Tag:Kevin Martin
Posted on: December 25, 2011 2:44 pm
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The 2012 Hornets and How to Win Long Term

The 2008 New Orleans Hornets won 56 games, boasted one of the strongest young cores in the NBA, and came within a game of the Western Conference Finals.  They won often, fortified the presence of professional basketball in New Orleans, and, given the right moves, were on the verge of vaulting into a multi-year championship window.

Two years on, not a single member of that team is still a Hornet.  In fact, only one member of the 2010 side (Emeka Okafor) is still on the team in December 2011.  Rebuilding efforts are obviously common around the league, but 100% turnover in a two season span?  93% turnover over a one year stretch?  Not so much.  The Hornets tossed away their future core (Darren Collison, Marcus Thornton) in an effort to keep their then current core (Chris Paul, David West), a move, which despite its ultimate failure due to a number of reasons, is still vaguely defensible.  In between, the team also happened to pick up a new "owner", a new coach, and a new GM (and arguably two new GMs).

And now, on the start of this, the 24th season in the history of the franchise, we're face to face with a roster about as unfamiliar as the one that represented Charlotte on November 4th, 1988.  What does it all mean?  What will this team look like this year?  In 3 years?  In 5 years?

The Goal

The goal is to win an NBA championship.

Its obviousness might make it a rather inane point.  But the circus that was New Orleans' offseason, the uncertainty that surrounds the purchase 10,000 fans made in the last five months, and the prospect of the first superstar-less season for the Hornets in seven years, makes it easy, and even justifiable, to forget this.  Do they desperately need team ownership resolved?  Absolutely.  They need a real owner, they need a new lease on the New Orleans Arena, and they need the NBA-generated fan and corporate momentum to endure.  On the court though, the goal, as ridiculous or as remote as it may now look, remains the same - the eventual goal is to win an NBA championship.

Let's go a step further and quantify that - how close did the Hornets actually get with Chris Paul, and how far does the team now have to go without him?

NBA Finalists from 2002-2011 (Efficiency Differential)

2011 Dallas Mavericks (+4.7)
2011 Miami Heat (+8.2)
2010 Los Angeles Lakers (+5.1)
2010 Boston Celtics (+3.9)
2009 Los Angeles Lakers (+8.1)
2009 Orlando Magic (+7.3)
2008 Boston Celtics (+11.3)
2008 Los Angeles Lakers (+7.5)
2007 San Antonio Spurs (+9.3)
2007 Cleveland Cavaliers (+4.2)
2006 Miami Heat (+4.2)
2006 Dallas Mavericks (+6.8)
2005 San Antonio Spurs (+8.7)
2005 Detroit Pistons (+4.4)
2004 Detroit Pistons (+6.6)
2004 Los Angeles Lakers (+4.2)
2003 San Antonio Spurs (+5.9)
2003 New Jersey Nets (+5.7)
2002 Los Angeles Lakers (+7.7)
2002 New Jersey Nets (+4.5)

Here, "efficiency differential" refers to the difference between a team's offensive points/100 possessions and defensive points/100 possessions.  It's semantics, but this is also the same thing as the sum of how far from league average a team's offense is and how far from league average the same team's defense is.

Over the last decade, the above list shakes out to an average around +6 offensive points per 100 possessions minus defensive points per 100 possessions.  Efficiency differential varies from point differential by removing team pace from the equation.  Between two teams with identical efficiency differentials, the team with the faster pace will artificially have the higher point differential.

There's yearly variation based on conference strength, "weaker" teams breaking through, etc.  But ultimately, if you get to the +6 differential plateau, you're championship material.  You obviously don't have to get there; things like tons of prior playoff experience (2011 Dallas, 2010 Boston) play a role.  How you get there doesn't really matter either - you can play exceptional defense and mediocre offense (2004 Detroit), exceptional offense and bad defense (2001 Los Angeles), or mix and match between the two (2006 Miami).  But ultimately, +6 is a sign of a contending team.  It doesn't guarantee a title or even a Finals appearance.  But it guarantees a team that has a damn good chance.

+6 is the goal we now build towards. For the next few years, +6 needs to become the mantra.

How Close Were the Hornets with Chris Paul?

In hindsight, the Chris Paul years were amazing; as Hornets fans we were phenomenally lucky to have him, and he'll forever be a part of our history.  Due to injuries, poor roster construction, bad luck, and poor foresight, the Chris Paul years are now over.  But, based on the +6 paradigm, how close did the team actually get?

Chris Paul Era, Sorted by Efficiency Differential

2007-2008 (+5.8)
2008-2009 (+1.7)
2010-2011 (+1.0)
2006-2007 (-1.7)
2009-2010 (-2.7)
2005-2006 (-3.1)

The efficiency differential of 2007-2008 gives credence to the idea that that particular team was a piece or two away from greatness (<insert James Posey joke>).  It's also very clear from the rest of those numbers that in Chris Paul's six year stay, the Hornets had just one team that even remotely looked like it could do much.  For all of Paul's greatness, his supporting casts were just never that good.

By definition, league average efficiency differential is 0.  With Chris Paul, the Hornets finished below league average three times, and above it three times; yes, +6 was nearly achieved once, and yes, with a new owner and new management, the future perhaps looked like brightening.  But looking at it from Chris Paul's perspective, I think it's completely reasonable he decided he wanted out and, specifically, wanted out to a championship contender.  Are the Clippers that?  It remains to be seen, but their current setup would certainly appear to be better than the Hornets' 2005-2011.

We can break down Chris Paul's own individual numbers here too (and this will provide a good reference point for the Eric Gordon discussion, next).

During the 2007-2008 regular season, Paul used approximately 1450 offensive possessions, producing 1.25 points per possession (derived from his offensive efficiency (ORtg) of 125, including points and created shots for teammates).  The average points per possession value in the NBA was 1.075 that year and generally hovers around that mark.  So Paul produced, offensively, 0.175 more points per possession than the average NBA player.

Let's transfer that over to the original scale we were discussing - the one in which the concept of "+6" exists.  Over 100 possessions, that's a +17.5 differential above league average.  To make another very obvious statement - Chris Paul was amazingly, amazingly good at basketball in 2007-2008.

Some more simple math at this juncture:

The Hornets had about 7372 offensive possessions in 2007-2008.  20% of those ended with a Chris Paul shot, free throw, turnover, or assist, and of those 20%, the Hornets had the aforementioned +17.5 differential.  Keep in mind that we're talking only offense here.  +6 can be achieved through any combination of offense and defense; it could be +3 offense above the league average offense and +3 defense above the league average defense, +7 offense and -1 defense, or +0 offense and +6 defense, and so forth.

By using 20% of possessions at a +17.5 clip, Paul contributed a net +3.5 differential to the team; in other words, Paul's offense alone in 2007-2008 took the team more than halfway to championship contention status.

Now let's say we know we have a +3 defense (or +3 above the league average defense), and we needed the team to be +3 on offense (or +3 above the league average offense) to reach +6.  We know Paul used 20% of possessions at +17.5; we can then find out what the remaining 80% of possessions need to be, efficiency wise, to reach the mark.  In this case, with 20% of possessions at +17.5, the remaining 80% would need to be converted at a -0.625 differential (or close to league average of 0) in order to have a highly functional +3 offense.

In reality, the 2007-2008 Hornets actually finished at a +4 on offense, buoyed by strong contributions from David West and Tyson Chandler.  The Byron Scott-led defense finished at a +1.8 differential, the 7th best mark in the league.

Chris Paul's offensive involvement declined tremendously in 2010-2011, post-surgery.  However, the main drop-off in his offense came not in his points/possession (which dropped from 1.25 in 2008 to 1.22), but rather, the total number of possessions used.  He used approximately 1450 in 2008, 1500 in 2009, but only about 1100 last year.

1100 possession was only 15% of the team's total, as opposed to the 20% figure of 2007-2008.  As a result, the burden of achieving a higher positive offensive differential shifted to other players on the roster.  By eschewing the ball as much as he did, Paul forced unfathomably worse offensive players (Willie Green and Trevor Ariza come to mind) into using more possessions at terrible differentials.  The passive Chris Paul disappeared in the playoffs of course, replaced by the amazing Chris Paul of old.  But his possession drop-off in 2011 is still worth remembering nonetheless.

In 2007-2008, the rest of the roster required just that -0.625 offensive differential amongst themselves to get halfway to the +6 mark.  In 2010-2011, that number jumped all the way to 1.6 due to Paul's passivity.

Where are the Hornets now?

Most statistical projections will have the Hornets floundering around the bottom of the Conference this year, in line to pick up an excellent lottery choice in the 2012 draft. To the "eye test," that may or may not be a reasonable assessment; because nobody's seen this team really play together, the "eye test" is a tough one to refute, whatever its conclusions.  So let's dig a little deeper than that. 

The Eric Gordon Effect

Of the current roster, Eric Gordon is far and away the most likely player to still be present on the next contender that New Orleans puts together.  Rosters don't remain static, especially when they're headed by a GM as active as Dell Demps; Gordon, barring complications with his rookie contract extension, is far too talented to be moved before the team has a chance to build around him.

Gordon has a chance to develop into a superstar player, though for now, his impact is obviously significantly less than that of Paul's.

Last year, Gordon produced 1.12 points per possession, using 1082 possessions.  That's an offensive differential of 4.7 above league average, obviously a far, far cry from Chris Paul's 17.5 of 2007-2008.  That's the difference between a sure-fire Hall of Famer and a player gunning for a future All-Star berth.

