The NBA. Where amazing happens, huh? David Stern has globalized the game of basketball to a level no one ever thought possible.  I mean look back at last season.  Houston Rockets Center Yao Ming and New Jersey Nets Power Forward Yi Jianlian provided the world with the most televised regular season game of all-time! I mean…the channel CCTV-5 in China is available in 210 million households!

[yao+yi.jpg]

One of the biggest names in the NBA Draft came from a country where people run away from bulls for fun, and that’s Ricky Rubio. Dirk Nowitzki, all the way from Germany, is one of the biggest household names in the NBA. Tony Parker, one of the best point guards in the league, comes from France. Not many people know this, but 4 time NBA Champion and arguably the greatest basketball player in the world today, KB24 Kobe Bryant, spent most of his life growing up in Italy.

Now, this season it looks very likely that the NBA will have its first ever non-North American owner in Mikhail Prokhorov.  Provhorov is a 44 year old Russian billionaire who is a former amateur basketball player. Provhorov was ruled as the richest man in Russia by Forbes and has an estimated net worth of $9.5 billion.  With Provhorov’s ‘dough’, the New Jersey Nets will be able to move forward with their plans to move the team to Brooklyn. 

Prokhorov

The franchise started in the ABA in 1967 as the Americans.  They later became what we know them today as the Nets, where they bounced around to different arenas in New Jersey and New York before settling in the swamps of East Rutherford in 1981-82.

So a team that was once called the Americans may have a Russian man hangin out courtside with Jay-Z and Beyonce calling the shots and watching Yi Jianlian and the Nets. There is only one Russian player in the NBA, Andrei Kirilenko and David Stern is thrilled to possibly have another Russian presence in the league. “Interest in basketball and the NBA is growing rapidly on a global basis, and we are especially encouraged by Mr. Prokhorov’s commitment to the Nets and the opportunity it presents to continue the growth of basketball in Russia,” Stern said in a statement.

Oh yeah, then there’s 2010. There’s that guy Lebron James who will become a free agent. The Nets have spent the last three seasons dumping cap space in order to sign Mr. James.  Bron Bron said in an interview in New York City last summer that Brooklyn was his favorite borough. Ok…. Oh yeah, and Jay-Z’s got his new album out, “The Blueprint 3” and in his latest video, Lebron James can be found shooting around with HOV rapping.

Reporters have asked LBJ basically every question there is regarding his decision coming up in one season, but they haven’t asked one and if you see him, make sure to ask: ‘Lebron, how do you feel about caviar?’

-Tommy T

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An Analysis of the Big Player Transactions During the Off-Season

By: Sean Speirs

     As we finish the month of September and enjoy the last dwindling days of the MLB and the beginning of the NFL season, believe it or not the 2008-2009 NBA season is right around the corner.  Official Pre-Season games start the first week of October, with the season hitting full-on by the end of October and early November. 

     However, there was still the presumptuous off-season, where teams in both the Western and Eastern Conferences accepted the arrival of new teammates (through trades or free-agency) while also bidding farewell to old ones. 

     Here on the SportsZone blog I will go through/analyze the teams in both conferences and honor those who made the biggest moves that will not only change the face of their organization, but also add to their game-style in a positive manner. 

     I will also go through the teams who pulled the biggest flops of the summer and did not attempt to strive for the best transaction when they needed one the most and/or made a transaction that did not satisfy their needs in the end.

     For this week, I will begin with teams in all of the divisions in the Western Conference.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

THE GOOD:

1.  Houston Rockets

          Notable Additions: Ron Artest, Brent Barry, Joey Dorsey (Rookie Forward)

          Notable Loss: Bobby Jackson

     Result:  With the acquisition of Ron Artest from the Sacramento Kings this summer, the Houston Rockets finally have a “Big Three” to call their own (Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming, and Ron Artest).  Although Artest has not been the perfect off-court athlete in recent history, he still has pent-up basketball talent that could potentially deem him a superstar (if he were to ever leave the rapping behind and play serious basketball).

