Tag:Mo Williams
Posted on: October 13, 2010 3:12 pm
 

2010-2011 NBA Central Division Preview

2010-2011 NBA's Central Division

1) Chicago Bulls
Incoming Players:
Omer Asik, Keith Bogans, Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Brian Scalabrine, Kurt Thomas, C.J. Watson
Outgoing Players: Kirk Hinrich, Ronald Murray, Brad Miller, Hakim Warrick, Joe Alexander, Devin Brown, Jannero Pargo, Acie Law
Team Analysis: After mainly conservative fiscal moves on the part of the front office for the better portion of the last two seasons, the Bulls finally entered this offseason as players in free agency.  They finally began fully committing themselves to a championship.  The results weren’t staggering.  Regardless of what they try to sell the fan base, they cleared up that cash for LeBron James or Dwyane Wade.  Instead they got Carlos Boozer.  But the Bulls then decided to make the most of the available remaining money, and spent it on pieces that could come in and play parts for championship teams.  All great teams have particular role players and the Bulls seem to have them.  They have the defender in Ronnie Brewer, the three point marksman in Kyle Korver and the Bulls even brought in old, wise veterans like Kurt Thomas and Keith Bogans to be mentors in times of trouble for the team.  But how will it all fit?

As is the case with any kind of massive roster overhaul, chemistry is a huge issue, and the Bulls will be dealing with this chemistry while also implementing a new system from a new head coach.  Tom Thibodeau was possibly the most famous assistant in the league after his noticeable work with Boston’s defense the last three seasons.  This can be seen as a blessing in disguise, seeing as how he shouldn’t have to get rid of any bad habits from the previous regime.  Thibodeau’s commitment to defense will be seen as a sign of hope in Chicago, but time will tell whether or not the players buy into or even execute that style. 

The Bulls do have nice pieces though.  Derrick Rose is an up and coming point guard, although nowhere near the superstar that the media portrays him as, Joakim Noah is a solid big man in the middle, although nowhere near the amount of money he just received, and Carlos Boozer is a very good low post scorer, although one who relied a lot on Deron Williams setting him up in Utah.  It’s fair to look at this team with a bit of reservation.  The Bulls have a lot of players that play certain parts without any guarantee that those parts will fit together.  Add in a new coach and new system, and the learning curve could be steep for Chicago.  Even still, the division is theirs to lose.  They spent their money on being competitive and at least will be more than they have in recent seasons.

2) Milwaukee Bucks
Incoming Players:
Larry Sanders, Tiny Gallon, Darington Hobson, Earl Boykins, Jon Brockman, Keyon Dooling, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Drew Gooden, Corey Maggette, Brian Skinner
Outgoing Players: Kurt Thomas, Luke Ridnour, Jerry Stackhouse, Primoz Brezec, Royal Ivey, Dan Gadzuric, Charlie Bell
Team Analysis: Undergoing just as big of an overhaul as Chicago’s, Milwaukee burst onto the scene last season as one of the biggest surprises in the entire league.  After years of mediocrity at best and futility at worst, the Bucks bought into coach Scott Skiles’ desired style of play and responded by making the NBA postseason for only the second time in six seasons before pushing the Atlanta Hawks to seven games in the first round, even without center Andrew Bogut.  Bogut is said to be recovering nicely from an arm injury that kept him out of the postseason and should be ready to man down the center position for the Bucks for a fifth consecutive season.  Long seen as inconsistent and a bit of an underachiever, Bogut routinely was registering double digits in both points and rebounds and was, by and large, the team’s best player last season.  But he was joined by the team’s most exciting player in rookie Brandon Jennings.  Jennings took the league by storm by scoring 55 points in a game versus the Golden State Warriors in the third week of the season.  His offense was erratic, at best, for a majority of the year, but his playmaking improved drastically over the last portion of the season.

Because the Bucks felt that they were close to becoming a great team, GM John Hammond was given the green light to make aggressive, costly moves in hopes of becoming among the NBA’s best teams again.  The results were nice.  After trading for Corey Maggette, the Bucks resigned John Salmons, a big reason why the team surged to the postseason last year, gave a long term deal to Drew Gooden and filled in the pieces with more small moves and with their draft picks.  Players like Maggette and Gooden come with recognizable names, but with games that haven’t hugely contributed to much success in the NBA.  Probably where Maggette will best contribute to Milwaukee is in his ability to get to the free throw line, something the Bucks as a team were the worst at in the entire league.  The Bucks are hoping that Gooden can slide in and play alongside Bogut.  He’ll give you a sold, if unspectacular, stat line on a nightly basis but teams like Orlando and Cleveland will tell you not to rely too much on Gooden’s consistency. 

Although the new pieces are nice, a lot of this team will rely on the improvements of players like Jennings, Bogut, Ersan Ilyasova and continued, solid production out of players like Jon Brockman, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Carlos Delfino.  In an ideal scenario, all of those pieces fall into place for Milwaukee and the team takes the entire league by storm.  But there’s great potential for a crash and burn here.  Skiles’ style has soured elsewhere before, a lot of the names they brought in haven’t achieved much before, and Bogut has still not proven he can have a consistent and relatively injury free year.  All needs to go right for Milwaukee to reach its full potential, but there’s a chance all could go right.