Gordon only played 56 games last year, so if we propagate Gordon's usage through a full year (an exercise which obviously raises questions of its own, namely can Gordon be this good over an entire season?), Gordon would have used about 20% of the Clippers' total possessions last year.  Bringing back the +3 offensive differential above average goal once more, that would require the rest of his teammates to be +2.6 above average on offense through the rest of their possessions - obviously a huge ask.  Where Paul's 2007-2008 season saw him add +3.5 to the +6 goal by himself offensively, Gordon's 2010-2011, if we projected it out to 82 games, would add about +1.0.

The fact is, the next iteration of the Hornets will need to be a far more balanced offensive side than the teams we saw during the Chris Paul era in order to have success.

The Monty Williams Effect

You'll notice that to this point, any discussion of defense has been completely excluded.  Paul was a great defender; so is Eric Gordon.  There's probably an interesting debate to be had about the relative merits of each as a team's primary perimeter defender.  But the more instructive discussion here is probably a more overarching one - a look at how the Hornets played defense as a team in 2010-2011 and what that means going forward.

In Year 1, Monty Williams had his team playing top-5 level defense for large stretches of the season.  Various injuries to Paul, Emeka Okafor, and others eventually pushed the Hornets down to the 10th best defensive team in the league.  But Williams clearly has an exceptional understanding of how to funnel playmakers towards defensive help; that, perhaps more than anything, was his biggest strength as a coach in 2011.  We saw Emeka Okafor become a strong defensive anchor in the paint as Ariza and Paul systematically fed him offensive players on their own terms, and Williams' frequent use of zone defense was another component of this defensive style.

The Hornets finished last year with a +2.1 defensive differential above league average (using "positive" as a plus here, and "negative" as a bad sign, though that's obviously flipped in terms of the scoreboard) despite a tremendous amount of roster shuffling, a season ending injury to a critical big, and the presence of a very poor defender (Marco Belinelli) in the starting five.

The big questions for the Hornets defensively in 2011-2012 will come at point guard (Jarrett Jack) and power forward (Carl Landry).  However, the team makes a huge defensive upgrade at the 2-guard.  The Chris Paul-Jarrett Jack combination was the Hornets' most successful backcourt last year (by point differential) in part due to Belinelli's shortcomings at the position.  Obviously, Ariza and Okafor return to the roster.  It's not inconceivable at all for the Hornets to finish in the top 15 of defensive efficiency this season.  Even if the offensive talent isn't there, Monty Williams will have his players defending on every possession.

A defensive differential ranging between 0 and +1 to +1.5 isn't at all unreasonable to expect this year.

More importantly, Monty Williams' defensive abilities are very important going forward, especially in light of the +6 goal.  The 2012 draft is absolutely loaded with defensive talent.  Our plus defense will ostensibly allow us to inch further up the positive point differential without requiring as much offensive talent.  So in that sense, even the most die-hard "tank" advocate should be rooting as hard as possible for the Hornets' defense this season.  Sure, we may be getting new players in the near future, but the value of the fundamental defensive base everything is built around will become more clear over the next 66 games regardless.

The team

I won't go too heavily into analyzing each individual player - just my quick notes on them and my projection, based on past value and current role.

Additionally, this is an offensive look at the roster; as noted above, I expect the defensive side of the ball to shake out somewhere between a +1 and 0 differential.

Jarrett Jack

Jack struggled tremendously in his first month as a Hornets, but eventually began to rebound.  It's key to note that Jack has been an NBA starter in the past, notably starting 43 and 53 games for Toronto and Indiana in 2010 and 2009.  In those seasons, Jack posted offensive efficiencies (points per 100 possessions) of 116 and 107.  With the Hornets, that figure fell to 104 in a backup role.

This year, I see him rebounding at least to league average (~107.5) again.

Projected Possessions Used: 12% (of team)
Projected Differential: 0

Eric Gordon

Gordon's health will be tracked closely; over the last three seasons, Gordon has actually played fewer games than Chris Paul.  The main difference we'll see from 2010 Gordon and 2011 Gordon figures to be overall usage.  Gordon's defense is excellent, and Monty Williams won't have the "Marcus Thornton" problem with him; on the other side of the ball, Monty will have very few creative options - Carl Landry (and Jarrett Jack on a good day) figure to be chief among those.

I conservatively don't see Gordon's overall offensive efficiency increasing too much - he'll be taking on a much bigger possession load, and defensively, opponents can focus in on him every single night without too many repercussions.  Gordon's ORtg was 112 a year ago (a differential of +4.7).  If he'd stayed healthy, he was on pace to use 20% of the Clippers' total offensive possessions.

Projected Possessions Used: 23%
Projected Differential: +5

Trevor Ariza

Oh, Trevor Ariza.  Long one of the league's most underrated players, then perhaps its most overrated, and now, just a depressing one, at least offensively.

Last year, Ariza produced a hilarious -10.3 differential (yes, that is NEGATIVE 10.3).  I don't see it being quite that bad this year, simply because his 2010-2011 was one of the worst offensive showings in the history of the NBA and, happily, doesn't seem that repeatable.  He used just 12% of Hornets' possessions though, a figure which looks to increase without Chris Paul.

Projected Possessions Used: 15%
Projected Differential: -8

Carl Landry

Tooth returns this year, for another year of great PaintShops and, hopefully, a year of shot attempts a bit closer to the hoop.  Landry is easily one of the NBA's best finishers with his array of hesitations and shot fakes so hopefully he'll eschew the midrange game for a more drive-heavy one this year.

In the last three years, his ORtgs have been 110, 117, and 123, with an obvious decline; I think he should be right in the 110 range (+2.5 differential) once more.

Projected Possessions Used: 17%
Projected Differential:+2.5

Emeka Okafor

There's been some discussion about who the starter will be at the 5; I think Okafor will almost definitely take it due to his defensive impact.  Despite the presence of two elite defenders last year in Paul and Ariza, Okafor was still the centerpiece of Monty's D.  Now that he's been stripped of his superstar (and, depending on who you believe, a much better offensive complement of players in Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, and Lamar Odom), Monty will almost assuredly hang on to the one thing he still has - his defense.  And that still starts and ends with Okafor, no matter his offensive shortcomings.

From a casual observer's perspective, Okafor really did seem to gel with Chris Paul last year on the offensive end; in actuality, his offensive efficiency stayed about the same.  Over the past three years, his ORtgs have gone 112, 110, and 111.  I do see it dropping a bit this year without a real creator at the point guard (Jack will be calling his own number quite frequently one would assume).  Even in 2010, Okafor had Darren Collison setting up shots for him; this year, he won't even have that.  So I'd estimate his ORtg dropping more in line with his career ORtg (107).  Let's call it 108 (+0.5).

Okafor also used 9% of possessions last year, a figure that may slightly drop without Paul and with the addition of Kaman; however, it's already a low total and can't drop much further.

Projected Possessions Used: 8%
Projected Differential: +0.5

The Bench

Between the starters, 75% of the team's offensive possessions figure to be used. This assumes relatively robust use of the starting five, perhaps a safe bet given the composition of the team's second and third units.

Chris Kaman

Kaman's an interesting player in that his offensive game looks relatively polished in a stylistic sense (his jumper and post jukes are all clean).  But he's never been an efficient offensive player in his career.  His career ORtg is a woeful 98, and he hasn't crossed the 100 threshold since 2008.  I simply don't see that changing in New Orleans; he'll be in that 99-100 range again, in addition to some very solid defensive rebounding.

Alongside Aminu and Belinelli, Kaman also figures to be one of the biggest offensive options for the bench.  His possession percentage assumes that he uses more than a quarter of the bench's possessions offensively.

Projected Possessions Used: 6.5%
Projected Differential: -7.5

Al-Farouq Aminu

Aminu's far and away the most difficult player on the team to project.  Everyone else has either been in the league a while or has given us a reasonable expectation level for their future (ie, Pondexter).  Aminu, on the other hand, is still very young (21) and has components to his game that could improve significantly through coaching.

I'll actually go ahead and project Aminu optimistically; he had an awful 94 ORtg last year, but it's quite possible he creeps into the high 90's range, so around a -9 or 10 differential).

Projected Possessions Used: 4.5%
Projected Differential: -9.5

Marco Belinelli

As I've noted multiple times, I'm really quite glad the Hornets brought back Belinelli; however, his role is definitely a bench one.  Hopefully we'll get much more flag waving this season regardless.

His ORtg the past three years has been 104, 106, and 107.  Less Chris Paul and less even Jarrett Jack as a "creator" from the bench, a mild decline seems reasonable.

Projected Possessions Used: 4.5%
Projected Differential: -2.5

Jason Smith

I observed many times through Wednesday's game that Jason Smith looks like a much improved player and athlete.  Without Paul running the pick and pop with him, Smith's offensive opportunities may be a bit limited, but his value as both a defender and a rebounder looks to be in line to increase.

Smith's career ORtgs have been 101, 101, and 100 (-7.5) and that's not likely to change.  I also don't see him using more than 15% of bench offensive possessions, or about 4% of the team total.

Projected Possessions Used: 4%
Projected Differential:-7.5

The Rest

All in all, that accounts for about 95% of team possessions so far.  The rest will be taken by guys like new signing Gustavo Ayon, Greivis Vasquez (who I haven't really gotten a chance to look at yet becuase he was traded for Quincy Pondexter yesterday), as well as the DLeague guys, like Squeaky Johnson, who may make the final roster.  Let's go ahead and toss that percentage in as well:

Projected Possessions Used: 6%
Projected Differential: -10

It's obviously tough to get a great estimate of their offensive differential; -10 may indeed be a little bit harsh, but it's a small percentage of the overall impact.

Overall

And that now leaves us at 100% of offensive possessions accounted for.

