Tuesday, June 30, 2009

July: Anything is Possible

Now with the Finals behind us, and an interesting Draft to say the least, the end of June is here. Tomorrow, July 1st, might be the day that some players will say their goodbyes to their old teams, and move on to the next city for an insane amount of money. But for some players, their free agent period might be one huge deception, because some team owners aren’t willing to spend millions this summer due to the financial problems that their respective franchises are suffering from, or are holding out ‘til the summer of 2010 (speaking of deceptions, it’s entirely possible that some of the big name free agents of ’10 will sign an extension this summer for financial stability, so it could be that next summer won’t be as interesting as many people would like to think).

George Karl had this to say about franchises that are willing to endure a mediocre season, waiting on those superstars to be available: "The free-agent list (of 2010) turns you on a little more, but as a coach, I don't understand that philosophy," he said. "How do you lose to win? How does that work? (A front-office executive) says, 'We're going to lose a year or two and then . . .' But as I coach, I say, 'You're not losing, I'm losing!' I'm sure there will be some teams who have manoeuvred to try to rebuild by going through the bottom, building salary cap space and assets, though I'm not sure I believe that philosophy. I think it's a philosophy that gets coaches fired and general managers extensions." Even though he’s right, obviously moves will be made in the next couple of days / weeks / months. Thirty teams are working the phone tomorrow, maybe as soon as one minute past midnight, when the free agent market opens. A brief look at the teams as they are right now:

Atlanta Hawks: Two names: Jamal Crawford and Jeff Teague. With those two (point) guards coming in, this will mean Mike Bibby will need to find a new home. I like Crawford, but don’t expect the Hawks to be any better next season because of him. As long this team is unwilling to play together, they will always be what they are right now. A Playoff round or two, and that’s it. And almost on a daily basis you can read where Josh Smith might be going, but SLAM writer and passionate Hawks fan Lang Whitaker will explain to you why that won’t happen here.

Boston Celtics: If they are really willing to part with Rajon Rondo, they must be out of their minds. Rondo almost averaged a triple-double against the Chicago Bulls in this year’s Playoffs, and played like a legitimate star for this team. He might be stubborn, he might not be well-liked by some of his teammates or even Doc Rivers, but he’s 23, he’s not too old to learn, and I hope the Celtics can see that he is the future of this aging franchise. Pierce, Allen and KG won’t be around forever, but they should give it another shot next season. With all of them healthy, they’re still a top 3 team in the East. But what will they do with Glen Davis? Take a risk and offer him big bucks, hoping he can be a part of this squad for years to come? How high is his ceiling? Will he even be better, improve his D and rebounding, or will he be the next Mike Sweetney in a couple of years?

Charlotte Bobcats: Raymond Felton will probably stay with this team, and he played better and better as the season progressed. If Michael Jordan buys the Bobcats from Bob Johnson, they don’t have to worry about their finances for a while. They made a good pick with Gerald Henderson, so the Bobcats will be fun to watch next season. Like every other team in the NBA, it wouldn’t hurt to add another big body to the roster.

Chicago Bulls: Where will Ben Gordon go? He provided quite a few highlights against the Celtics in the first round, but I can’t see him playing for any of the other teams that can afford him (Detroit, OKC, Memphis).

Cleveland Cavaliers: They got Shaq. Who’s next? Charlie Villanueva would make sense, or Rasheed Wallace, but both could be too expensive for the Cavs. They also need to improve their bench, and search for a long, athletic swingman to help out on D. The addition of O’Neal still wouldn’t help them all that much defending the Magic’s wing players. As long as they don’t spend all their money on Anderson Varejao. You gotta love the guy’s energy, but you have to wonder if Andy would be better off as a sixth man.

Dallas Mavericks: Jason Kidd could go, so they need to search for a point guard. J.J. Barea will not make you a contender. The Mavericks might have a big problem this off-season as a lot of teams in the West have been improving the last couple of seasons, while Dallas’ window of opportunity is rapidly declining.