3) Indiana Pacers
Incoming Players:
Paul George, Lance Stephenson, Magnum Rolle, Darren Collison, James Posey
Outgoing Players:
Earl Watson, Troy Murphy, Luther Head
Team Analysis:
For the past two seasons, the Pacers have been in the dangerous “good but not great” category, making them one of the most bland and unexciting teams in basketball.  The best example of this is in their very own stadium, where the NBA’s finest venue and one of its most dedicated fan bases seem very much split apart.  In the beginning of this decade, the Pacers were among one of the NBA’s best teams on a yearly basis only to see the character of some of the guys they brought in result in the team being imploded from the inside-out, and seeing one of the most disturbing crash and burns in NBA history.  But the Pacers dedicated themselves to building a team full of good character, marketable guys and now they need to get dedicated to winning.  The moves they made this offseason showed there’s at least a direction towards being dedicated to winning.

One of the biggest moves made outside of the max free agents going elsewhere this offseason was the Pacers acquiring Darren Collison in a trade back in August.  The result hopefully will be the end to a revolving door at the point guard position for Indiana, who has unsuccessfully tried anyone at that position in recent years, including the uninspiring performances of Earl Watson and T.J. Ford last season.  Collison is coming off of a year where he subbed in for all world point guard Chris Paul in New Orleans and did an admirable job: putting up very inspiring numbers, showing consistency on a jump shot that was largely critiqued leading up to his being drafted and being rewarded with a spot on the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team as a result.  Also not to be overlooked is the Pacers acquiring James Posey from New Orleans in the same trade.  Although Posey’s contract causes people to negatively react towards his play, his personality, experience and play could mean wonders in terms of giving this team an identity or just giving this relatively soft bunch a bit of an attitude.

The Pacers return Danny Granger, fresh off of a first place finish with the USA team in the World Championships, and the improving Roy Hibbert as the main pieces in terms of how they will play this season.  Granger still seems a bit one dimensional, but it’s hard to truly evaluate his game until he plays with teammates who he genuinely should defer to in given situations.  Hibbert isn’t your typical seven-footer in that he’s not a dominant low post player nor is he even a consistently good player facing the basket.  But he’s a solid team defense guy and is a good enough low post player to where teams can’t leave him alone.  Although Pacers fans may have thrown their hands up and been dissatisfied with the conduct of second round draft choice Lance Stephenson this offseason, it’s really the most noticeable conduct issue in the past few seasons on a team that was routinely in the news for only that reason.  Pacers fans are still a long ways away from being truly happy with their team, but seeing what Larry Bird was able to do with Troy Murphy’s expiring deal in the offseason had to be encouraging.  Soon enough, the Pacers will have room to operate as well and then we can officially evaluate Bird’s job as a GM.  They’re still further away from that than the optimism created by the Collison trade would indicate, but there’s finally light at the end of the tunnel for the Pacers. 


4) Detroit Pistons
Incoming Players:
Greg Monroe, Terrico White, Vernon Hamilton, Tracy McGrady
Outgoing Players:
Chucky Atkins, Kwame Brown
Team Analysis:
After six consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference Finals, two NBA Finals appearances and one NBA Championship from a largely successful run for Detroit, the Pistons made the decision a couple of years ago to blow up the roster.  Since then, the Pistons have undergone two head coaching changes, seen their win total drop from 59 to 39 to 27, and have only Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Rodney Stuckey and Jason Maxiell remaining from that 2008 team that made its sixth and final trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.  When the Pistons made their initial decision to shake up the roster, much was made about the possibility of them being players in this past summer’s free agent market.  However, Joe Dumars spent the majority of that cleared cap space last offseason, being proactive in the acquisitions of players like Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.  The results, however, were not very promising.  Gordon and Villanueva both showed a lot of their bad qualities over the course of the season, and huge improvements need to be made by both players if the Pistons want to be competitive this season.

Stuckey is entering a make or break season this year with the Pistons, as is probably coach John Kuester.  Both have been praised for their performances in supporting roles, although neither have done extraordinary when much is asked of them.  In Kuester’s case, the Pistons could have been justified in firing him after only one season (they had just done so to Michael Curry in 2009 after a much better season than last year’s) but Dumars felt that Kuester’s potential and continuity would serve the team well this offseason.  While a lot of teams made huge roster overhauls this offseason, including two very publicized teams in Chicago and Milwaukee in their own division, the Pistons are banking that a continued year of growth and development will go a long way in determining their success this season.  Much of that is reliant on Rodney Stuckey, the player who once made Chauncey Billups expendable.  Stuckey has been largely inconsistent, but the team still remains committed to seeing him succeed in Detroit. 

But the Pistons roster is still divided between players who are young and promising, and players who are old and declining.  Some could see that as a nice bridging of the gap.  I feel that’d be a better sell had the team not just won 27 games last season.  The move to acquire Tracy McGrady this offseason probably does nothing to dispel the confusion in regards to Detroit’s roster, but the Pistons are hoping he can recover from his knee injuries to play a solid role at both backup guard positions.  There’s also confusion on what kind of team the Pistons will be.  After a unusually porous performance from the team’s defense last season, Dumars promised better results this year, but they return a lot of the same players.  We still don’t’ know if a lot of their players can fully succeed in a half court system either.  There are a lot of questions In Detroit; frankly, too many to say with any certainty how they’ll perform next season.  Optimists will point to last year’s injuries, pessimists will point to the contradicting roster moves in terms of players brought in, and the players ability to fit the team philosophy.  A lot is on the line this season in Detroit, and change will be on their horizon if they don’t get better and do so soon.