Multiplying and adding it altogether give us a grand total of -1.52 points/100 possessions below league average on offense.  Gordon, Landry, and Okafor play their roles in buoying the figure a little bit, but ultimately, there's one too many minus offensive player on this current roster.

For some perspective, a -1.5 offensive team last year would have been the Toronto Raptors, or Eric Gordon's former team, the Clippers.  Interestingly, last year's Chris Paul led New Orleans Hornets finished about -1 below league average.

That last one is actually pleasantly surprising to me.  Based on my initial eye test of the new roster, one of my first claims here was that the dropoff from Paul to Jack wouldn't be that much different than the upgrade from Belinelli to Gordon, offensively.  And that's borne out by the numbers.

Next, we can take those offensive and defensive projections and take a stab at a record.  Let's go with a defensive differential of +0.5 (again, positive being a good thing).

If the Hornets play at a typical Monty Williams pace (89 possessions/game), they should score 89/100 x (107.5 - 1.52) points per game, or 94.3 and they should allow 89/100 x (107.5 - 0.5) point per game or 95.2.  Using a Pythagorean wins formula (see Basketball on Paper by Dean Oliver), over a 66 game schedule, this should come out to 30.8 wins, which we can round up to 31 wins for a projection - so a record of 31-35.

The Western Conference's 8th place team posted a 56% winning percentage last year, which would be equivalent to a 37-29 record this season.  Overall, the Hornets may well be bit better than many project (John Hollinger has us last in the conference) but will likely fall short of a playoff spot by some distance.

The Future

As it stands now, this is a -1 to -2 efficiency differential team.  The goal is +6, and we've got quite a gap to make up over the next two to four years.  In the interim, we'll have multiple (lottery) draft picks, the development of Eric Gordon into a possible All-Star, and the evolution of Monty Williams' defensive scheme.

Will it be enough?  We shall see.  But we know quantitatively what our eventual goal is, and we know, quantitatively, some of the steps on the way to getting there.  Can Gordon, currently a +1 kind of player, grow into a +2?  Can Monty Williams' defense sustain a +1 efficiency despite the loss of so many components?  If both those things come to fruition, an elite 2012 draft could be what puts the team over the top.

As a fan, it's your right to root for a season of tanking (abject failure is, idiotically, what leads to small market success in the NBA) but there's a lot to look forward to from the 2011-2012 New Orleans Hornets from a basketball perspective as well.

+6, y'all. +6.


Posted on: December 25, 2011 2:40 pm
Edited on: December 25, 2011 2:41 pm
 

Hornets Sign Gustavo Ayon and What It Means

Opinion on Dell Demps as Hornets' GM, almost out of necessity, has no middle ground.

On the one hand, it's easy to point in hindsight to a number of his moves with a disapproving shake of the head.  The Thornton trade.  The Collison deal.  Even the move for Jarrett Jack.  The failed Lakers deal.  Each compromised the future of the franchise to varying degrees, and each transaction has been attacked many times in both national and local media.  Demps' detractors?  They all have a point.  In an alternative timeline, the Hornets have quite a few more intriguing pieces right now for their current rebuilding project.

On the other hand, the logic behind each move was definitely apparent when the deals went through.  This isn't Otis Smith trading Brandon Bass for Glen Davis territory in the slightest.  Monty Williams should take on a lot of the blame for the Marcus Thornton Affair, and Carl Landry was always going to help the 2011 Hornets more than Marcus Thornton.  Similarly, the old Trevor Ariza was always going to be more impactful on a Chris Paul-led Hornets side than Darren Collison coming off the bench.  Luis Scola, Kevin Martin and Lamar Odom would have made for a competitive, exciting team in the short term, something that had to have been on Demps' mind given the state of basketball in New Orleans.  Dell Demps supporters?  They all have a point too - the specter of Chris Paul's departure loomed menacingly over Demps, impacting each of his decisions, and Demps made logical, informed, and highly defensible moves in spite of it.

My aim isn't to settle this debate here, nor do I think there's a meaningful resolution to this at all.  Instead, I call attention to the dichotomy of opinion on Demps to point out one thing we should all agree on - Dell Demps' most promising trait is his relentless, unceasing activity in the front office.  He's on top of every unheralded unsigned player, he's exploring trade possibilities with every member of his roster, and he isn't afraid in the slightest to move immediately when he thinks he has a move.  For a front office that has routinely been lampooned by A. Wojnarowski and Co. for its lack of employees, cubicles, staplers, or whatever else "normal" front offices are equipped with, it comes as a welcome step forward.

The signing of Gustavo Ayon is the latest example of this.

Ayon's a 26 year old power forward/center, hailing from Tepic, Mexico.  He signed on with Division 1 San Jose State in 2006, but instead opted to play professionally in his native Mexico.  After developing as a player and winning multiple league titles from 2006-2009, Ayon opted to head to Europe the next year, joining Spanish side Baloncesto Fuenlabrada.  The Spanish ACB is the best professional league in Europe; edging out Italy and Greece for top honors.

Ayon played a full season of Spanish basketball in 2010-2011, and had played 10 games in the 2011-2012 season before signing with New Orleans. Obviously, I haven't seen him play, but his line this year was about 16 points and 8 rebounds (over 3 offensive) on 66% from the floor and over 80% from the foul line.  Those numbers came in under 29 minutes a game.  It's clear, just from a statistical perspective, that this is a player that can play basketball.  And those that have followed his game extensively?  They're even more effusive in their praise.

Here are some tweets from Draft Express - perhaps the most respected international scouting service in professional basketball right now - last week:

@DraftExpress: In Spain. Arguably most productive player in league. RT @BKoremenos: Where did Gustavo Ayon play before NO nabbed him?
@DraftExpress: 6-10. Plays his ass off. Smart. Rebounds. Tough. Finds ways to score. Teammate. Perfect rotation big.
@DraftExpress: Most of the NBA was quietly tracking Gustavo Ayon. Everyone wanted to keep him a secret, hence the lack of hype/buzz. Clearly a NBA player.
@DraftExpress: Now its official I can finally say: Gustavo Ayon is a STEAL. Smart, tough, active, athletic 4/5. A young Jeff Foster. Well done New Orleans.

That's... a lot of praise.  From the description, is there any question at all that this is the quintessential Monty Williams player?

Dig around a bit more, and you'll find that the Spurs, Lakers, Nuggets, Suns and Pacers all made overtures for his services.  This, according to many analysts, is a guy that could help a good team immediately.  That a projected lottery team was able to pull this deal off?  That tells me a lot.

Whether Ayon will transition smoothly to the NBA remains to be seen, but the fact remains that this is a smart, cheap, resourceful signing regardless of how it all turns out.  You play the odds when you construct a team, and acquiring Ayon is a solid move regardless of the outcome.  The Hornets have reportedly been all over him throughout the lockout and will pay his Spanish side $0.75M to extract him from his contract there.

The Chris Paul section of Demps' tenure finishes to mixed reviews.  There was obviously an argument for going all out and trying to keep Chris Paul in New Orleans long term.  It didn't happen, and because of it, the alternative - keeping some pieces for the future on the roster - looks attractive in hindsight.  Whichever side of the Demps coin you fall on (I've supported every move he's made thus far, aside from Thornton), it's all in the past now.

The future began last week, and Dell Demps is, swift as ever, off to the races.


Posted on: June 7, 2010 8:19 pm
 

GoHornets21's 2010 NBA Mock Draft

What's up folks?  I've actually never done a mock draft before, but I did a lot of reading up on prospects for the Hornets appearance in the lottery and I'm goign to give it a shot now.  Forgive me if you think this totally sucks.  Don't be afraid to criticize, definitely don't be afraid to praise and I hope this generates some conversation heading forward on this dead day in between NBA Finals games.  So here goes out. 

By the way, I'm only going to mock draft the first round.

1) Washington Wizards - John Wall, PG, Kentucky - Seems to be the no brainer pick here.  I'm not really excited about Wall's prospects going forward, but I've been wrong on his type before (Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade) and he could continue to prove me wrong.  Overall, though, front offices are in love with him and he becomes the new face of a team that really needs a new start.

2) Philadelphia 76ers - Evan Turner, SG, Ohio State - I'm aware of the comparisons to Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young, but with the consensus being that Wall and Turner are the two can't miss prospects from this draft, I think Philadelphia has to stay at this place and take their chances with him.  Also, if they have to move Young or Iguodala then I don't think they'll hesitate.  It's not as if those guys did anything for team success this season.

3) New Jersey Nets - Derrick Favors, PF, Georgia Tech - The Nets rebuilding process may be slow and tedious, but he fits in nicely with Brook Lopez, Devin Harris and Courtney Lee.  It continues to give New Jersey a nice little core with a lot of promise going forward, which may make them a more appealing destination next offseason.

4) Minnesota Timberwolves - Wesley Johnson, SF, Syracuse - Sorry, BNW, but this looks like the pick here.  Unless the team parts ways with Al Jefferson or Kevin Love going into the draft, the necessity of taking DeMarcus Cousins here just isn't necessary.  Even though he's the better prospect, Minnesota would have a complete logjam without any fluidity in their frontcourt.  Johnson also allows for Corey Brewer to go to the bench for Minnesota where he can be more of an impact player.

5) Sacramento Kings - DeMarcus Cousins, PF, Kentucky - The Kings wind up with the most promising player in the draft at the 5th spot.  Cousins has a lot of upside but there seems to be questions regarding his attitude.  Some think those red flags are unfair, but they do exist.  Cousins will have to work on staying out of foul trouble and on his conditioning (he didn't play a lot of minutes his one year in college) but he should be great if he doesn't become a problematic player.

Now we have a general idea of how the top 5 is going to play out.  The rest of it is all subjective.