     In 57 games with the deteriorating Sacramento Kings last season, Artest was still able to produce season averages of 20.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game.  Artest also fills the shooting/power forward position Houston has needed for years.  He will ultimately bring in the ability to drive to the hoop, hit the outside shot, create space, rebound, and draw defenders away from other Houston players, such as Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming.  All in all, this is the time for redemption for Artest.

     The Rockets also were able to acquire veteran-guard Brent Barry, who will come off the bench and be another outside sharp-shooting threat alongside PG Rafer Alston.  With all of these acquisitions, the Rockets only main loss (besides potential young talent) was vet guard Bobby Jackson, who went back to Sacramento in the Artest deal.  In actuality, it was not a big loss for the team, since Jackson has passed his prime a long time ago (only averaged 8.7 pts, 1.5 assists and 1.7 rebounds last season) and was actually dragging down the back-up guard spot behind Alston.

     If you are a Rockets fan, the only thing you should worry about is whether or not this Big Three will be able to stay healthy.  McGrady (back), Yao (foot), and Artest (back, hamstring, knees) are probably the three biggest injury prone athletes in the Western Conference, let alone the NBA.  With this in mind, the Rockets did take a risk in getting Artest.  However, something needed to be done so that the Rockets can be a serious contender in the powerful Western Conference.

     It finally looks like they will be.

 

2.  New Orleans Hornets

          Notable Addition:  James Posey

          Notable Loss: Chris Andersen

     Result:  After a huge 2007-2008 season and becoming one of the most deadly teams in the West, GM Jeff Bower and the Hornets continued their momentum this summer, and may have acquired the final piece this team has thrived for during their playoff run in April/May…deadly swingman and 3-point sharpshooter James Posey.

     Posey (who has won two championships with the recent Boston Celtics and ‘05-‘06 Miami Heat) knows his way around the NBA when it comes to the playoffs and Finals.  He also knows when to step up, hit the big shots, and become a role-player when his team needs one.  With Peja Stojakovic and CP3, Posey will be another outside threat as a shooting forward who will specialize in finding the open spot for the three-ball.  Also, with three deadly outside shooters on the court, opposing teams will stretch out their defense, giving Center Tyson Chandler and Power Forward David West better opportunities underneath.

     Amongst this acquisition came the loss of F/C Chris Andersen to the Denver Nuggets.  Again, this is no big deal since he only played in five games last season averaging 1.2 points and 1.8 rebounds per game.  In the end, the Hornets did not lose anything major this off-season (they even extended CP3’s contract).

     The only question is whether or not Hornets Head Coach Byron Scott will position Posey as a starter or as the sixth-man off the bench to continue the high momentum of a game.  Although that answer may yet to be seen, it is obvious the Hornets are already thinking playoffs with their new addition (acquired someone who has experience with winning the rings), while some columnists are even seeing them winning the overall NBA Championship this season.

     If they do win it all, then the Hornets truly had a profitable summer. 

 

3.  Los Angeles Clippers

          Notable Additions: Baron Davis, Marcus Camby, Jason Wiliams, Eric Gordon (Rookie Draft)

          Notable Loss: Elton Brand, Corey Maggette

     Result:  The Los Angeles Clippers are the only team on the “GOOD TRANSACTIONS” list that got hit hard with a dramatic off-season.  Their star PF Elton Brand looked like he was going to accept a contract extension with the team, especially after rumors reported that the Clippers got the interest of (and eventually signed) Golden State free agent PG Baron Davis.

     Unfortunately for the Clips, Brand left for the Philadelphia Sixers.  To top it all off, SG Corey Maggette also left for the Golden State Warriors.  This created a huge gap in the team.  It was obvious that the Clippers were in a bad situation that would set back the organization instead of moving forward.  They only had one star PG in Davis and one true big-man in Chris Kaman, while there were holes to be filled in the other positions.

     So what did GM Elgin Baylor do in response? 

     He acquired blocking machine Marcus Camby, Indiana rookie Eric Gordon, vet-guard Jason Williams, SG Ricky Davis and young prospects. 

     These transactions help fill the team, and give them a new beginning, a huge accomplishment for the organization/team.