5) Cleveland Cavaliers
Incoming Players:
Christian Eyenga, Joey Graham, Ryan Hollins, Ramon Sessions
Outgoing Players:
LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, Delonte West, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Sebastian Telfair,
Team Analysis:
No team was more largely affected by this offseason than Cleveland.  After two straight seasons of having the NBA’s best record and failing to reach the NBA Finals in either season, Mike Brown was fired as the team’s head coach, and after a very public flirtation with Tim Floyd (who turned the job down due to LeBron James’ uncertain status with the team), settled for former coach of the year Byron Scott.  Scott has been at the helm for two very impressive roster turnarounds in New Jersey and New Orleans and he’s about to be at the helm for another.  Because Cleveland had spent so much towards being competitive the past couple of seasons, role players like Anthony Parker, Anderson Vareajo and Mo Williams are now average shooters and average defenders, overpaid hustle-type guys and shooters who really aren’t comfortable in the lead role.  That doesn’t bode well for Cleveland entering this season.  Add to the fact that LeBron’s departure has placed the whole city of Cleveland in a noticeable funk, and you may have a recipe for disaster this season.

Mo Williams, fresh off of a public pity party which included him admitting that he recently contemplated retirement, returns as Cleveland’s best player.  He disappeared in both postseasons with the team and has been justifiably criticized for those faults.  He and Antawn Jamison are the only players on the team that have shown they can carry the load on offense and contribute on a nightly basis.  Only problem is, neither has done so for a good squad and both should be the subject of trade rumors all season.  The Cavaliers hope that improvements from players like J.J. Hickson and incoming rookie Christian Eyenga will be bright spots for the coming seasons for the team.  But with so much uncertainty regarding those players, it’s foolish to assume they’ll reach their maximum potential this season. 

Cleveland has been vocal in bracing for a youth movement, which is fine if the team has much youth to turn over the new leaf.  Unfortunately, they don’t.  They’re still a team of players that were brought in to win now and a few nice guys who can keep you competitive on a given night.  But the departure of LeBron James will be felt in the team morale, the attendance figures and, most of all, the on court production.  Cleveland is still a few seasons from removing themselves from the mess that was this offseason, and it will be a slow process.  It’s very possible Cleveland could find themselves right back in the bottom of the league this season.  In fact, some will say that’s in the best interest of the team moving forward.  With the whole city of Cleveland being personified by Mo Williams’ public cries for sympathy, it’s unlikely to expect much fire and retaliation from this bunch.

Posted on: May 28, 2010 12:13 pm
 

Top Ten Drafts Last Ten Years: # 1

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.  Mercifully, for some of you, this countdown is almost over.  It's been a blast typing them up and it was fun looking at some of the way teams have fared in the draft and how well some players have panned out, regardless of where they were selected.  We've covered a lot of ground the last decade.  From the high schoolers taken abound in 2001 and 2004, to the new one and done rule in 2006, to the amount of foreign players taken in 2002, to the University of North Carolina setting a record with 4 players taken in the lottery in 2005, to now.  Overall, this draft class has drawn comparisons to legendary classes of 1984 and 1996.  It's changed the courses of franchises, may have put handcuffs on another's chance at a dynasty, and features players who will be at the top of the list when it comes to free agency this summer (since that's what everyone wants to talk about).  But here it is, ladies and gentlemen, the number one draft on our countdown of the top ten drafts the last years.  Coming in at number one is none other than the 2003 NBA Draft.

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: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/22091609

#2: 2005 NBA Draft: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/22122758

#1: 2003 NBA Draft:

Round One:
1) Cleveland Cavaliers - LeBron James, SF, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School
2) Detroit Pistons - Darko Milicic, C, Serbia and Montenegro
3) Denver Nuggets - Carmelo Anthony, SF, Syracuse
4) Toronto Raptors - Chris Bosh, PF, Georgia Tech
5) Miami Heat - Dwyane Wade, SG, Marquette
6) Los Angeles Clippers - Chris Kaman, C, Central Michigan
7) Chicago Bulls - Kirk Hinrich, PG, Kansas
8) Milwaukee Bucks - T.J. Ford, PG, Texas
9) New York Knicks - Michael Sweetney, PF, Georgetown
10) Washington Wizards - Jarvis Hayes, SF, Georgia