6) Golden State Warriors - Greg Monroe, PF, Georgetown - I see the Warriors taking Monroe here to fit in nicely with their frontcourt.  They already have the athletic big men in Brandan Wright and Anthony Randolph, they have their explosive frontcourt with Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis and Monroe can fill in at either PF or C (in a pinch) for the Warriors. 

7) Detroit Pistons - Al Farouq-Aminu, SF, Wake Forest - Probably the best player available at this point, Aminu will be able to step into Detroit (a team largely in need of talent) and contribute immediately.  He could be the eventual replacement for Tayshaun Prince (who may not even be with the team by the start of the season) and could turn into a nice player at a big position of need.

8) Los Angeles Clippers - Xavier Henry, SG, Kansas - I don't think Henry deserves to go this guy, but the Clippers could use a conventional shooting guard that allows for Eric Gordon to come off of the bench.  With Blake Griffin debuting next season and with Chris Kaman under contract, the need for a big guy isn't huge but they could take one here.  However, I see them taking Henry at this spot. 

9) Utah Jazz - Cole Aldrich, C, Kansas - The Greg Osterag comparisons are entirely unfair (and, I would claim, racially motivated).  Aldrich is a great shot blocker and tough defensive presence that the Jazz sorely need at their center position.  He's a legit center who may never star in this league, but he can make a big difference right away for the Jazz.

10) Indiana Pacers - Epke Udoh, PF, Baylor - While picks like Roy Hibbert and Tyler Hansbrough haven't payed immediate dividends, a pure shooting guard or point guard would be a better fit for the Pacers at this point.  However, there really isn't one available.  For this reason, I could see the Pacers trading down (I know a lot of mocks have Heyward going here, but Indiana won't reach that high) but if they stay here, they'll Udoh and he can be a big upgrade over Hibbert right away.

11) New Orleans Hornets - Patrick Patterson, PF, Kentucky - The idea of taking a small forward here is really intriguing, but the Hornets probably draft for need and take a big man here.  Since I don't want the team to end up with Ed Davis or Larry Sanders, I'm going to pencil in Patterson here.  Patterson has drawn a lot of comparisons to David West in that he wants to be a conventional PF but lacks the size to do it.  However, being similar to David West is alright in this poster's eyes and, with West likely to opt out next summer, Patterson could wind up starting by next year for New Orleans.

12) Memphis Grizzlies - Donatas Motiejunas, PF, Lithuania - The Grizzlies probably don't need to add another big man, but I think the recent investigations with Zach Randolph are going to scare the team off of giving him the reported contract extension.  For that reason, they may want to start looking for a replacement.  Motiejunas is a complete opposite of Zach Randolph, but with Marc Gasol around the basket, the team can afford to take a chance on the sharp shooting, smooth 7 footer Motiejunas.

13) Toronto Raptors - Hassan Whiteside, C, Marshall - With Chris Bosh likely leaving, Toronto may start to look forward for its frontcourt.  Who knows where they'll be selecting depending on what trades they do or don't make involving Hedo Turkoglu, but there's no doubt the team needs a big man.  For that reason, the Raptors take Hassan Whiteside here, who's a big project but worthy of the risk at this selection.  Also, he's a legit center which would allow for Andrea Bargnani to play at his more natural power forward position. 

14) Houston Rockets - Paul George, SF, Fresno State - I don't think that Yao Ming is healthy and nobody can say certainly that he is.  However, the Rockets will go into next season with the idea that he'll be the team's starting center.  As a result, the team isn't in need of drafting another power forward.  Therefore, I see the team taking one of the fastest rising stars in the draft in George and plugging him in alongside Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin to form an explosive offensive trio.

15) Milwaukee Bucks - Ed Davis, PF, North Carolina - Although the Bucks aren't in desperate need of a big man, Davis can be plugged in to the rebuilding Bucks right away and immediately contribute for the team.  Whether as a starter or backing up Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Davis would a nice compliment to Andrew Bogut in the frontcourt and would join an already young and impressive Bucks squad.

16) Minnesota Timberwolves - James Anderson, SG, Oklahoma State - Ideally, the Timberwolves would love George to be here at 16th.  Because he's not, the team goes for another wing man here with the 16th pick.  Anderson has a nice offensive touch and can immediately step in as the team's starting shooting guard next season.  He'd bring a long range shot that was missing in Minnesota last season and can even become an eventual solid man defender at the NBA level.

17) Chicago Bulls - Avery Bradley, SG, Texas - Regardless of which route Chicago goes in free agency, Bradley could step in and play the Ben Gordon role in Chicago.  Kirk Hinrich may be better coming off the bench and, although similarly undersized, Bradley would be a better compliment in the backcourt with Derrick Rose than Hinrich is.  Anderson would be a great fit here as well if I didn't have him going to Minnesota.

18) Miami Heat - Daniel Orton, C, Kentucky - Rumored to be a potential lottery pick, the size starved Heat will take a chance on the promising but largely unproven Orton.  Although he only produced in spots last season for Kentucky, there seems to be a lot of potential for Orton.  His lack of colleigate production will cause him to drop out of the lottery, but Miami will quickly take him here. 

19) Boston Celtics - Gordon Heyward, SF, Butler - Although not your prototypical shooting guard, Heyward would be able to contribute in Boston right away.  Really promising and possesing a really good fell for the game, Heyward would fit in with Boston and could eventually be groomed to supplant Ray Allen's shooting guard position, or be the eventual replacement for Paul Pierce.  Either way, the Celtics could use a young, talented wing player and Heyward fits the bill.

20) San Antonio Spurs - Damion James, SF, Texas - The Spurs will get a smart, four year senior who can contribute right away in Damion James.  Needing an eventual replacement for Richard Jefferson (either this season or next season), James can play the small forward position and, while lacking the ball skills for the two guard spot, could play in that position in a pinch. 

21) Oklahoma City Thunder - Larry Sanders, PF, VCU - Joining former VCU teammate Eric Maynor, Sanders could step in right away and contribute for Oklahoma City.  Needing a legit PF, Sanders could join Serge Ibaka as a very promising front court going forward for Oklahoma City, which may be forced to let Jeff Green go due to financial limitations after they give the money to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

22) Portland Trail Blazers - Kevin Seraphin, PF, France - Without the necessary roster spots, Portland may seem content with drafting a foreign prospect and stashing him overseas for a couple of years.  A talented big man, Seraphin won't take LaMarcus Aldridge's spot anytime soon but he could be a contributing piece for a thin Portland frontcourt.

23) Minnesota Timberwolves - Luke Babbitt, SF, Nevada - Seen as a possible lottery talent, Minnesota will be extremely happy that Babbitt fell to them at 23.  Babbitt is different from the earlier picks in that he can play a front court position if necessary (although his skill set is more natural for a SF). 

24) Atlanta Hawks - Eric Bledsoe, SG, Kentucky - With Joe Johnson probably leaving and with Mike Bibby no longer blowing anybody away, Atlanta needs to turn its attention to the backcourt with the 24th pick.  Bledsoe may be very similar to Jamaal Crawford in that he's an undersized two guard who likes to score a lot, but the team may not have a long term need for Crawford either after this season.

25) Memphis Grizzlies - Willie Warren, SG, Oklahoma - Seen as a possible lottery pick last season before deciding to stay at Oklahoma, Warren will be able to step in and be a nice combo guard off the bench for Memphis.  Jamaal Tinsley isn't going to lock down any spots on the bench, so the guard spots should be wide open and Warren's scoring would fit rigiht in with what the rest of the Grizzlies are doing.

26) Oklahoma City Thunder - Devin Ebanks, SF, West Virginia - Joining Sanders, Ebanks looks like a solid second first round pick for Oklahoma City.  He may be too similar to Kevin Durant, but he can be a nice back up for Oklahoma City at both the SG and the SF positions.  He's a really smart player that's a fine rebounder for his position and also shoots a high percentage from the field.  That'd fit right in with what Oklahoma City's doing.

27) New Jersey Nets - Lance Stephenson, SG, Cincinnati - There have long been attitude issues with Stephenson and questions about his character, but Stephenson is an extremely talented player who can shoot from NBA range and has great size for a shooting guard or small forward.  It's a risky pick for New Jersey, but his upside has impressed scouts thus far and he may be worth the risk at 27.

28) Memphis Grizzlies - Craig Brackins, PF, Iowa State - Another player whose stock dropped after he decided to stay in college instead of entering last year's draft, Brackins is a hard workign big man who could provide some grit and toughness for the Grizzlies. After having taken two prolific scorers with their other first round picks, Brackins is the kind of low post, hard working presence the team could use.

29) Orlando Magic - Elliot Williams, SG, Memphis - Although Orlando would like to take a big man here to move Rashard Lewis to his natural SF position, they take Williams with hopes that he can become the eventual replacement for Vince Carter.  Although lacking a great midrange game, Williams is a fantastic open court player and has no problem finishing around the basket.  He's also a great on ball defender and can learn even more in the Magic's system. 

30) New Jersey Nets - Armon Johnson, PG, Nevada - A tough point guard who could give the Nets another young, promising player, Johnson can step in and give New Jersey depth at the point guard position right away.  He's a solid, solid pick this late in the first round as well.
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: March 5, 2010 2:57 am
 

NBA Power Rankings (March 4th, 2010)

Wow I actually miss doing these.  I used to do it every week last year and it really was a joy to put them out because they got so much attention on here.  Now with teams having made their moves at the deadline and now that they've been able to incorporate those new players to a certain degree, this serves as an ideal time to return with the power rankings.  We'll now evaluate who stands where at this point in time and who is prime to make a run, who's running out of gas and who is flying under the radar.  So here's this season's first incarnation of GoHornets21's NBA Power Rankings.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers (48-14) - LeBron James has been absolutely terrific this season in every way and there's nobody playing better in the league at this point in time.  The injuries to Shaquille O'Neal and the "risky trade" of Zydrunas Ilgauskas really have hurt the frontcourt, and it's going to be difficult trying to get all of those players used to the rotation and back into the flow of things right at the postseason, but the Cavs have the best player in the league to help these players come along.  Mo Williams has found his shot as of late and if he can get consistent at all this season, the Cavs will be even better.  Antawn Jamison still looks like an odd fit, but he's putting up numbers and the Cavs could really use some scoring from the frontcourt positions so he has to be a welcome addition for Cleveland.

