Monday, June 13, 2011

The NBA is like a book, we're in the final pages of a great chapter

In the past few years, some NBA greats-that's GREATS, not just all stars- have crossed off "getting a ring" off their bucket lists. It started with the Lakers in 04 when Gary Payton and Karl Malone joined Kobe and Shaq in LA for a "one last chance" but ended up falling to Detroit in the Finals. Then things worked out in Miami in 2006 when Gary Payton and Alonzo Mourning were able to contribute to a championship team. In picked up again in 2008 when Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen joined forces in the most humble of ways to try and get a ring. It worked and these NBA greats succeeded. And it has started up again with Dirk and Jason Kidd, two more of the greatest players ever, able to contribute to a championship team. If we're keeping track, here are the next in line of guys up there in age who still have it and can contribute to a championship team -

1. Steve Nash - 2x MVP will be in the last year of his contract next season, could be traded away, or sign for a contender next summer.

2. Tracy McGrady - 2x scoring champion may not have enough left in the tank, but is a free agent this summer, could possibly start or be a 6th man for a championship contender.

3. Grant Hill - Returned from constant injuries and still a solid defender. Could be a missing defensive piece to a championship caliber team. Is a free agent this summer.

4. Vince Carter - Used to be one of the greatest dunkers and scorers in the league, just didn't really try hard to stay at the top of his game. Could contribute offensively off the bench for a championship team, but doesn't have much on defense. Will be a free agent this summer after the Suns do not exercise his team option in his contract.

5. Antonio McDyess - Solid big man role player now, but used to be a 20 ppg scorer. Came 1 year too late for the Pistons' championship and a couple years too late for the current Spurs core championship, although he had a good shot this year. Has one more year under under his contract, with the right pieces and a little luck, could have a finals run next year with the Spurs.

6. Marcus Camby - A personal top 5 favorite of mine. Least decorated star player from the 1996 draft with only a defensive player of the year award and All NBA defensive teams to show (no all star games). Seems happy in Portland, who has the talent to make a championship run, but not quite the health (Brandon Roy, Greg Oden, Camby himself). Will be in the last year of his contract this season, could be traded.

The championship favorites for the next five or so years will be the Lakers, Heat, Bulls, and maybe Thunder. But every so often, you get a Mavericks type team, who makes a run and has the veteran swagger and knows what it takes to win a championship, hopefully some of these guys fall into one of those teams and can contribute their play to get a ring.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Part 5.5 of 6 Summer Plans - School's Out Fo Summa!

(part 7 will be summer plans for Mavs and Heat, coming soon)

San Antonio Spurs 61-21
(Knocked in first round by a Grizzlies who lost last game of season so they would play Spurs in first round, ouch- but Manu was playing hurt)

Notable Free Agents - Tiago Splitter
Core players still on contract - Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Richard Jefferson, George Hill, DeJuan Blair

Recap: The Spurs started the season hot and never cooled off. They beat the teams they were supposed to beat and the top teams in the league. Then the playoffs came around and perhaps the age of Tim Duncan and Antonio McDyess caught up to them as Zach Randolph torched them offensively and Marc Gasol scorned them with rebounds. Throughout the season though, they got solid contributions from Tim Duncan although he is light years away from his prime. Manu Ginobili played great this season and Tony Parker, besides the playoffs also had a good year. Richard Jefferson did not.

Look for them to: 1. Stay the same. 2. Look for inside presence.

There's not too much the team can do other than try and get younger. The core is pretty set in stone but with Tim Duncan getting a lot older and becoming more and more like David Robinson circa 2002-2004, the team needs to get some inside scoring, something DeJuan Blair does not quite have in his repertoire. But hey, they had the 2nd best record in the league, just got ousted by an up and coming Grizzly 8th seed who had the inside presence the Spurs lacked. But this team will almost look exactly the same. Still waiting on Tiago Splitter...