Obviously, this top ten features a couple of franchise players, four olympic gold medalists, two NBA MVPs, one NBA Championship, one NBA Finals MVP, a ton of all star appearances; so on and so forth.  Cleveland's relevance in the NBA was changed forever when they got the number one pick and took it on heavily heralded star LeBron James.  Going to school at nearby St. Vincent-St. Mary, LeBron entered the league with a plethora of expectations and it was unknown how we would handle the fame and responsibilities, given that he was fresh out of high school.  But LeBron immediately took the league by storm.  He's won two NBA MVPs and led the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in only his fourth year in the league.  He's not been able to return the team to the finals since then and has drawn criticism for that, but there's no denying that LeBron is already the best player in the game, and that Cleveland one hundred percent made the right decision.  And then Darko; Darko Milicic.  Just his name along makes blood ooze out of the ears of the citizens of the state of Michigan.  Darko was just as highly heralded a prospect as LeBron, seen as a big, talented player that was only 18, but could already run the floor, block shots, score from inside and outside and could play solid defense.  However, Darko never got on the court in Detroit and their passing on the next three players on this list probably halted what, at the time, was two straight NBA Finals appearances and one NBA Championship.  Denver was equally irrelevant at the time of the 2003 draft, and when they took Carmelo Anthony, the reigning NCAA Tournament MVP, they made the playoffs for the first time in ten years.  Denver is now a regular in the playoffs, having made it all seven of Carmelo's seasons in the league, and even made the Conference Finals in 2009.  Carmelo is still progressing as a player, and is already one of the best offensive talents the league has.  Toronto seemed to have reached for Bosh, who was considered a raw prospect out of Georgia Tech.  However, he showed flashes his rookie season and by the time Vince Carter was traded by Toronto during that rookie season, Bosh became the face of the franchise in Toronto.  He's emerged into a 20 point, 10 rebound threat every night and was a member of the 2008 USA Olympic Team that won the Gold Medal.  Another plalyer on that team, jonining LeBron, Bosh and 'Melo, was Dwyane Wade.  An NCAA Tournament darling, who led Marquette to the Final Four, Dwyane Wade was seen as a hybrid without a true position in the league and who may struggle with his jump shot in the pros.  But Wade entered the league and led the Heat to the playoffs his rookie season, and then led them to the Conference Semifinals.  After acquiring Shaquille O'Neal following his rookie season, Dwyane Wade would eventually lead the Heat to the 2006 NBA Championship and be named the 2006 Finals MVP.  Kaman was another who made a name for himself during the tournament, but has made the most out of his time in the league.  One of those rare "long term Clippers" players, Kaman's been with the franchise for his entire career.  He manned down the center position for the team's 2006 Conference Semifinals run and has been named an NBA All Star over his career.  Kirk Hinrich was drafted just one year removed from the Chicago Bulls drafting point guard Jay Williams.  After Williams motorcycle crash, it was entirely evident that he would not be playing, at least for the near future, and Hinrich was Chicago's pick.  Hinrich showed a defensive toughness and an outside stroke that endeared himself to the Chicago fans, and he showed a tendency to step up his game in the postseason.  He's regressed offensively the last three seasons, inexplicably, but is still a favorite among some Chicago circles and is still a starter on the Bulls team.  T.J. Ford was the reigning Naismith Player of the Year when Milwaukee traded up to get him to play point guard.  It took him awhile to adapt to the NBA game, and some freakish neck injuries halted that progress, but Ford eventually became a starter on some playoff teams in Milwaukee and Toronto.  He's regressed some due to injuries the past few seasons, so it's unsure how effective his career will be going forward.  Michael Sweetney was immediately just a bad pick.  He struggled with his weight right away and consistently came into camp in bad shape.  He played two years in New York and two years in Chicago before being out of the league by 2007.  Hayes, meanwhile, has managed to become a solid, steady rotation player for the duration of his career and, while not overly productive, he has been productive for the duration of his seven years in the league. 

11) Golden State Warriors - Mickael Pietrus, SF, France
12) Seattle Supersonics - Nick Collison, PF, Kansas
13) Memphis Grizzlies - Marcus Banks, PG, UNLV (traded to the Celtics)
14) Seattle Supersonics - Luke Ridnour, PG, Oregon
15) Orlando Magic - Reece Gaines, SG, Louisville
16) Boston Celtics - Troy Bell, PG, Boston College (traded to the Grizzlies)
17) Phoenix Suns - Zarko Cabarkapa, PF, Serbia and Montenegro
18) New Orleans Hornets - David West, PF, Xavier
19) Utah Jazz - Sasha Pavlovic, SG, Serbia and Montenegro
20) Boston Celtics - Dahntay Jones, SG, Duke (traded to the Grizzlies)

At this point, the draft takes a pretty big step backwards, although that had to be expected with the sheer awesomeness and insanity of the top five.  Pietrus has actually become a very good player in the league, starring on some Golden State and Orlando teams that made nice postseason runs.  He's managed to become a defensive and three point specialist in the NBA, carving out a nice career for himself.  Collison has created a nice career of his own for the Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder.  He missed his entire rookie season due to injury, but was part of an exciting 2005 postseason run for Seattle.  He's managed to stay in the rotation for his entire career.  The best player out of the Grizzlies and Celtics draft night trade out of the top 20 happened to be Dahntay Jones.  Marcus Banks was seen as a potentially explosive scorer out of college, but he's struggled to get off the bench in the league.  He's still a member of Toronto's roster, but has played in only 345 games in seven seasons.  Troy Bell equally struggled in the league, not having a true, defined position and he was out of the league by 2007.  He was fantastic at Boston College, though.  Meanwhile, Jones equally struggled for a few seasons but made a name for himself during the 2009 Conference Finals run by the Denver Nuggets as a defensive specialist and was given a long term contract by Indiana this past offseason.  Contrary to Banks and Bell, Ridnour was a classical point guard in ever sense of the word.  He, too, was part of that exciting 2005 Conference Semifinals Seattle Supersonics team.  Ridnour has managed to either start or be the first guard off the bench for his entire career and is still producing, now in Milwaukee.  Reece Gaines struggled right away in Orlando and couldn't get on the court in Houston or Milwaukee either, and was out of the league by 2006.  Cabarkapa suffered a back injury his rookie season.  For that reason, coupled with ineffectiveness when on the court, he only made it one season with Phoenix before being traded to Golden State.  He didn't last there, either, and was out of the league by 2006.  David West was a true diamond in the rough, a four year colleigate senior who had a very nice career at Xavier but fell due to questions about his ability to be tough enough to play the power forward position.  West has turned in an all star career for New Orleans and has managed to stay with the team for his entire career thus far.  In the process, since I always rib other fan bases for their love for certain players, he's managed to become the object of my CBSSportsline man crush affection.  Pavlovic had a nice stay in Cleveland after being traded there from Utah.  He started on the team that went to the 2007 NBA Finals and was a nice outside shooter that could help spread the floor.  He's tailed off since then, but is still on Minnesota's roster as of right now. 