2. Los Angeles Lakers (46-16) - The team is still coming along slowly since Kobe Bryant's return to the lineup.  That's not to say this team is better without him.  If they're going to win a championship this season, they need Kobe in top form for the entire postseason.  He is the player that puts them over the top.  But players like Jordan Farmar, Pau Gasol and Shannon Brown were getting all kinds of touches and opportunities to create for themselves and others, that they're now having to regress back to earlier this season and allow Kobe to get his touches again.  I think the confidence built up for Brown in Kobe's absence may have already gone to waste at this moment, but there's still time to build it back up.  Lamar Odom continues to play some really solid basketball of late as well.

3. Denver Nuggets (40-21) - The Nuggets continue to be a mixed bag for me.  Sometimes I think they look terrific and other times I think they don't have the mental toughness to be a championship team.  But they've played some really inspired basketball since George Karl's cancer announcement and they continue to stand out, to me, as the Lakers' biggest threat in the Western Conference.  But Dallas is hard on their heels and the Nuggets have to continue to bring it every single night. 

4. Dallas Mavericks (41-21) - Currently the hottest team in the league, the Dallas Mavericks have been a completely different team since Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood entered the starting lineup.  Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd both have just played some really great basketball since the trade and the Mavericks look as good as they have since the year after their NBA Finals apperance.  As we know, that team lost in the first round of the playoffs, though.  I don't expect that to happen this season but the Mavericks still have to distance themselves from the postseason stink that surrounds that franchise.  Is a clutter of assorted individual talents going to be enough to finally get Dallas over the hump?  Only time will tell.  But I think this group of players is a good enough fit for this team to make some kind of run.  Getting that second seed is more important to them than it is to any other team in the Western Conference in my opinion so I don't see them letting up at any point the rest of this year.  This is Dirk's new best chance to get that elusive championship ring.  He's playing like it.

5. Orlando Magic (42-20) - I don't know what's happened in Orlando, but Dwight Howard has really came on as of late.  After that dissapointing loss in New Orleans last week, the Magic have really looked focused out there and it shows in their play on the court.  Rashard Lewis is slowly starting to come along this season (finally) and if he gets a consistent shot like he had last season, this team will again challenge Cleveland in the Eastern Conference.  But they need Lewis to play better than he has this season.  Jameer Nelson continues to be an enigma of sorts in Orlando but when he's on this team really gels.  They need him to regain some kind of consistant form and when he and Lewis do, watch out.

6. Utah Jazz (39-22) - The Jazz have been flying under the radar all season but they're playing great basketball this season.  They've finally learned how to win on the road this season and we all know how tough of a team they are when they're in Salt Lake City.  Deron Williams really has to enter into some MVP talks with the way he's kept this team together, and Carlos Boozer is using this contract year to really step out and he is really playing hard to get paid this summer.  I still think they lack the interior toughness that championship teams possess, but the Jazz shouldn't be underestimated.

7. Atlanta Hawks (39-21) - After these first six teams, it gets a little jumbled up to me.  Atlanta stands out just because they have a terrific starting 5, a solid coach (I don't care what you Hawks fans say to the contrary) and a great 6th man.  Also, they've beaten the only other team I would consider for this spot (Boston) four times this season, so I believe Atlanta deserves to be here.  I usually roll my eyes when people say Joe Johnson is always an underrated superstar in this league, but this year is the first time I would really say that.  He's been huge for the Hawks when they need it and he's had to handle a lot with Mike Bibby's struggles this year and with Jamal Crawford not really being a true point guard.  But he's handled it well.  Marvin Williams has played well the next couple of games, and if they can get him to play hard they'll be just fine in the playoffs.  I don't know why he's been so bland this season.  But this team has the starting five, they just need to start putting it together for the stretch run.

8. Boston Celtics (38-21) - The Celtics are trying to get fully healthy for the first time this season, and if they can do so the league better watch out.  The Celtics really don't need home court advantage in the postseason.  They've been there and done that when it comes to winning in the playoffs and all they need is a fully healthy roster.  Neither Rasheed Wallace or Marquis Daniels turned out like they wanted this offseason in Boston, but picking up Nate Robinson at the deadline looks to be a good move.  What happened to Glen Davis this season?  After last year's run in the playoffs, I thought he was going to emerge as a great player off of Boston's bench this season.  He's only had a couple good games that I can remember all season long.  I guess some of it may be injury, but how much of it is possibly because he got paid this summer?

9. Oklahoma City Thunder (36-24) - Russell Westbrook continues to be in Kevin Durant's shadow this season but continues to play some of the most unheralded basketball in the league.  However, there's still no equaling what Durant's doing this season.  He's been the catalyst for this surprising team all season long and has absolutely no offensive weakness to his game.  If you want someone to score a point for you down the stretch, I'd put him right up there with Kobe as someone who I would want to have the ball for that possession.  And I whole heartedly mean that.  He's been great.  Jeff Green's stats have fallen off this year as opposed to last year, but I still think he's important as a glue guy for this team.  He's really gotten lost in the praise shuffle in Oklahoma City, and I think his salary may be neglected this offseason and that may hurt the Thunder's progression.  But there's no reason why this team can't win at least one playoff series this year.

10. Phoenix Suns (39-25) - The surprising resurgence in Phoenix continues even after a horrible month of January.  Steve Nash is still playing good basketball, Amar'e Stoudemire has been terrific since the trade deadline (someone else looking to get paid this summer) and they've gotten great contributions from Grant Hill, Jared Dudley, Channing Frye and Goran Dragic all season long.  Robin Lopez had about a week where he was putting up some terrific numbers but he's regressed a bit these past few games.  The Suns will need him to consistently contribute on both sides of the court if they're going to make any noise in the postseason.  He's shown that he's capable, it's up to him to still find ways to contribute even when teams now make an effort to guard him.

11. Portland Trail Blazers (37-27) - The team with the worst luck in the league is slowly getting back to health and when they do, they're one streak away from convincing me they can contend for a spot in the Western Conference Finals.  They're not that far off.  They're incredibly deep, they have a fantastic bench, a legit superstar in Brandon Roy and one of the best home courts in the league.  Getting Marcus Camby at the deadline will do a lot to soften the blow of not having Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla for the rest of this season.  Juwan Howard played admirably in their absence, but no legitimately good team is going to start him at center.  He probably shouldn't even be getting the heavy minutes that he is, but Nate McMillan really has no other options.  They have to find a way to get healthy this year if they want to make a run, but they can do it.  I like their chances.

12. San Antonio Spurs (34-24) - The Spurs continue to impress you one night, make you sick the next when they take the court.  I think a lot of the inconsistency across the board is Greg Popovich's fault.  All things considered, and I think Pop is the second best coach in the league to Phil Jackon, this has been Pop's worst season as a head coach at San Antonio.  The main reason for the Spurs inconsistency is Pop's inability to have any stable, set rotation this season.  He's given big minutes to George Hill, and that seems to be the only player outside of the big three that Pop knows what he wants to do with them.  He's started Richard Jefferson and brought him off the bench; done the same to Antonio McDyess, DeJuan Blair and Keith Bogans as well.  He needs to set a rotation, know who he wants in the game and go with that already.  He's hurting this team's chance to get in any rhythym before the playoffs.

13. Milwaukee Bucks (31-29) - I've really been driving the Milwaukee bandwagon as of late.  Andrew Bogut has come down to Earth a little bit after a terrific stretch of basketball, but Scott Skiles and company just find ways to win basketball games.  John Salmons has been indescribably huge for them since coming over at the trade deadline, and let's not forget the contributions Jerry Stackhouse has made for them off the bench since coming on board midway through the season.  You look at their bench, they have Luke Ridnour, Stackhouse and Kurt Thomas, those are players that can contribute for you on a nightly basis.  They're more talented than people give them credit for.  If Brandon Jennings finds his jump shot again at any point the rest of the season, watch out for this team in the playoffs.

14. Toronto Raptors (31-28) - The Raptors started off playing some good basketball after Chris Bosh initially got injured, but have tailed off since; losing their last four games.  I thought Hedo Turkoglu would be an ideal fit for this team and the way they play basketball, but he's just been so unreliable all season long.  Andrea Bargnani really hasn't taken that step forward this season that I thought he would either.  There's a lot of players who have dissapointed up North, but the team still finds itself above .500 and they're still a solid team with Chrsi Bosh in the lineup.  I had bigger hopes for them, though.  Now, I can't see them winning a playoff series.  Then again, I was wrong with them once.

15. Memphis Grizzlies (32-30) - The Grizzlies started off slow, played great basketball, tailed off, and are now starting to play great again.  The team really goes as Zach Randolph goes.  When he plays great, the team is unstoppable.  When he's simply going through the motions and is just putting up decent numbers, it reflects in everyone else's contributions.  The bench is still horrendously thin and that's probably going to keep them out of the postseason.  But the Grizzlies have taken a step forward this season and the franchise at least has a pulse now.