Denver Nuggets: They don’t have to do much, besides re-signing Chris Anderson and Dahntay Jones. Smart move of acquiring Ty Lawson last Thursday. Being mentored by Chauncey Billups, the Nuggets don’t have to worry about the point guard position for years to come.

Detroit Pistons: Probably the most active team this summer, since they have some money to spend now that AI, Sheed and McDyess are off the books. But I’m very surprised that Ben Gordon’s name keeps getting linked to the Pistons, because that wouldn’t make any sense at all. Why? Richard Hamilton, that’s why. Gordon is an undersized shooting guard and not a great defender, and is not an upgrade when you already have Hamilton on your roster. With Michael Curry gone, and probably some new guys coming in, the Pistons will have an entirely new product on the floor after the summer.

Golden State Warriors: As long as they’re not willing to give up Stephen Curry, they won’t get Amar’e Stoudemire. I’m still not sure whether I was amazed or not by the fact that Golden State didn’t draft Jordan Hill. It would give them a starting line-up of Ellis, Jackson, Maggette, Hill and Biedrins. For the first time in years a starting five not solely consisting of Biedrins and a bunch of guards and small forwards. But yeah, that didn’t happen.

Houston Rockets: I feel so bad for Yao Ming. Who knows when he will return from his troubling foot injury. Wait, make that if he ever comes back at all. Houston should start over, and face the dreaded “R” word: rebuild.

Indiana Pacers: They decided not to pick up the option on Marquis Daniels, seeing Brandon Rush as their projected starting shooting guard. Larry Bird picked Tyler Hansbrough in the Draft, and is being mocked for it. Bird might have the last laugh though, since Hansbrough has impressed everyone who has seen him working out before the Draft. Oh, and free Tinsley! It has gone on long enough.

Los Angeles Clippers: With Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon and hopefully a healthy Baron Davis, it can only get better, right? Right?! Now they have to figure out who will take Zach Randolph, Chris Kamen and / or Marcus Camby off their hands.

Los Angeles Lakers: Odom and Ariza, Ariza and Odom. Who will return? Hopefully both of them, because the Lakers’ bench just isn’t that good. Even NBA Championship teams have some work to do in the off-season. There are also rumors about adding Jason Kidd to the roster, but not sure if that will work financially.

Memphis Grizzlies: Hopefully, Hasheem Thabeet will be that defensive force they are hoping for. Let’s not forget, the NBA isn’t a big man’s game anymore. With Conley, Mayo, Gay, Gasol and Thabeet they certainly look good on paper, giving the few Grizzlies fans out there something to be excited about.

Miami Heat: What to do, what to do? Like any other team, the Heat has talent, just not enough. Dwyane Wade is an MVP calibre player, what he did last season was unbelievable. The rest? Not so much. Mario Chalmers is good running mate to have, and I have always been enamoured by Udonis Haslem, but the Heat has plenty work left to regain the status of being amongst the NBA elite. Will Beasley be a starter this year?

Milwaukee Bucks: RJ is gone, Charlie V. is gone, so who will score for the Bucks? Michael Redd must first show how healthy he is, Andrew Bogut is a good center, but no star, and it’s not even sure that Ramon Sessions will be there after the summer (although that is the plan). At least they brought some excitement to Milwaukee in drafting Brandon Jennings.

Minnesota Timberwolves: You can say a lot about David Kahn, but not that he isn’t active. While NY fans are probably singing “Let my Ricky go”, Rubio will either play in Europe or in Minneapolis when the new basketball season starts, and let’s not forget about Flynn, Big Al and Kevin Love. It looks like the Timberwolves are finally are building something that resembles a basketball team. Next up: a coach.

New Jersey Nets: The Nets franchise is exactly what George Karl meant: the Nets dealt Vince Carter and according Rod Thorn this gives them the flexibility to get two “max” players next summer. The Nets do have a lot young talent in Harris, Lopez, CDR, Courtney Lee and Terrence Williams. What they don’t have are people who can score (besides Harris and maybe Lopez), and sadly enough Thorn and Kiki Vandeweghe are counting on Yi to get it done. As a Nets fan, I’m not so sure.

