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.