16. New Orleans Hornets (31-31) - This was a crucial week for New Orleans and any hopes they had of making the postseason and the team didn't respond very well.  Losses at home to San Antonio and Memphis have great deteriorated the Hornets' playoff opportunity.  Chris Paul is said to be coming back in roughly a week, and his presence will be welcomed back among Hornets players, coaches and fans alike.  Darren Collison has been terrific in his absence, but his turnovers have cost the Hornets just as many games as he's won for them.  Marcus Thornton continues to be a terrific find in the 2nd round for Interim Head Coach/General Manager Jeff Bower, and the Hornets are doing the right thing by developing their young talent.  This offseason is going to be critical for the direction the Hornets take as a franchise.

17. Chicago Bulls (31-30) - I'm done trying to figure out what kind of team the Bulls are going to be this year.  Outside of Derrick Rose, you don't know what you're getting out of anybody on any given night.  Luol Deng has rebounded very nicely this season and is the clear cut second option, but is that necessarily a good thing?  Joakim Noah's injury also is holding the team back a bit, since he was playing so well at the beginning of the season.  Looking at Ronald Murray, Devin Brown and Jannero Pargo, the Bulls are probably wishing they had held on to John Salmons.  Hakim Warrick has always put up good numbers on bad teams, but is now being asked to contribute for a team with postseason aspirations.  He needs to deliver for Chicago.

18. Miami Heat (31-31) - The Heat's decision to not pursue a second option for Dwyane Wade may have been the right move financially, but it's really hurt the team on the court.  Michael Beasley showed glimpses of being able to put it all together earlier this season but started bickering at reporters and has regressed ever since.  Maybe a lot of you were right when you told me he didn't have the mental toughness to survive in this league.  Outside of Beasley, who of these guys do you really want contributing nightly for your team?  It's such a bad roster that I'm surprised Wade has them at .500.  I know they have the money for him and another superstar, but does this team have the brass to really put a decent team together?  Even if you add another great player, that's still a horrible group of players and now two good players.  It won't make them a championship team. 

19. Houston Rockets (30-30) - After the very publicized trade in Houston, Kevin Martin has come around to finding his shot for the Rockets.  They've been without Kyle Lowry for about 9 games now (I think) and that's really been a big reason why the team has struggled as of late.  They were playing so well at the beginning of the year, and with all the injury problems you kind of pulled for them to make some noise but they just don't have the talent to keep up.  It doesn't seem likely, but hopefully Yao Ming returns healthy next season (long shot) and this team can make some kind of sustained run together.  It's not a bad, little group of players.

20. Charlotte Bobcats (28-31) - For awhile there this team looked like a lock to make the postseason and was playing great basketball.  As of late, they've really looked bad.  Larry Brown hasn't been able to get a handle on this team in the two years he's been with Charlotte, and he doesn't look like he's enjoying the job either.  Michael Jordan buying the team pumps some life into them, but this roster doesn't have any kind of cohesive feel to it.  It's a great assortment of individual talent, but none of them look good together on the court.  I still like the move to acquire Tyrus Thomas at the deadline and he can be huge off the bench for the Bobcats if he plays up to his potential.  Miami is catchable, but their margin for error is slim and the team needs to get an identity and they need to do so quickly.

21. Sacramento Kings (21-40) - Even though the record isn't there, the effort, the hustle, the coaching and the potential is there to create some kind of excitement around Sacramento.  The move to acquire Carl Landry while getting rid of Kevin Martin's contract was just ingenious.  Tyreke Evans should run away with rookie of the year honors and overall this team has a fun feel to it.  Paul Westphal is the perfect balance of discipline and structure that a group of unproven players needs, and this team can really make strides these next two seasons and be back in the playoffs by 2012. 

22. Los Angeles Clippers (25-36) - The curious resigning of Mike Dunleavy and subsequent trades for cap space have once again made the Clippers a barely relevant basketball team, although their record says that they're now awful this season.  This team continues to riddle even the most brilliant of basketball fans, as there's no reason for a team with that kind of talent to be as mediocre as they are.  They have a good point guard, a good center, and good contributors at every position out there.  But they just never can put it together.  Hopefully, Blake Griffin comes back next season fully healthy and this team makes some kind of stride going forward.  There's really no excuse anymore to not succeed.

23. Philadelphia 76ers (22-38) - Nobody's been able to figure out what's going on in Philadelphia all season long.  Eddie Jordan just hasn't given this team any kind of identity or style and the play has been indicative of that.  The Allen Iverson saga has become bigger than the franchise as of late (something that most teams wanted to avoid, which is why Iverson was so available for Philadelphia).  They didn't make any moves at the deadline and I'm curious as to why they didn't, because they either need to get into rebuilding mode or spend ridiculous amounts of cash to be a playoff regular.  Because there isn't a more stale team in the league than this 76ers squad.

24. New York Knicks (21-39) - The Knicks can put up numbers in bunches but still look like garbage some times on the court.  That effort against the Cavaliers was pathetic but at least they rebounded to beat up on Detroit last night.  David Lee has been one of the most consistent players on the court league wide and if not for him the Knicks would probably be in worst shape than they currently are.  Bill Walker looks to be a great find off of Boston's bench (after hearing their interest in Michael Finley, you think they're regretting letting Walker go?) but then again, everyone looks to be a great find when they get in D'Antoni's gimmicked system.  They have a bad team, but that's mainly because they've freed up the space to go after who they want this offseason.  For the sake of their fans, they better get them, because if not this franchise is going to be in really bad shape.

25. Washington Wizards (21-37) - Moving Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler has been so great for this Washington franchise.  It's not that those were bad players, they're really good players.  In fact, their new teams are both in the top four of these power rankings.  And their additions are a big reason why.  But Washington needed a change in identity, and disassociating themselves from anybody involved with the team's playoff runs was a good thing for the future.  Now without the constraints of commitments to veterans, Flip Saunders has taken the handcuffs off this team and their play has been indicative of such.  Andray Blatche, especially, has been huge since the trade deadline and looks fantastic out on the court.  They're still not a good team, but at least they're a team Wizards fans can be prouder of.

26. Detroit Pistons (21-40) - The Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva signings officially look awful.  In fact, they look like some of the worst moves league wide in a long, long time.  It's not as if this team has the cap space to improve, the coaching that gives me confidence things can turn around, or even the young talent that you know they can build around.  Rodney Stuckey, Jonas Jerebko, Austin Daye, Will Bynum, these are all nice players for good teams but they're not players you want to hitch the future of a franchise to.  When you look at the paychecks that Gordon, Villanueva and Jason Maxiell are getting in Detroit, it's no wonder why this team is so average.  They've invested in the wrong types of players and this franchise is in dire needs of a makeover.

27. Indiana Pacers (20-41) - They've really taken a step back this season and injuries have been a big part of it.  Danny Granger, Mike Dunleavy and even the likes of Jeff Foster and Tyler Hansbrough have all missed substantial time this season.  It's not as if this team was stacked with talent to begin with, so the injuries just make things worse.  Jim O'Brien looks as good as gone, and this is another team that really needs some kind of makeover.  I look at the players Larry Bird has brought in and the players he's drafted, and I don't think he's done a bad job in Indiana.  I just don't look at the roster as a whole and say "there's something to like here."  Danny Granger hasn't been able to duplicate the success he had last season and neither has Troy Murphy for the most part.  Those are probably the biggets reasons why Indiana has taken such a drastic step back.

28. Golden State Warriors (17-43) - Stephen Curry has really been a feel good story in the Bay City and has done a lot to lessen the blow that is how awful this team is out on the court.  He's played all year and has done a fine job in his starting role, but Monta Ellis' recent injury problems have only added on to the long list of injured Warriors on the roster.  This is now becoming a recurring theme every year for Golden State, and it confuses me as an observer from the outside.  Why is it that all these players are getting hurt in Golden State every single year, regardless if the player has any kind of injury history or is even getting any substantial minutes to where this injury can occur.  There's some kind of bad aura surrounding Golden State right now and it doesn't look bright for the Warriors.

29. Minnesota Timberwolves (14-48) - Finally Corey Brewer has come around to being a servicable player in this league.  Maybe still not worthy of the lottery pick the Timberwolves used on him, but a good player nonethless.  Outside of him and Kevin Love, everybody that was on the team last season just has dissapeared this season.  This bootleg triangle that Kurt Rambis is trying to opperate just is not working.  Al Jefferson is nowhere near the player he was the last two seasons.  Ryan Gomes would at least show glimpses of being a good player last year and he's been virtually non-existent this season.  Jonny Flynn has put up good numbers but has done nothing to stand out in Minnesota as well.  This is another team that's still a bit puzzling because you don't know when the true rebuilding stage is going to kick in.  They're obviously not anywhere near playoff contention yet, but what gives you any indication they will be in the near future?