New Orleans Hornets: Not that long ago the Hornets were one of the better teams in the West, but looking at their roster now, they have to figure out how to remain competitive. Stojakovic’s play is declining, there’s no bench, and Tyson Chandler might not be with the team anymore when the new season starts as management is exploring options to trade him (again).

New York Knicks: Rubio won’t be in New York, so now the Knicks are talking with Jason Kidd, who also has an off-season home in the area. He’s a fan of Mike D’Antoni, and could make a young team better. If Kidd signs with the Knicks, you can be sure of it he will end his career without a Championship, so the Lakers would make more sense.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Ben Gordon has also been linked to the Thunder, but they already have enough fire power in Durant, Green, Westbrook, and rookie James Harden. They also traded for center B.J. Mullens on Draft Night, but they could improve their bench.

Orlando Magic: The Magic made a great move trading for Vince Carter, but you can be sure of it that Hedo Turkoglu will be gone. It’s been reported that Orlando offered him around 35 million for four years right after the Finals, but he declined. This prompted them to trade for VC, which is almost the same as saying: “See ya!” to Hedo. Now they need to re-sign Marcin Gortat, and shore up their bench a little, and they’re good to go.

Philadelphia 76’ers: The first thing the Sixers did is sign coach Eddie Jordan. What’s next? Andre Miller might be gone giving Lou Williams a chance to start, with rookie Jrue Holiday backing him up. Will they try to make it work with Elton Brand this season?

Phoenix Suns: That’s the end of the Shaqxperiment. Now if they do trade Amar’e Stoudemire, I hope they get a big man in return, because there aren’t many left in Phoenix. Another big question is: what will Steve Nash do?

Portland Trail Blazers: They might try to add Kirk Hinrich, who would be a great fit next to Brandon Roy. Other than that: don’t change a thing.

Sacramento Kings: The Kings had a solid Draft, getting Tyreke Evans, but also Omri Casspi, who might be the sleeper of the Draft.

San Antonio Spurs: And the rich get richer. Acquiring Richard Jefferson is such a smart move, and assures them of being able to contend for the Championship next season. And who do the Spurs pick up in the second round of the Draft? DeJuan Blair. Like I said: the rich get richer.

Toronto Raptors: Trouble in Toronto. You don’t know what Chris Bosh will do in 2010, Shawn Marion will be gone, and it doesn’t seem likely that there will be any big names entering Canada in the near future. Rookie DeMar DeRozan will be an exciting player, so stay positive Raptor fans!

Utah Jazz: The Jazz have a problem. Why the hell would Carlos Boozer opt out, since nobody will pay him more than what he can make next season anyway? This doesn’t make it easier for Utah, who should by all means keep Paul Millsap. Boozer will be gone next summer, and Millsap should be their power forward for years to come. With Boozer staying, it will also make it difficult to re-sign Mehmet Okur.

Washington Wizards: Will this finally be the year that everyone stays healthy? How good will Arenas be? Did they make the right move in trading away their Draft pick for Mike Miller and Randy Foye? What can Flip Saunders do that Eddie Jordan couldn’t? The Wizards have more questions than answers, but who doesn’t want to see what these guys can do?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Carter Goes Home

In my years as a Nets fan, it hasn’t always been easy. I’ve been with them since 1997, and I’ve seen Jayson Williams go from a rebounding madman, to a…. well, a madman. I’ve seen Stephon Marbury as a Net, paired with then Sixer Allen Iverson, winning one of the best All-Star games in recent history in 2001. I’ve seen Jason Kidd joining the Nets, leading them to the Finals twice, and getting triple-doubles like it was nothing. Kenyon Martin, our last power forward: from rim-rocking dunks in The Meadowlands, to going all the way to the Western Conference Finals with the Nuggets only a few weeks ago. And of course Richard Jefferson. When Kidd left, I understood. It’s a business, and both player and team were ready to move on. And we got Devin Harris in return, so I couldn’t complain anyway. But trading a 20 ppg player like Jefferson for two forwards who didn’t average 20 ppg together, broke my heart. A lot of people dislike RJ, but I’m not one of them. Is he overpaid? Could be. Should he always be a sidekick to some star? I don’t know. All I know is that he’s been traded to the Spurs this week, so I’m happy he doesn’t spend the prime of his career in basketball purgatory. One final thing I want to mention about Jefferson: he really was bummed when he was traded by the Nets after spending his first seven years there. He wanted stay in New Jersey for the rest of his career, and that doesn’t happen very often when a player says that about a team like the Nets (before RJ, I think the last one to do so was Buck Williams).