21) Atlanta Hawks - Boris Diaw, PF, France
22) New Jersey Nets - Zoran Planinic, SG, Croatia
23) Portland Trail Blazers - Travis Outlaw, SF, Starkville High School
24) Los Angeles Lakers - Brian Cook, PF, Illinois
25) Detroit Pistons - Carlos Delfino, SG, Argentina
26) Minnesota Timberwolves - Ndudi Ebi, SF, Westbury Christian High School
27) Memphis Grizzlies - Kendrick Perkins, C, Ozen High School (traded to the Celtics)
28) San Antonio Spurs - Leandro Barbosa, SG, Brazil (traded to the Suns)
29) Dallas Mavericks - Josh Howard, SF, Wake Forest

The bottom half of the draft actually produced quite a few signifcant role players in the NBA today.  Diaw, depending on who you talk to, can either be one of the most versatile and talented forwards in the game, or can be a passive bum who shoots too many jump shots.  But his ability to play multiple positions on offense and his skill set make him one of the most versatile players in the league.  Planinic never did adapt to the NBA game.  He struggled mightily on the court, except for a 77 foot buzzer beater during a 2006 game against the Utah Jazz in 2006 (youtube it).  However, he was out of the league by 2006 as you have to be able to score consistently closer to the basket.  Outlaw took a long time to get going in Portland, but really burst onto the scene last season.  Injuries limited his effectiveness this season and he's now playing for the Clippers.  Brian Cook was the object of much scorn during his time with the Lakers.  He was a big man who loved to shoot from outside, and that's all he did (in addition to getting hurt).  He fell out of the Lakers rotation and was traded to Orlando in the trade that got them Trevor Ariza.  Delfino has managed to become a solid, if unspectacular, rotation player for his entire career.  He just had the best year of his career this season with the Milwaukee Bucks.  Minnesota took a chance on Ebi fresh out of high school, and almost immediately regretted it.  They actually begged the league to let them send him to the NBDL, but at the time the league would only accept players who had been on an NBA roster for at least three seasons.  Ebi never saw a third season in the league, as he was done by 2005.  Perkins took a long time to get acclimated in Boston, but has eventually become a defensive stalwart and a staple in Boston's starting line up.  He was the team's starting center when they won the 2008 NBA Championship.  Barbosa burst onto the scene with his quickness and explosive scoring ability in his rookie season in Phoenix.  After the Suns signed Steve Nash in 2004, Barbosa went to the bench where he excelled in that role.  He won the 2007 Sixth Man award and has played his entire career with Phoenix.  Josh Howard was another four year colleigate senior who didn't blow people away, but immediately contributed for Dallas.  He became one of the best young players in the game by 2006, where he was a starter on a Dallas team that went to the NBA Finals.  However, injuries, inconsistencies and maturity issues have derailed his production.  His future productivity in the NBA is largely uncertain.

Round Two Notables:
31) Cleveland Cavaliers - Jason Kapono, SF, UCLA
32) Los Angeles Lakers - Luke Walton, SF, Arizona
38) Washington Wizards - Steve Blake, PG Maryland
41) Seattle Supersonics - Willie Green, SG, Detroit Mercy (traded to the 76ers)
42) Orlando Magic - Zaza Pachulia, C, Georgia
43) Milwaukee Bucks - Keith Bogans, SG, Kentucky (traded to the Magic)
45) Chicago Bulls - Matt Bonner, PF, Georgia Tech (traded to the Raptors)
47) Utah Jazz - Mo Williams, PG, Alabama
49) Indiana Pacers - James Jones, SF, Miami (FL)
51) New Jersey Nets - Kyle Korver, SG, Creighton (traded to the 76ers)

A solid group of guys selected here in the second round as well.  Kapono has won three three point shootouts in his career but hasn't yet become a steady rotation player in the league, even with his beautiful jump shot.  Luke Walton has been in and out of Los Angeles' starting line up for the duration of his career, but is a player with a ton of intangibles who has managed to stay a steady part of the Lakers team.  Blake was a local product when the Wizards took him at the 38th pick.  A true point guard, Blake has managed to stay in rotations for his entire career; first with Washington and now with Portland.  Willie Green eventually became the starting shooting guard in Philadelphia and is still one of the most productive players on the team.  Zaza Pachulia is from the country Georgia (not the state), but eventually made a name for himself as a productive bench player for the Atlanta Hawks.  Keith Bogans hasn't really stuck in any rotation anywhere he's gone, but he's managed, with his defense, to stay in the league thus far and even started a majority of his games this season with the San Antonio Spurs.  Speaking of the Spurs, Matt Bonner, the three point shooting specialist, became a fan favorite in both Toronto and San Antonio, and is still a productive player for the Spurs today.  Mo Williams only lasted one year in Utah before going to Milwaukee, where he signed a big contract after some very good seasons.  However, in 2008, he was traded to Cleveland where he became an all star point guard and part of some successful regular season teams for the Cavaliers.  James Jones is another three point shooter and scorer who has managed to stay a steady rotation player for both Indiana and Miami.  Korver, meanwhile, immediately made an impact his rookie season in Philadelphia with his terrific three point shot, but is now a regular and a fan favorite with the Utah Jazz.