30. New Jersey Nets (6-54) - For awhile there I bought into the hype that the Nets could set the NBA record for futility and surpass the 76ers 9-63 record.  After last week's win at Boston, I'm convinced this team will at least go 4- 19 over their last 23 games to get that elusive tenth victory.  This team has no business being this bad, and for that reason I kind of feel as if they deserve to carry that loser label around with them.  They don't try, they don't perform, they're undisciplined and they don't seem to care that they're so awful of a team.  Poor Kiki Vandeweghe was told to firesale the roster with the hopes of acquiring LeBron James this offseason, but he's going to be blamed for how bad this roster is.  Even with all this cap space, there's no reason for a player to want to go to New Jersey, the impending move to Brooklyn is still pending, and that Russian billionare who was going to buy the team still has yet to buy them.  Even still, they shouldn't be anywhere near 9-63. 
Category: NBA
Tags: 76ers, Al Jefferson, Allen Iverson, Amar'e Stoudemire, Andray Blatche, Andrea Bargnani, Andrew Bogut, Antawn Jamison, Antonio McDyess, Austin Daye, Ben Gordon, Bill Walker, Blake Griffin, Bobcats, Brandon Jennings, Brandon Roy, Brendan Haywood, Bucks, Bulls, Carl Landry, Carlos Boozer, Caron Butler, Cavaliers, Celtics, Channing Frye, Charlie Villanueva, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul, Clippers, Corey Brewer, Danny Granger, Darren Collison, David Lee, DeJuan Blair, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Devin Brorwn, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, George Hill, Glen Davis, Goran Dragic, Grant Hill, Greg Oden, Grizzlies, Hakim Warrick, Hawks, Heat, Hedo Turkoglu, Hornets, Jamal Crawford, Jameer Nelson, Jannero Pargo, Jared Dudley, Jason Kidd, Jason Maxiell, Jazz, Jeff Foster, Jeff Green, Jerry Stackhouse, Joakim Noah, Joe Johnson, Joel Przybilla, John Salmons, Jonas Jerebko, Jonny Flynn, Jordan Farmar, Juwan Howard, Keith Bogans, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Kevin Martin, Kings, Knicks, Kobe Bryant, Kurt Thomas, Kyle Lowry, Lakers, Lamar Odom, LeBron James, Luke Ridnour, Luol Deng, Magic, Marcus Camby, Marcus Thornton, Marquis Daniels, Marvin Williams, Mavericks, Michael Beasley, Mike Bibby, Mike Dunleavy, Mo Williams, Monta Ellis, Nate Robinson, Nets, Nuggets, Pacers, Pau Gasol, Pistons, Raptors, Rashard Lewis, Rasheed Wallace, Richard Jefferson, Robin Lopez, Rockets, Rodney Stuckey, Ronald Murray, Russell Westbrook, Ryan Gomes, Shannon Brown, Shaquille O'Neal, Spurs, Stephen Curry, Steve Nash, Suns, Thunder, Timberwolves, Trail Blazers, Troy Murphy, Tyler Hansbrough, Tyreke Evans, Tyrus Thomas, Warriors, Will Bynum, Wizards, Yao Ming, Zach Randolph
 
Posted on: December 22, 2009 2:58 am
 

Worst NBA Contracts Of The Last Ten Years

2010 is coming.  If you have watched basketball at all the last two seasons, all that's mentioned is the future destinations of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and company.  While those two are dynomite and will be worth whatever amount of cash a team throws at them, players like Chris Bosh, Amar'e Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer have Juwan Howard written all over them.  Because teams are guaranteed to overspend, we're going to look back at the ten worst contracts of the last ten years, starting in 2000 and ending now.  We'll list each player by the team he signed with, the length and amount of the contract and their statistics for the duration of their contract.

15. Gilbert Arenas, G, Washington Wizards: 6 Years, 111 Million Dollars in the 2008 offseason (27 Games, 21.4 PPG, 7.2 APG, 4.0 RPG, 1.1 SPG) - Some people may say that it's way too early to include Gilbert Arenas in this discussion, but why wait for the continuted, inevitable decline of the Wizards franchise?  Two years into this deal, in fact as soon as the ink dried on the dotted line, fans and analysts alike knew that this was bad news for Washington.  Arenas was coming off of the historically fatal microfracture knee surgery and a season which he had only played 13 regular season and 2 postseason games.  Furthermore, the Wizards were coming off successive first round exits in the postseason and had resigned Antawn Jamison to a similar contract in terms of annual salary.  So when they turned around and invested 111 million dollars (outbidding themselves) to retain Arenas, the Wizards had invested tons of money into a team that hadn't even won 50 games as a unit.  Arenas rewarded the Wizards by having a third surgery on his knee and missed all but two games last season.  He's come back and put up decent numbers this season (with a shooting percentage in the low 40's) but the Wizards are near the bottom of the Eastern Conference after being preseason favorites for a run at the postseason.  With a lack of young talent, a lot of money invested in their current players and with the return being constant defeats, things look bad for the Wizards, and they're going to wish they had 111 million dollars to spend elsewhere.

14. Luol Deng, F, Chicago Bulls: 6 Years, 71 Million Dollars in the 2008 offseason (74 Games, 15.4 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.2 SPG) - A really nice player with a really solid game, Deng was acquired as a rookie by the Chicago Bulls and contributed to some solid teams that made the postseason.  He showed flashes of being a solid player, but he never seemed like a superstar.  When the 2008 offseason came, the Bulls were forced with the decision of retaining either Deng or guard Ben Gordon long term; or let both of them walk.  The Bulls decided to give that money to Deng and signed Gordon to a one year offer.  Gordon became the leading scorer for the Bulls, led the team to an almost upset over the defending champion Boston Celtics in the 2009 postseason and turned that into a 55 million dollar with the Detroit Pistons.  Deng watched the postseason from the bench in street clothes.  Deng is healthy and playing solid basketball for the Bulls this season, but there's no denying that he's not worth the money that he's receiving.

13. Erick Dampier, F-C, Dallas Mavericks: 7 Years, 73 Million Dollars in the 2004 offseason (389 Games, 6.7 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.3 BPG) - Notorious for playing big in contract years and then turning that into a payday, Dampier became a 12 point, 12 rebound force in the 2003-2004 season for Golden State and was looking like a prize center in the 2004 offseason.  Most critics pointed to his increase in production in a contract year being a bad sign, but Mark Cuban ignored all red flags and signed Dampier to a huge long term deal.  Dampier has held down the starting center job for Dallas since being acquired, but it's mostly been by default and because of the paycheck that he's receiving.  There's no denying that he dogged it his entire career only to play big in his contract year and get paid handsomely.  Because he hasn't prevented the Mavericks from continuing to be a solid franchise, Dampier escapes being further up on this list. 
Author's Note: Dampier is currently having the best year of his contract.  One other thing that should be noted, he has the option to opt out of his contract this offseason.  Coincidence?

12. Michael Redd, G, Milwaukee Bucks: 6 Years, 91 Million Dollars in the 2005 offseason (247 Games, 23.4 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.1 SPG) - Always a nice player, Redd had been the best player for some really mediocre Milwaukee Bucks teams in 2004 and 2005.  The deadly sharpshooter was sought after by the upstart Cleveland Cavaliers, with hopes that Redd could partner up alongside a young LeBron James and become the nail in the coffin for teams that were paying too much attention to LeBron.  Because of all the attention Cleveland was giving Michael Redd, fan interest forced the Bucks to engage in a bidding war with Cleveland.  What followed was the contract that Milwaukee eventually gave Redd to become their franchise player.  While Redd continued to be as good as he was before signing the contract, he was never a great player and is extremely one dimensional.  Sometimes shooting the Bucks out of games, Redd has become a villian of sorts in Milwaukee as the team has routinely played better when he's not in the lineup.  After leading the Bucks to the postseason in the first year of his contract, the Bucks have become embarassingly mediocre since and Redd is viewed as the most glaring of some bad personnel decisions in Milwaukee. 
Author's Note: Look for Andre Iguodala to become a Michael Redd-type bad contract in Philadelphia.

11. Larry Hughes, G, Cleveland Cavaliers: 5 Years, 70 Million Dollars in the 2005 offseason (251 Games, 13.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.4 SPG) - The Cavaliers were jilted at the altar by Michael Redd, so with all of the free cap space they had, they went after a different shooting guard to become the Scottie Pippen to LeBron's Michael Jordan.  The money they had was given to Larry Hughes.  Always a player with a ton of untapped potential, Hughes became a solid force for some surprisingly successful Washington franchises before his contract went up and looked to have finally reached the level of play he was capable of by the time Cleveland signed him.  However, Hughes never justified the contract that Cleveland gave him.  Cleveland tried him at point guard, shooting guard, sixth man and defensive stopper before growing tired of his inconsistency and knack for injuries.  They shipped him off to Chicago and from there he was shipped to New York where he currently plays.  Hughes and his contract have been heavily criticized and extremely disliked everywhere he's been (and fans have let him know about that) but the Knicks are holding onto his contract for the free cap space it will create this offseason.

10. Samuel Dalembert, C, Philadelphia 76ers: 6 Years, 63 Million Dollars in the 2005 offseason (339 Games, 8.6 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 2.1 BPG) - A freakishly long and tall player with a lot of shot blocking potential, Dalembert, because of his size and difficult to pronounce name, drew a lot of comparisons to Dikembe Mutombo and was viewed as a solid player on the rise by the time Philadelphia gave him his contract.  Even though he had the ideal body and athleticism to become a dominat rebounder and shot blocker, Dalembert never materialized as anything more than mediocre.  Even though he's held down the starting center position for Philadelphia for the duration of his contract, he's a classic case of someone with all of the potential in the world who just never developed.  Every offseason becomes "maybe this is the year" for Dalembert, and every year he puts up maddingly inconsistent numbers and dissapoints both Philadelphia coaches and fans. 