After RJ was gone, luckily we still had Vince Carter, and it was time for him to show if he’s able to lead a young team, to see if he could go through a season of what some people would call “a rebuilding year”. And VC just did that without complaining, teaching the young guys, playing at least three positions throughout the season, and oh yeah, averaging 20, 5 and 5 along the way. Sure, he wanted to win a championship, but he emphasized that he was content with his current situation, and enjoyed the process of building a team, making the rookies better; doing whatever that was needed to be done to help the organization during this tough process of being perceived as mediocre.

They called him Wince Carter, but in his last four full seasons, he only missed 11 games. He’s not getting any younger, he has a huge contract, but he is also capable of making huge baskets, or making the right pass when needed, as we could state that VC is one of the best passing shooting guards in the League, and maybe one of the most unselfish players in the NBA. Sure, Vince is a great actor, limping, grimacing, staying down for a while, the man has a flair for the dramatic, just ask Toronto when he killed them by scoring a reverse alley-oop in the buzzer with 18.000 people booing him. About the incoming players: I like Courtney Lee, I don’t know how Rafer Alston will fit in coming off the bench, and Tony Battie is a nice veteran addition (however, the contracts of those two are coming off the books in 2010, so that’s why they're now with the Nets). But I really don’t know how the Nets are planning to score 85 points in a game next season.

Rod Thorn will probably draft Terrance Williams or Gerald Henderson tonight, and might do some additional dealing this summer (speaking of that: Ryan Anderson is joining VC to Orlando, which gives the Nets the Magic’s trade exception). But Vince Carter’s scoring, passing, and leadership will be missed by us Nets fans. Vince Carter will finish his career in the state he was born in, and where he also starred as a high school phenomenon. He might be a nice guy, but in Orlando he will show that nice guys don’t always finish last.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Hangover

It’s been (almost) a week since I’ve watched the Lakers win their fifteenth championship, and their fourth in the Phil Jackson / Kobe Bryant era. This means that L.A. along with San Antonio now has won eight of the last eleven championships. Only Detroit, Miami and Boston had something to say during this period. And it’s not ludicrous to think that it would be any other way in 2010 if other contenders don’t improve (Cleveland, Orlando) or get healthy (Boston).
Why haven’t I written something on “the day after”, on Monday? They had the championship parade on Wednesday, and I still hadn’t made a post on this blog. The reason is simple: like every June after the season has finished, I’m dealing with an NBA hangover. Almost eight months of checking box scores on a daily basis, watching games, reading SLAMonline, Hoopshype, refreshing pages I don’t know how many times a day, it’s all over. Sure, I still check those websites, but no more game recaps, no more checking stats, no more getting up in the middle in the night to watch a live game on TV, none of that.
At this time of year I realize how big of an influence the NBA is on my life. For instance: I would never plan a vacation during the Playoffs or Finals. Even when I’m away during the regular season, I still feel the urge to check some NBA news or scores whenever I have the opportunity. Sad? For others, maybe. I just call it a passion.

If I think back to the NBA Playoffs 2009, I think of these moments:

-Boston vs. Chicago: The best series of this year’s Playoffs. I almost ordered a Ben Gordon jersey but I realized just in time that he might be playing for another team next season. I hope Chicago’s nucleus can stay in tact, what a joy to watch, what a masterful trade in acquiring Brad Miller and John Salmons, Derrick Rose as a young star, Kirk Hinrich playing great coming off the bench, I really enjoyed it. On the other side you had Ray Allen’s amazing51 points, Glen Davis showing off that he can score, Kendrick Perkins playing tough D, and Rajon Rondo almost averaging a triple-double; this was one for the ages.