Notable Undrafted Players:
Marquis Daniels, SG, Auburn - Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
Quinton Ross, SF, SMU - Signed with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2004
James Singleton, PF, Murray State - Signed with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2005

Marquis Daniels had an absolutely terrific rookie season in Dallas and was rewarded with a long term, six year deal.  However, he's struggled with consistency and injuries since then and didn't get off the bench this season in Boston due to the same problems.  His future productivity in the league is uncertain.  Quintin Ross was signed by the Clippers and became a starter for the team during its 2006 Conference Semifinals run.  Effective for his terrific on ball defense, he's currently playing with the Washington Wizards.  Singleton hasn't really done much in his career, but has managed to stay on the rosters of NBA Teams since he came into the league and is also currently with the Washington Wizards.

2003-2004 NBA Rookie of the Year: LeBron James
All Stars from the 2003 NBA Draft: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Chris Kaman, David West, Josh Howard, Mo Williams

2003-2004 NBA All-Rookie First Team:
Carmelo Anthony
LeBron James
Dwyane Wade
Chris Bosh
Kirk Hinrich

2003-2004 NBA All-Rookie Second Team:
Josh Howard
T.J. Ford
Udonis Haslem (who went undrafted in 2002 before signing with the Miami Heat in 2003)
Jarvis Hayes
Marquis Daniels

Posted on: April 16, 2010 2:05 pm
 

GoHornets21's 2010 First Round Playoff Preview

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

Eastern Conference

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

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

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

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


Western Conference

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

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

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

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

Posted on: 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: February 10, 2010 1:46 am
 

NBA Midseason's Acquisition Report

We're approaching the all star weekend in the NBA; the unofficial midseason point for NBA teams.  At this point, we all have a pretty good understanding and grip on what certain teams are going to be able to do and what a lot of teams are unable to do.  Lots of trades are being rumored to go down even though nothing looks concrete as of yet.  But why are teams in this situation?  A lot of them are where they are because of the moves they made this offseason.  Last year, I wrote a report on how the NBA's biggest offseason additions worked by the all star break.  Some, like the Mo Williams acquisition for the Cavaliers, worked.  Some, like the Jermaine O'Neal experiment in Toronto, flopped.  So we're going to give it a shot again.  Here's a look back at the biggest player movements during the offseason and how they've worked thus far in the 2009-2010 NBA Season.

Detroit Pistons sign Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva
Ben Gordon (30 Games, 16.1 PPG, 2.6 APG, 2.1 RPG, 83.8 FT Pctg., 32.3 3PT FG Pctg., 43.0 FG Pctg.)
Charlie Villanueva (46 Games, 13.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 80.6 FT Pctg., 32.8 3PT FG Pctg., 44.0 FG Pctg.)
Detroit Pistons record (17-32)
After trading away Chauncey Billups and his expensive contract for the expiring deal of a still relevant Allen Iverson last season, the Pistons fell off the face of the Earth and backed into the postseason only to get embarassed by Cleveland.  The Iverson experiment did not work at all in Detroit, and with all of this free cap space and coming off of a unfamiliar terrible season in Detroit, Joe Dumars felt the pressure to put that money to good use.  What he did was devote 55 million dollars over 5 years to Ben Gordon and 35 million dollars over 5 years to Charlie Villanueva.  These moves obviously have not worked.  At the time, it seemed like Dumars was simply making moves to make them and that's really come across as the season's progressed.  Gordon and Villanueva have not clicked with the regular Pistons in the rotation and are symbolic of a lackluster franchise.  With the money and length of the contracts given to those two players as well, things look even more damp for Detroit for the near future.  Gordon has struggled to stay healthy and both players have not only struggled with their shots, they've struggled to find any consistent groove either off of the bench or in the starting lineup.  Grade: F

Cleveland Cavaliers trade Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic to the Phoenix Suns to acquire Shaquille O'Neal
Shaquille O'Neal (46 Games, 11.8 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.2 BPG, 51.5 FT Pctg., 55.8 FG Pctg.)
Cleveland Cavaliers record (41-11)
Coming off another "close but not close enough" season for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the franchise entered another offseason of "what big name player can we acquire to throw on the wall and see if it will stick?"  During last year's terrific run, Cleveland was rumored to acquire Shaquille O'Neal at the trade deadline but balked on the move.  After watching Dwight Howard destroyt the team in the Eastern Conference Finals, they basically admitted that they let the fans down by not making the move last year, by making the move this offseason for Shaq.  Early in the season, Shaq really struggled to get acclimated in the lineup for Cleveland and fans really criticized the move.  But here as of late, Shaq has really improved his play on the court and his presence as a player on the court is invaluable, regardless of what numbers he is putting up.  Not to mention, he's got a very valuable expiring contract as well.  Ever since the Cavaliers lost Mo Williams and Delonte West to injury, Shaq has been asked to do a lot more and has valiantly responded with some strong numbers during the Cavs' current winning streak.  Time will tell if this works out in the postseason, this move was made only for a championship and anything short of that makes this another failed attempt.  But so far this season, Shaq's played well and the Cavaliers team looks great.  Grade: B