Oklahoma City Thunder 55-27 (Kendrick Perkins to the rescue! Oh wait, Dallas already took care of the Lakers)

Notable Free Agents - Nazr Mohammed
Core players still on contract - Kevin Durant, Kendrick Perkins, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, James Harden, Thabo Sefolosha

Recap: Coming off gold medals in the world championships in Turkey, MVP candidate Kevin Durant got this team rolling. Then they really shook things up by trading Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green for Kendrick Perkins (and Nate Robinson), to compete with the bigs of the western conference (most notably, champion favorite Lakers and Pau Gasol). Well it didn't quite work out when Dallas took them out and Kendrick couldn't keep up with Dirk. Then again, it seems like no one can keep up with Dirk. In the playoffs, everyone was giving Russell Westbrook a lot of flack for not giving the ball to Kevin Durant enough, how he's a SG playing a PG, how he took too many shots. I guess it's somewhat true, he averaged 17 FG attempts during the season with 7.7 FT attempts. In the playoffs, those numbers jumped to 20 FG attempts and 8.3 FT attempts. Will a rough playoffs require a huge shake up?

Look for them to: 1. Re-Sign Nazr Mohammed. 2. Look for a low post scoring center. 3. Not trade Russell Westbrook.

First things first, Nazr played well and they can sign him for cheap to keep some front court depth available. But the team's big men are not low post scorers. Kendrick Perkins is a defensive center. Serge Ibaka is a defensive power forward with a nice jump shot but no post moves. Nick Collison is a hustle, offensive rebounder power forward, who can play great defense and take charges. Nazr Mohammed is old and is strictly there for, you guessed it, defense off the bench. They drafted Cole Aldrich last year and he is... YES A DEFENSIVE CENTER. Just like many other teams they will be looking for big men this summer in either trades or free agency.

As for Russell Westbrook, the Thunder had better be getting a GREAT point guard if they do decide to trade but I highly doubt they will. This core will be healthy and will start playing together for an entire season next year and the west is severely weak now, and all the good teams are old (Spurs, Mavs, Lakers). The Thunder are young and the team of the future, another year together will serve them well and they'll do just fine.

Chicago Bulls 62-20 (You have no idea how certain I was that the Bulls would beat the Heat in five games)

Notable Free Agents - No one
Core players still on contract - Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng

Recap: MVP, Coach of the year, best record in the league, taken out by the three heat. New coach, Tom Thibodeau took this first round fodder and made them into a defensive stopper team. Derrick Rose upped his game and came up with the MVP award. And the team just rolled through the season and got the top seed! What's not to like?

Look for them to: 1. Sign or trade for a shooting guard. 2. Make another run with this core.

They lost to the Heat because Derrick Rose is the team's engine. Without him on the floor or being involved in a play, the team flounders. He creates his own shot or gets someone else involved in the play. If he's held down, the team will lose. LeBron and Wade guarded Rose and the Bulls couldn't get anything going. If you look at the box scores, Rose would have like 25 shots and near 10 assists making him in that rare company of people who can't be blamed for not shooting enough and can't be blamed for not getting his teammates involved (LeBron, Kobe). But if he can work on his 3 point game, he'll have defenders being honest and not sagging off him on defense, always playing the drive.

As for a shooting guard, Keith Bogans could be upgraded. He's good on defense but not much of an offensive threat. If the Bulls could do anything to improve their lineup, it's the SG position and there have been talks about a possible Richard Hamilton trade with some other team who would end up buying him out, allowing him to sign with the Bulls. Rich get richer.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

My Ode To Shaq

Shaq retired - here's what I have to say -

I started watching NBA basketball during the 2000 playoffs when Shaq and Kobe won the championship over Reggie Miller and the Pacers. I was an instant fan, but I was definitely spoiled. I barely knew the players besides Kobe and Shaq let alone any other players in the league. I had no idea that Shaq was one of the greatest centers of all time.

The next season I watched every Laker game. I loved Kobe but I also loved Shaq. He was a true go to guy that gave you a good look every possession. They'd post him up and he'd either back his man down or do a hop step leaner toward the basket and because he was so huge, it was pretty much a layup from 6 feet out. Then the playoffs came and I was spoiled even more. The Lakers swept every opponent to get to the Finals. It was ridiculous. I almost felt it was unfair. Shaq was too big for anyone and Kobe had all the energy in the world to put away the opposition in the fourth quarter. I was so spoiled that I actually was rooting for the 76ers in the finals. Dikembe Mutombo turned out to be my favorite player of all time (still is), and I was happy that they won game 1 and upset when the Lakers won the next 4! Shaq won the Finals MVP again, and during the Laker parade and celebration, I was happy again that the Lakers won. Shaq rapped, Madsen danced, the crowd cheers 3 peat.