-Cleveland’s first two rounds: They just demolished Detroit and Atlanta, it was almost embarrassing.

-The Denver Nuggets: Such a fun team to watch. Shooting 3’s all over the place, athletic players blocking, dunking, running all over the place, playing with a sense of urgency behind leader Chauncey Billups all the way to the Western Conference Finals.

-Inside the NBA: How nice it was to watch Ernie, Kenny and Chuck almost daily on NBA.com. Still one of my favorite shows, and again, I wish that TNT had the NBA Finals, but that won’t happen anytime soon.

-Los Angeles vs. Houston: One might wonder what would’ve happened if Yao was able to play after Game 4. Houston plays great D, they didn’t miss T-Mac at all, but to go all the way without Yao might be a bit too much. Sure, they made it to a Game 7, which is an amazing feat by itself. But they just came up short in the final game. Although “short” and missing Yao might be a weird combo. To be honest, even with Yao, I think the Lakers would’ve beaten them.

-Cleveland vs. Orlando: Cleveland steamrolled all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, but their shortcomings were exposed by Orlando, which denied LeBron a second trip to the NBA Finals. I wonder what the Cavs will do this summer to strengthen their team. Will Sideshow Andy be back? Will they bring in a bigger guard? LeBron needs help.

-The two huge 3’s by Derek Fisher in Game 4: The only player who was there along with Kobe and Phil to win the first three championships, now steps up in a huge way to make a trey late in the fourth quarter, and again in OT. Now Fisher must remain a Laker ‘til the end of his playing days. And after that make him as assistant coach to start a new career with the organization.

-Seeing Kobe getting his fourth: People hate him, people love him, and it all doesn’t matter. He’s the last one standing. He’s been playing basketball non-stop for two years and still coming up huge in the Finals.

-Pau Gasol: Pau has won a lot on an international level, but in the NBA couldn’t shed the tag of being soft. He had a great Playoffs and Finals, and now he can add an NBA Championship to his résumé.

-Phil Jackson: Winning that 10th Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

No Breaks Allowed, Part 9

The “No Breaks Allowed” posts are my way to write about all the stuff that happens around the League which finds a place in my peanut-sized gray mass (also known as my brain), and sometimes it has to come out. Why are these posts numbered? I don’t know, but might as well keep it going.

-Four nights of no NBA Basketball felt like the season was already over and today it’s starting up again. I know it’s not late October, but man, I need some basketball, quick!

-Nets coach Lawrence Frank wrote a Finals preview on njnets.com, and it basically came down to this: Lamar Odom should start instead of Andrew Bynum. Put Odom on Rashard Lewis (better match-up), which also will force Dwight Howard to defend Paul Gasol on the other end. Whether we like it or not, since Howard continues to get in foul trouble, he will have a very hard time staying out of it against Gasol. That’s the way the League works nowadays. Frankly, Frank is right. It seems so simple, but if it works that way is something we’ll know after tonight.

-After having watched the first three episodes of The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, I realized how glad I am that Conan is back on TV. I know the Lakers are favored to win the title, but wouldn’t it be fun if Dwight would go on The Tonight Show when the Finals are over? Dwight and Conan would be comedic gold together, I’m pretty sure of that. Seeing Kareem on last night’s show was great. He hardly said anything, but seeing him standing next to graphic designer Pierre Bernard was enough for me. Hilarious, and I don’t really know why.

-I wonder what Phil Jackson will do after this season, whether he wins it all or not. I mean, the man isn’t get any younger (he’ll be 64 when the ’09-’10 season starts), and his health isn’t exactly great either. It would be sad to see him leaving the game, but I hope he writes at least one more book about his final coaching years with the Lakers. Not sure if Kobe does after “The Last Season – A Team in Search of Its soul”.

-Big chance that after this summer either Ariza, or Odom won’t return to the Lakers. Signing both of them will probably too expensive. Who would you pick?

-Most ridiculous trade rumor of the summer so far: Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo for Leandro Barbosa and Amar’e Stoudemire. That just doesn’t make any sense. At all. I wonder if anything will top this one in the next couple of months.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cleveland Cavaliers: (Orlan)D’oh!