San Antonio Spurs trade Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas and Fabricio Oberto to the Milwaukee Bucks to acquire Richard Jefferson
Richard Jefferson (49 Games, 12.1 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 2.1 APG, 69.2 FT Pctg., 34.9 3PT FG Pctg., 44.9 FG Pctg.)
San Antonio Spurs record (29-21)
Given the team's rapidly increasing age and history problems, the Spurs looked at last season's first round exit as a sign of declining production in San Antonio.  So they entered the offseason aggressively and immediately traded three spot starters, one who had won 3 championships with the team (Bowen) and one who started for the team's 2007 championship (Oberto) to pick up an all star player in Richard Jefferson.  At the time, it looked ingenious.  Given the age of the players the Spurs gave up, they picked up a younger player who was in his prime, coming off averaging at least 18 points a game in 5 of his last 6 seasons with the Nets and Bucks.  However, Jefferson's lack of a consistent jump shot and inability to produce offensively in a half court system have really made his defeciencies as a problem shine.  With the Spurs struggles this season, he's largely become a scapegoat and his sharp decline in production is a large reason why the Spurs have struggled against some of the league's best teams.  He's managed to stay healthy, but he's left a lot to be desired offensively and defensively and has not made any difference on a rapidly aging Spurs team.  The four time champions may be ready to deal Jefferson already.  Grade: D

Boston Celtics sign Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels
Rasheed Wallace (46 Games, 10.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.2 SPG, 80.0 FT Pctg., 29.4 3PT FG Pctg., 40.3 FG Pctg.)
Marquis Daniels (20 Games, 5.8 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.9 APG, 57.1 FT Pctg., 47.6 FG Pctg.)
Boston Celtics record (32-17)
After last season's dissapointing laundry list of injuries, the Celtics put up a strong effort against the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Orlando Magic before going down in 7 games.  Largely the team missed Kevin Garnett not only for his leadership, but also because he was their most effective offensive big man.  Glen Davis stepped in admirably and did a great job (which earned him a new contract with the Celtics as well) but the Celtics still needed depth in the worse way.  Enter Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels.  Wallace was to be that forward/center off the bench who can stretch the court with this three point shot, step in and play defense and who could play alongside either Garnett or Kendrick Perkins, or could even play alongside both of them in big sets for the Pistons.  Wallace's offensive production has really dissapointed this season and almost 40% of his shots are three point field goal attempts.  Given that he's shooting under 30 percent from long distance, it doesn't seem like such a good idea to camp out at that three point line for Wallace.  But he's done that for the last few seasons and you have to expect that from him.  Because of the injuries to Garnett and Big Baby this season, Wallace has been invaluable as that extra big man and has really played a lot more than Doc Rivers probably expected to play him.  Daniels was supposed to finally be that guard off of the bench for the Celtics who could spell Paul Pierce.  Given Pierce's big minutes last season and the team's lack of a true backup for him, a lot was expected of Daniels and he's struggled to stay on the court due to injuries.  I'll leave the jury out on him and only give this grade based on the Wallace acquisition.  Grade: C

Los Angeles Lakers sign Ron Artest
Ron Artest (48 Games, 11.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 68.5 FT Pctg., 40.1 3PT FG Pctg., 42.8 FG Pctg.)
Los Angeles Lakers record (40-13)
When Trevor Ariza and his agent, someone the Lakers brass wanted no part of after their negotiations with Andrew Bynum, demanded more money, the Lakers immediately turned their back on Ariza and went after Houston Rockets defender/headcase/Kobe Bryant enemy Ron Artest.  Long one of the most controversial yet colorful characters in the league, Artest looked like an immediate upgrade in terms of player talent over Ariza (in a move of fate, Ariza would sign with the Rockets).  Artest has really struggled to find a role in the triangle offense and looks as if he's lost a step or two defensively for the Lakers but he's played well as of late and this move was made entirely for the postseason.  With that being said and with the Lakers record showing no problems, the Artest struggles haven't had any drastic affect on their record.  I'll still give Artest room to grow.  Grade: C+

Orlando Magic trade Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee and Tony Battie to the New Jersey Nets for Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson
Vince Carter (45 Games, 16.6 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.8 APG, 85.2 FT Pctg., 33.2 3PT FG Pctg., 39.6 FG Pctg.)
Orlando Magic record (35-17)
Even though Carter's numbers are down across the board, that had to be expected with the move to the defending Eastern Conference Champion and incredibly deep Orlando Magic.  What wasn't to be expected was Carter's low shooting percentage and lack of involvement in the execution of the offense.  When point-forward and primary playmaker Hedo Turkoglu became a free agent, the Magic thought he wouldn't be worth the money he'd command and immediately made a move to acquire Carter from the eager to shed talent New Jersey Nets to be the team's replacement for Turkoglu.  Statistically speaking it looked like a major upgrade, but Carter struggled, and so far really hasn't been able to become the playmaker that Turkoglu was for that Eastern Conference Champion squad.  Nor, with his shooting percentage, has he been able to be a more effeceient offensive player than Turkoglu.  The team and Carter really hit a bump in January with Carter shooting 29 percent from the field for the month.  But here of late, especially with a 48 point outburst on national television last night by Vinsanity, things look as if they're turning around for Orlando and Vince Carter.  Given the progress they've made as of late, I'm going to be generous with his grade.  Grade: B-