Mutombo was the defensive player of the year and he and Matt Geiger were simply too small for Shaq. I was spoiled. Any time we needed a bucket, post up Shaq, hook shot, drop step, two handed power dunk, 2 points. A three peat was no question. No one can stop Shaq AND we have Kobe Bryant. The Lakers will never lose, and I am 2/2 in my NBA season watching on championships.

2001-2002 Season rolls around and the Lakers get right back to work, they get to the playoffs where have the great Robert Horry win game 3 of the Portland series to sweep them, and then the fabled Sacramento series. Oh my GOD- Game 4 when the Lakers were down 1-2 with the risk of going down 1-3. Down by 2 with 10 or so seconds, Kobe drives the basket, misses, Shaq gets the rebound, misses, Divac bats the ball out to Robert Horry who drains the 3. But this post isn't about the Lakers, it's about Shaq.

We won the championship over the Nets who didn't have a center that came close to Samaki Walker let along Shaq. During the championship parade and speech - Shaq didn't care about the Nets. No Laker fan did. We still cared about and hated the Kings. Shaq was right there with us - "SACRAMENTO is not the capital of the California! LOS ANGELES IS THE CAPITAL OF CALIFORNIA!" To which everyone cheered.

Because Shaq was not just the most dominant player of all time, he was the most charismatic player of all time. He didn't just play for Los Angeles, he WAS Los Angeles. After every emphatic dunk, he looked to the crowd which was cheering, he looked at his behemoth palm that had just massacred a defender, his eyes widened, his lion like roar resounding in the ears of the opposing team, he was a rockstar.

And I was spoiled.

The next year we didn't win the championship. We lost to the Spurs. We re-upped with Gary Payton and Karl Malone, and lost in the Finals to Detroit. And then Shaq left.

And we didn't make the playoffs in 04-05.

My how the mighty have fallen when you go from Shaq as your starting center to Chris Mihm and Brian Grant. Why aren't these guys dunking? Why aren't they bull dozing their way toward the basket? Why why WHY are they taking 15 foot jumpers!? WHY ARE WE NOT IN THE PLAYOFFS!? I missed the go-to-shaq-we-need-points plays. I missed the light hearted FUN basketball. Because as much as I love love LOVE Kobe Bryant, he's just not that fun. That's not to say that's a bad thing, it's just who he is.

Take for example the 09 Orlando Magic Finals. We win the championship and have a parade and celebration. The whole team takes turns with little speeches culminated by Kobe's speech where he ends with having the team put their hands together and including the crowd on their ritual, they yell RING after counting to 3. And that was it. The celebration over, Laker fans go home. It was nice, but it was no where near as FUN as Shaq rapping and the whole team dancing.

(Fast forward to 8:30)

I'm not jumping ship either. I was on, and still am on Kobe's side of the whole Shaq v. Kobe fiasco. But I did and still do miss the amazingness and hilarity of Shaq's game in the purple and gold. Especially after Pau Gasol's sorry performance this May.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Part 5 of 6 Summer Plans - If there's a lockout then this might turn into Fall plans

Atlanta Hawks 44-38, lost in 2nd round to Bulls (Kirk Hinrich could have possibly changed the outcome of the Bulls series)

Notable free agents - Jamal Crawford
Core players still on contract - Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Marvin Williams, Kirk Hinrich, Zaza Pachulia, Jeff Teague

Recap: It was a solid season all around for the Hawks after re-signing Joe Johnson to max money. They especially solidified their PG position by trading Mike Bibby for great defensive point guard Kirk Hinrich. Unfortunately for them, he was injured and did not play in the 2nd round against the Chicago Bulls. You're telling me that a team that lost in 6 games couldn't have changed their fortune if a healthy Kirk Hinrich was guarding Derrick Rose?