Almost before the cameras could find him on Saturday night, LeBron was already in the tunnel towards the locker room, his head down, disappointed beyond all believe. His stats against the Magic? A ridiculous MVP-worthy 38,5 ppg, 8,3 rpg, 8,2 assists. But the most important stat he’ll remember is this one: 4-2. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not now, not this season, it was theirs to take, right? The MVP on the team with the most wins during the regular season, sweeping Detroit and Atlanta in the first two rounds, only to fall in the Eastern Conference Finals against a Magic team who exploited Cleveland’s shortcomings in an obvious manner.

It’s funny; when a team wins 66 games, you don’t hear too many people criticizing LeBron’s lack of help. Winning eight straight games in the Playoffs in a dominating fashion made a lot of basketball junkies salivating over a Kobe-LeBron match-up. But in reality, as basketball fans we all knew the Cavaliers are flawed. Let’s take a look at the core of the team (anybody not named James but appeared in most of their games):

Daniel Gibson: Gibson played great in the Playoffs…. in the previous two years. You must wonder what his role on this team can be, since he’s under contract ‘til 2013 for over 4 million a year. A shooter who only hit 39% of his shots during the regular season, shouldn’t be considered as a building block.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas: Big Z makes 11 million in the final season of his contract (he recently has stated he won’t opt out which makes sense), and turns 34 later this week. Still a good player to have around, but only played in 65 games this season, and aside from him being 7’3, he’s not an imposing defensive player nor is he a great rebounder. But as an offensive weapon he’s still valuable.
Sasha Pavlovic: Once a starter, now a benchwarmer with some DNP’s after this name. He will be in the final year of his contract for the 2009/2010 season.

Anderson Varejao: Sideshow Andy might opt out, which for the Cavs could actually be a good thing. The consensus of a basketball messageboard I sometimes check is to pay Varejao about 8 million a season, but to me, that would be a bit pricey for a player that shouldn’t be a starter in the first place. I’m not saying Varejao is a bad player, but he’s not essential in what the Cavs have been trying to do this past season. His 8 points and 7 boards can be replaced by someone who can come in a little cheaper.

Ben Wallace: As of right now, Wallace isn’t sure whether he’s coming back for the final season of his contact, which pays him 14 million, or if he will retire. If he does, he might seek a buyout, but that’s still better than the Cavs having to pay him 14 mil.

Delonte West: A skilled but also affordable player who is under contract for another two seasons, but is he the answer at the starting shooting guard position? It might be better if West would come off the bench backing up both guard positions.

Mo Williams: A lot of people are not very fond of Mo Williams right now, because of his “guarantees” and his somewhat disappointing play, but he did play great during the regular season. He’s not going anywhere in the next couple of years.

I didn’t list Wally Szczerbiak and Joe Smith because their contracts are up, and I doubt that either of them will be back. We saw less and less of Smith as the Playoffs continued, and I was surprised he didn’t have a bigger impact on this team. It might just so happen that he will return to the Thunder, since he built up a great relationship with his former teammates there. If not, Joe Smith is a player who will always find a job in the NBA. Wally’s days of receiving huge paychecks are over; I wonder what he will do now (not really).

The Cavs need a starting power forward who can score inside and grab some boards; a Carlos Boozer kind of type (not that he would return to the Cavs anyway, and the fanbase wouldn’t want to see him back in Cleveland either). Since the Cavs absolutely have no inside game besides LeBron driving to the basket, it also explains why their offense can be rather stagnant sometimes. What especially annoyed me during the regular season is that in close games LeBron is forcing up shots, and four other guys are watching him. Mike Brown must find a way to make the offense more diverse, so that the opponent doesn’t always know what’s coming at them. Sure, they won 66 games, but they aren’t there in Game 1 of the NBA Finals this Thursday. They also need to upgrade their bench, and a taller shooting guard who can help out on D. GM Danny Ferry doesn’t have to revamp the roster as a whole, but he’s got plenty of work to do in the next couple of months, with a tight budget and no trade material. Danny needs a fairy to make this all happen.