Atlanta Hawks trade Acie Law and Speedy Claxton to the Golden State Warriors for Jamal Crawford
Jamal Crawford (49 Games, 17.6 PPG, 2.9 APG, 2.4 RPG, 85.3 FT Pctg., 37.2 3PT FG Pctg., 46.0 FG Pctg.)
Atlanta Hawks record (32-17)
The Hawks steady incline continued last season with the team going from making the postseason for the first time in nine years back in 2008 to winning the team's first postseason series in ten years in 2009.  So in order to continue taking those steps forward, the Hawks looked at their fantastic starting five and deemed it necessary to give a drastic upgrade to the bench.  After Crawford's struggles in Golden State last year and him openly being told he was not going to be welcomed back by the Warriors, the Hawks saw a player ripe for the picking and immediately acquired him in a trade after the draft.  Given the team's really cheap price for Crawford (in terms of what had to be sent to Golden State), the Hawks have made out like bandits in this deal.  Crawford has not only been the best sixth man all year long, he's been incredibly efficient scoring the basketball and has even been a player Atlanta looks to in the clutch.  Furthermore, he's come through in the clutch plenty of times for the Hawks.  With the team making strides in their record as well, this move has really paid dividends.  Whether or not it gets them past the Conference Semifinals to that natural step up to the Conference Finals is still to be seen, but so far this move has worked otu great for the Hawks.  Grade: A

Toronto Raptors acquire free agent Hedo Turkoglu in four-team trade
Hedo Turkoglu (47 Games, 12.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4.3 APG, 78.4 FT Pctg., 38.3 3PT FG Pctg., 40.3 FG Pctg.)
Toronto Raptors record (28-23)
After getting a lot of publicity and praise during the Magic's run to the NBA finals last season (funny seeing how Orlando's run to the Conference Title really impacted a lot of these moves), Turkoglu entered an offseason in which he was, undoubtedly, going to get paid.  After the Magic basically said "thanks for your services but you're expendable" and traded for Vince Carter, a return was ruled out.  After a rumored deal with the Portland Trail Blazers was announced, it looked like a match made in heaven for a Portland team looking to take that next step.  Then, out of nowhere, Turkoglu was announced to be taking huge money from the Toronto Raptors, a team with a boisterous Turkish population significant enough to make Turkoglu want to move on in.  Turkoglu was the centerpiece of a lot of moves the Raptors made this offseason.  Early on in the season, the team and Turkoglu were dreadful and to this day, although he and the team have made strides, Turkoglu really hasn't looked comfortable in Toronto's offensive system and sometimes looks confused on what he's being asked to do.  Time will tell if Turkoglu and Toronto can continue to make the strides they've made lately but, all things considered, they've underachieved this season.  But with the progress they've made, I'll give them a break.  Grade: C

New Orleans Hornets and Charlotte Bobcats swap Emeka Okafor for Tyson Chandler
Tyson Chandler (25 Games, 6.6 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 72.0 FT Pctg., 50.0 FG Pctg.)
Charlotte Bobcats Record (24-25)
Emeka Okafor (52 Games, 11.1 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 59.3 FT Pctg., 52.7 FG Pctg.)
New Orleans Hornets Record (27-25)
After a falling out with Bobcats coach Larry Brown, Bobcat original Emeka Okafor and his large contract were likely to be moved last offseason.  After putting the team over the luxury tax and being unable to remain healthy all season, largely hurting the team's chemistry and production, the Hornets and fan favorite Tyson Chandler looked likely to part ways as well.  And then this trade happened.  What was basically a straight up swap of centers really worked towards what both teams wanted.  Chandler had an expiring contract of great value and was a hustle, defense, athletic big man that Brown wanted on his team.  Okafor was cap relief for this season (although not for the long term) and someone who played all 82 games for the Hornets to take onto their team.  Both players have really struggled with their new teams.  Chandler's been booed by the Charlotte fans, has not been able to stay healthy (again) and hasn't produced when he's been on the court.  Okafor hasn't duplicated numbers he was expected to add on to playing with Chris Paul.  Because the Bobcats are in the Eastern Conference, it's likely they'll still make the playoffs but Okafor may not be enough to get the Hornets into the postseason in the West; especially with the injuries to Chris Paul.  So what was largely an odd trade made this offseason, neither team has really suffered or benefitted as a result of it.  Although the Hornets are probably ecstatic that they have a center who can play every game.  Grade for the Hornets and Bobcats: C

Posted on: May 18, 2009 12:36 pm
 

2009 NBA Playoffs: The Conference Finals

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

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

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

Posted on: May 3, 2009 3:34 pm
Edited on: May 10, 2009 7:44 pm
 

2009 NBA Postseason First Round Review

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

entry/5993128/14555500


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh no, now onto this next series.

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

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

2008-2009 NBA Postseason Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1st Round Matchups
Eastern Conference

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

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

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

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

Western Conference

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

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

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

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


Conference Semifinals
Eastern Conference

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

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

Western Conference

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

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


Eastern Conference Finals

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

Western Conference Finals

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


NBA Finals

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

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