Look for them to: 1. Re-sign Jamal Crawford... maybe. 2. Make some changes to this core. 3. Get a center.

There's something about this team that is puzzling. It's like they have all this young talent with great potential but year after year they stay at the same level and never improve. Marvin Williams got a contract extension a couple years ago and has regressed in ability it seems. Josh Smith, the first of this core to put the Hawks back on the map is an enigma. He flashes his crazy athletic ability and then has games where he takes horrible jump shots and he's already a horrible jump shot shooter.

Al Horford and Joe Johnson are the all stars of the team and Al Horford needs to play power forward, not center, to maximize his production. That means the Hawks need to upgrade their starting center position from Jason Collins to someone else. They're on tap for over $60 million next season so signing a center may be a little too expensive, especially if they decide to re-sign Jamal Crawford. So look for them to look into the trade market and possibly trade their small forwards Marvin Williams and Josh Smith for a center or a different small forward, or both.

Jamal Crawford is a pure scorer, streak shooter, with a really nice behind the back cross over that's almost automatic when he pulls up after losing his defender. He is a defensive liability, however. It will depend on how much he wants and how long of a contract and whether or not the Hawks are willing to agree to what he wants. Otherwise, it could be goodbye and off to yet another team for Jamal Crawford.

Orlando Magic 52-30 (This team was in the 09 finals and lost in the first round, the mighty may fall even more this summer)

Notable free agents - Jason Richardson
Core players still on contract - Dwight Howard, Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu, JJ Redick, Jameer Nelson

Recap: Another team that went through a major renovation. In December they dealt Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat, and Mickael Pietrus to Phoenix and Rashard Lewis to Washington and received Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark. That's a lot of "talent!" Well it didn't quite work out as they had an impressive season winning 52 games but had didn't end on a strong note in the season and ultimately lost to the Hawks in the first round of the playoffs. Coupled with the fact that there are constant rumors about Dwight Howard changing teams because he hasn't signed the extension that is on the table for him, this team could be in for quite a shake up this season.

Look for them to: 1. Do everything they can to keep Dwight, but if they find the right deal for him, ship him out and most likely package Gilbert Arenas and/or Hedo Turkoglu with him.

And that's pretty much it. If they lose Dwight, it's rebuild mode. If they don't, everyone but Jason Richardson is still on contract and they'll make a free agent signing to replace that SG slot. What everyone is hearing is that Dwight wants to go to the Lakers for a deal that would send Andrew Bynum and Pau or Lamar or some kind of combo like that for Dwight and Arenas or Hedo, but this is all speculation- but so was Carmelo's deal to New York. So we will definitely be sitting on pins and needles this summer watching for Dwight movement because that is priority number 1 for the Orlando Magic.

Boston Celtics 56-26 (I predicted this team would make it back to the Finals last year and stand by that if Rajon Rondo hadn't broken his arm in half).

Notable Free Agents - Nenad Krstic, Glen Davis, Delonte West
Core players still on contract - Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Jermaine O'Neal

Recap: Big story here was the trading of Kendrick Perkins which had fans, bloggers and analysts shaking and scratching their heads and centers from other teams jumping for joy. You're telling me you don't think defensive center Perkins couldn't take Chris Bosh completely out of the game and help defend on LeBron and Dwyane Wade? (And they still coulda won if Rondo hadn't dislocated his elbow!) In return they got Jeff Green and Nenad's expiring contract. Let's face it, this is an old team and Jeff Green is a young player that could ultimately take the reigns from the big 3 and run the team with Rajon Rondo in the future.

Look for them to: 1. Find and sign scorers. 2. Keep adding pieces and stick with this core for next year including big men to replace Shaq and Nenad.