9. Allan Houston, G, New York Knicks: 6 Years, 100 Million Dollars in the 2001 offseason (229 Games, 20.0 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 2.4 APG) - At the time of his signing, Houston a Knick favorite and had led the team to the NBA Finals just a couple years prior in 1999.  Two years later, the Knicks had declined sharply and were outsted in the first round in 2001, the same year that Houston's contract expired.  The Knicks, even though they were financially strapped and largely medicore, gave  Houston a 20.7 million dollar per year contract that prevented the team from making any free agent moves.  The next two years, the Knicks would miss the postseason and would turn to Isiah Thomas to save the franchise (and we'll see how he did later in this list).  After two seasons, Houston would start to have problems with his knee and would miss a large portion of the third and fourth years of his contract.  The injury eventually forced Houston to retire in 2005.  The contract destroyed the Knicks so badly that the NBA adopted an "Allan Houston Rule" which granted NBA teams the option of releasing one player to not count against the luxury tax. 
Author's Note: Look for Kevin Martin to be this generation's version of Allan Houston

8. Kenyon Martin, F, Denver Nuggets: 7 Years, 92.5 Million Dollars in the 2004 offseason (290 Games, 12.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.1 BPG) - At the time of this signing, Kenyon Martin was a fine player who had played on two Eastern Conference Championship teams with the New Jersey Nets.  Once the number one pick in the 2000 NBA Draft, Martin blossomed once the Nets acquired Jason Kidd and became a fan favorite for the ferocity with which he would slam the basketball.  Elsewhere in the NBA, the Nuggets, fresh off of drafting Carmelo Anthony, were viewed as a team on the rise that was one big man away from taking the next step.  It seemed like a match made in heaven.  Only problem is, Kenyon Martin had zero post moves, had Andre Miller to give him the ball instead of Jason Kidd and joined a frontcourt of Nene and Marcus Camby, who were basically the same players as Martin.  Martin struggled to fit into the Nuggets rotation and the team continued to lose in the first round, never taking that next step with Martin on the roster.  Microfracture knee surgeries, being sent home from the team in the postseason by head coach George Karl, and frequently clashing with fans followed and Martin's contract looks worse by the day.  He's rebounded well the last couple of seasons to stay healthy and has emerged as a great defensive power forward, but he'll never be worth every penny the Nuggets gave him.

7. Andrei Kirilenko, F, Utah Jazz: 6 Years, 86 Million Dollars in the 2004 offseason (299 Games, 11.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.9 BPG, 1.2 SPG) - In the wake of the departures of Karl Malone and John Stockton, the Jazz franchise shocked everyone during the 2003-2004 season when they narrowly missed making the postseason.  They were led that year by Andrei Kirilenko, known as AK47 because of his initials, number and because he and the gun shared the same birthplace (Russia).  Kirilenko was a multi talented player who filled every stat you could think of and could play multiple positions on the floor.  So after that surprise year, the Jazz signed Kirilenko to this contract extension.  While the team experienced a surge of sorts in the years to follow, the addition of Carlos Boozer and subsequent move to small forward for Kirilenko proved to be fatal for his career.  For whatever reason, Kirilenko's numbers dipped dramatically in the 2006-2007 season and clashed with coach Jerry Sloan on numerous occasions.  Probably most famous for crying over his playing time in the Jazz's 2007 postseason run, Kirilenko has long since noted his desire to leave the NBA.  Even once flirting with retirement, Kirilenko has since promised to play professionally in Russia once  this contract goes up in Utah.  Jazz fans can't wait for that day, either.

6. Eddy Curry, C, New York Knicks: 6 Years, 60 Million Dollars in the 2005 offseason (222 Games, 15.2 PPG, 5.8 RPG) - Once viewed, along with Tyson Chandler (someone else who narrowly avoided this list), as the future cornerstones of the Chicago Bulls franchise, Curry frequently dissapointed and lost in Chicago.  In a contract year with the Bulls, Curry proved to be the team's go to man in the paint and turned out a solid season, although he missed the end of the regular season and all of the postseason due to a heart problem (no jokes necessary).  Still in his early 20's by the time that contract expired, Isiah Thomas saw Curry as a center his team could build around and quickly signed Curry to a long term deal.  What ensued was frequent losses by the Knicks, public humiliation veered towards Curry's weight and injury problems, and Curry becoming the butt of every joke amongst NBA fans and analysts alike.  Curry has suffered a lot of personal tragedy as well and has tried to make it back on the court to play for Mike D'Antoni's Knicks, but he's still a guy that nobody will take on their team and that the Knicks would love to get off of their's. 

5. Stephon Marbury, G, Phoenix Suns: 4 Years, 76 Million Dollars in the 2003 offseason (240 Games, 18.0 PPG, 6.5 APG, 2.9 RPG, 1.2 SPG) - Now one of the most notorious players in the history of the NBA, Marbury, without an agent, signed a humongous contract extension with the Phoenix Suns following their first round playoff exit in 2003.  Known as a flashy scorer, team success had always alluded Marbury.  Three months after he signed the extension, Marbury was traded to his hometown New York Knicks to be the franchise player for Isiah Thomas' vision of what the Knicks should be and actually led New York to the 2004 playoffs.  However, that was it.  By the time the extension kicked in in the offseason, Marbury's numbers sharply declined and he would clash with Lenny Wilkens, Larry Brown and Isiah Thomas (following trends he started in Minnesota and New Jersey) before, last year, being famously paid to stay away from the Knicks franchise.  Mike D'Antoni and company were able to finally agree to a buyout with Marbury and he would sign with the Boston Celtics, where he looked awful on the court.  Also involved in a sexual harrasment lawsuit filed against the New York Knicks, Marbury famously threatened Isiah Thomas, stating that he "had things on him" that could prove to be detrimental to Isiah.  Those "things" never came out, but what was revealed was how bad of a blunder Marbury's contract extension and stay in New York had been.

4. Raef LaFrentz, F-C, Dallas Mavericks: 7 Years, 70 Million Dollars in the 2002 offseason (314 Games, 7.8 PPG, 4.8 RPG) - A shot blocking force in Denver, 7'0" Raef LaFrentz could be a force in the paint and could shoot long range jumpers by the time he was traded to Dallas.  After being traded to Dallas, LaFrentz would sign a huge contract in the offseason to be Dallas' center of the future next to big man Dirk Nowitzki.  LaFrentz lasted one year.  One of many Mark Cuban overpaid blunders (Erick Dampier, Michael Finley, DeSagana Diop, etc.), LaFrentz shines above all of those mentioned because he simply did absolutely nothing after signing the contract.  He was traded to Boston, then to Portland, and did not play at all last season due to reoccuring knee injuries.  LaFrentz is now out of the league but Portland used his expiring salary to sign Andre Miller and resign Brandon Roy.  So he lives in spirit.

3. Jermaine O'Neal, F-C, Indiana Pacers: 7 Years, 126.6 Million Dollars in the 2003 offseason (374 Games, 18.1 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 2.2 BPG, 2.1 APG) - Long viewed as a dissapointment after being drafted out of high school in Portland, O'Neal was traded to Indiana where he received an increase in playing time and rewarded Indiana with an increase in production.  After winning the 2002 Most Improved Player of the Year award, O'Neal followed the season up with another 20 point, 10 rebound season and was a hugely sought after free agent in the 2003 offseason.  Flirting with the San Antonio Spurs, O'Neal was offered the contract by Indiana and quickly signed it, becoming the Pacers' franchise player.  While Indiana was successful during O'Neal's peak years in 2002, 2003 and 2004, O'Neal's injuries and contract contributed (along with the infamous Malice at the Palace) to the downfall of the Indiana Pacers franchise.  Viewed as a symbol for Indiana's failures, Pacers fans turned on O'Neal and he was traded to Toronto.  After a failed stint there, he was traded to Miami where he is now the starting center for the Heat.  Injuries were a big reason why this contract simply did not work out, but at that much money and for that many years, there's no pardon for Jermaine O'Neal.

2. Peja Stojakovic, F, New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets: 5 Years, 65 Million Dollars in the 2006 offseason (175 Games, 14.9 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.2 APG) - Once an intregal part of some terrific Sacramento Kings teams, Stojakovic entered the 2006 offseason coming off an injury riddled second half stint with the Indiana Pacers.  One very young team that was willing to take a chance on the 6'10" sharpshooter was the young Hornets.  With young players like Chris Paul and David West on the roster, the Hornets were looking for Stojakovic to be the efficient veteran to turn to in the clutch to help teach the younger players how to win.  Given a maximum deal and making the first big splash of free agency, Stojakovic signed with the Hornets and immediately dissapointed.  Only playing 13 games his first season, Stojakovic had a strong second season: playing in 77 games and shooting over 44 percent from behind the arc.  But his shooting percentage and overall production declined sharply the very next season and he was subsequently benched this offseason.  Stojakovic has found his way back into the starting lineup and remains a bittersweet fan favorite in New Orleans, but his contract has single handedly halted the development and progression of a young and promising unit.

1. Ben Wallace, F-C, Chicago Bulls: 4 Years, 60 Million Dollars in the 2006 offseason (205 Games, 4.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 1.6 APG, 1.2 SPG) - A four time NBA Defensive Player of the Year award winner and even the reigning 2 time DPOY, Ben Wallace entered the 2006 offseason as the prize of a very weak free agent class.  A defensive specialist who was always known to give max effort at the center position, the Bulls, looking for a player to hold down the center position and take the team to the next level, gave all of their free cap space to Ben Wallace to lure him away from the Detroit Pistons.  Outside of his comfort zone in Chicago, and playing on a team that didn't preach defense like the teams in Detroit did, Ben Wallace severely struggled in Chicago.  His numbers went down across the board, his defense slipped and he was exposed big time.  Facing expectations for the first time his career, Ben Wallace crumbled under pressure.  He was eventually shipped to Cleveland where he started on some successful Cavaliers teams but was never the player he used to be, and the player he used to be had no business making that kind of money.  He was eventually traded to Phoenix last offseason and after being bought out by the Suns considered retirement, but Ben has rejoined the Pistons and has found some of his old youth in Detroit.  But Ben Wallace still tops the list of the ten worst contracts of the last ten years.

Posted on: April 16, 2009 11:42 pm
Edited on: April 16, 2009 11:56 pm
 

Final 2008-2009 NBA Power Rankings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

NBA Power Rankings Through January 4th, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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