and George Karl and Chauncey Billups have done a fine job improving the effort, but they may struggle when it comes to spots where they have to hold position and force stops on the defensive end.  It's an area of concern for Denver.

Why They Will Win It
The Nuggets are a confident bunch that knows their strengths and plays to it.  They're very good at home, one of the better road teams in the league and have proven that they can win any given game at anytime, anywhere.  They have two fantastic players who you can go to in the clutch in Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony.  J.R. Smith spearheads a bench that can provide instant energy and offense as well.  They're a squad with plenty of options and George Karl has done a great job of including everyone this season.  They're a unit that plays together and that gives better effort every night more consistently than they have in previous seasons.

Why They Won't Win It
The Nuggets lack of frontcourt and lack of skill on defense can give them problems in the playoffs.  They're capable of playing physical basketball, they just don't prefer it.  If any of the big men get into foul trouble in the postseason, their lack of depth and lack of true size will prove fatal against a team that can throw two or three big men out at you.  An overreliance on jump shots also makes it easier for teams to attack on defense, knowing where to target certain players and how to shut them down.  Those jump shots won't always fall, and when they don't the Nuggets have no second options.

Conclusion
This Nuggets team plays hard, they play together and they can win on the road.  However, history tells us that teams that shoot too many jump shots, teams that struggle on defense and teams that are scarce on size aren't qualified to win championships.  Let's not forget, the Nuggets haven't been out of the first round in a 15 years and although this team has a different squad and swagger from the teams that have made it the previous five years, it's still a lingering issue for the Nuggets and their style of ball.  Also, even though J.R. Smith is fantastic off of the bench, he's shown in the postseason that he can single handedly shoot this team out of the game, and you have to worry if George Karl has the discipline to keep Carmelo and Chauncey from jacking up jump shots all game as well.  Overall, depending on who they match up with the Nuggets can get out of the first round, but they lack the physicality to sustain a certain excellence of play that is required to win four consecutive seven game series. 

Coming up next: the San Antonio Spurs.

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