Doc Rivers signed a 5 year extension recently. He wouldn't have done that if the team was going into rebuild mode. They will stick with this big 3 plus Rondo and Jeff Green for next year. They do need some scoring though. The big 3 are turning a year older and aren't really GO TO guys anymore (except for Paul Pierce). Rondo is a creator and Jeff Green isn't the answer to this issue. They will need to look into free agency or into trades to get a player or two who are young, fast, and can keep the Celtics from going through scoring droughts. Preferably a big man because Shaq is D-O-N-E (actually, he WAS done before the season started), and Jermaine O'Neal is not the answer to this issue either. Glen Davis may leave town if another team offers him more money and after that, the Celtics have no more bigs and for their sake, I hope they don't think Nenad Krstic is the answer either.

Los Angeles Lakers 57-25 (I could write a book on these Lakers right now, but I won't)

Notable free agents - NO ONE
Core players still on contract - Do I have to list them? Kobe, Lamar, Artest, Gasol, Bynum, Fisher, Steve Blake

Recap: Isn't it crazy how Kobe in 09 went from 0 championships to 4 championships, and then in 2010 went from 4 championships to 6 championships? Anyway, these Lakers were the favorites to win the championship and they did their typical Laker season routine by winning a lot of games but losing to some bad teams such as the Cavaliers and Clippers and waiting to turn on the "switch" when the playoffs come around. They went on a 17-1 spree after the all star break (where Kobe won all star MVP) and ended the season with more bad losses. Then they struggled against the Hornets in the first round and got swept by Dallas in the 2nd round. Phil Jackson retired (a damn shame), and everyone in LA is furious with Pau Gasol, the "killer bees" (Barnes, Blake and Brown), and Fisher, but mostly Pau Gasol who had a horrible playoffs. Reactions range from blow up the team to give it another go with this team and make minor tweaks.

Look for them to: 1. Find a new coach. 2. Add pieces based on said new coach's philosophy by getting players who are faster and more athletic.

Hire a new coach-DONE. MIKE BROWN is the new coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. As a Laker fan I hate it, and would have rather had Rick Adelman or Jeff Van Gundy, but definitely not Brian Shaw but anyways it will be hard to match the respect Phil commanded from his players so we'll see how the Lakers and Kobe especially buy into his plan.

Now that they have the coach, they gotta get some talent. Speed. Quickness. Defense. They got the bigs, they need some speed now. Someone to keep up with the Chris Pauls, Jason Kidds/Terrys, Derrick Rose's, Russell Westbrooks etc. and the league isn't slowing down either. Kemba Walker and Kyrie Irving are coming in keeping the trend alive that almost every team in the NBA except the Lakers has a fast fast fast point guard. This is priority number 1 for the Lakers. They have bigs. They don't NEED Dwight. He'd be an upgrade sure. But they don't have a point guard at all. Steve Blake was supposed to take the reigns from Derek Fisher but that is not likely to happen (but maybe with a new offense he could thrive). But they will roll with this core again and try to win the championship next year.

Memphis Grizzlies 46-36 (8th seed beat 1st seed Spurs, took 4 seed Thunder to 7 games-WHO WOULDA THOUGHT)

Notable Free Agents - Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Shane Battier
Core players still on contract - Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, Tony Allen, OJ Mayo

Recap: In the beginning of the season they extended point guard Mike Conley's contract to $40 million over 5 years. That's a lot of money. People jumped on the hater wagon and said this was one of the worst moves of all time. And although it is pretty high priced, Mike Conley did his best to earn what he got paid and had an improved year from last season, although they were slight improvements. Rudy Gay got hurt in February and had to miss the rest of the season and playoffs. Tony Allen went from barely playing to the team's defensive MVP by season's end. And they traded their #2 draft pick from last year Hasheem Thabeet for Shane Battier (expiring contract mind you). They made OJ Mayo a sixth man mid season to give their bench some scoring punch.

Look for them to: 1. Re-sign Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph. 2. Court Shane Battier. 3. Possibly trade Rudy Gay or OJ Mayo.

One of the best two man big man tandem in the league are both free agents. They need to lock these guys up, especially Zach Randolph who has some unbelievable post moves. Think Dirk Nowitzki right now in the playoffs only instead of fadeaways, Zach's moves are back to the basket. Marc Gasol actually took a step back in production, but he plays with some toughness not seen in his all star brother, Pau. If they can fortify that frontline and get Rudy Gay back next season, this team could be SCARY.