     With the help of Camby inside to compliment Kaman, the Clippers are bound to continue crashing the boards and getting rebounds (as well as blocking—Camby averaged 13.1 rebounds and 3.6 blocks last season).  So defensively the Clippers will continue to build, and ultimately become a force to be reckoned with.

     As for offensively, Baron Davis will lead a backcourt that will consist of Gordon and Ricky Davis, as well as Jason Williams, handling the bulk of the scoring for the team.  Baron Davis himself can carry a team, but it will be interesting to see how rookie Gordon responds and if he will be able to handle the different playing styles in the NBA.  Ricky Davis and Williams will also have to prove that they still have game left in them by keeping pressure offensively on the boards and around the perimeter.

     Also, is there a possible Clippers Big Three in the making (B.Davis,Camby, Gordon)?

     What’s amazing is that GM Baylor proved that any problem could be fixed, even if a team loses their superstars.  Also, it was obvious this off-season that the Clippers did not want to become another Memphis Grizzlies or Sacramento Kings in the league. 

     Good for them.  Next subject to tackle on the list…the shady coaching philosophy from Mike Dunleavy, but that is for another post.

     Nonetheless, the Clippers have a lot to prove (whether or not they will have an effective bench), but because of their bounce-back in the off-season, this team deserves to get high accolades when it comes to honoring those who made big moves in player transactions this summer. 

 

THE BAD:

1.  Denver Nuggets

          Notable Loss: Marcus Camby

          Additions: Chris Andersen

     Result:  After analyzing every-team in the Western Conference, the Nuggets get the most disappointing off-season award.  After such a promising rise in the last few years, acquiring star G Allen Iverson (AI), watching F Carmelo Anthony increase his skills, and making playoff appearances, one would think the Nuggets would have tried to make a strategic move this off-season that would not only increase their offensive power, but to also help out their big-men under the boards.

     Unfortunately the total opposite happened.  The Nuggets lost their Center and only defensive presence…Marcus Camby.  Camby ended up signing with the LA Clippers (above I have went through his amazing stats he averaged last season in terms of rebounds and blocks), leaving a huge gap in the Nuggets lineup. 

     In a time of what should be panic and fright, the Nuggets do not pull a “Clippers” and bounce back from this loss.  Instead, the Nuggets main acquisition (besides their not so good rookie draft pick) of the off-season is Chris “Birdman” Andersen. 

     Birdman Andersen?!?!?!

     Andersen was booted out of the NBA in 2006 due to drug abuse and violated the anti-drug policies of the league.  He was re-instated last year with the Hornets and only averaged 1.2 points and 1.8 rebounds towards the end of the season.  Not saying that Birdman was not a good player back then, but as compared to today’s standards, it may take while for him to get back in the groove of things. 

     How will this guy fill the Camby gap?  As a matter of fact, the Nuggets STILL need to fill this gap (and trust me, Kenyon Martin is not the answer).

     If the Nuggets don’t act accordingly and search for a F/C that can be a true powerhouse underneath, expect to see this team crumble as there is no one able to step up and be a part of the AI and Anthony duo (and these two players will not be able to carry this team alone).

     At least the other teams in the Western Conference have nothing to worry about in Denver.

 

2.  Sacramento Kings

            Notable Loss: Ron Artest

            Addition: Bobby Jackson

     Result:  Believe it or not, once you thought it couldn’t get any worse for the Sacramento Kings, it did this summer.  The organization basically handed Artest away to Houston, and in return received Bobby Jackson (who will most likely end his career in Sacramento, unless traded again). Now while some fans might enjoy the fact Jackson is back with the Kings, in actuality, it will slow down the Kings.

     It is sad to see that Artest, the Kings only player worth some value on the trading block only brought the Kings a C-List player in return, rather than a mid-to-high B-List player.  Did GM Geoff Petrie even try selling Artest on the market? 

     It seems like this team just enjoys giving away players for nothing in return.

     Trading star PG Mike Bibby to the Atlanta Hawks was bad enough for the Kings last season.  Now they truly have no one to carry the momentum of the team (do you really think Brad Miller, Kevin Martin, and Shareef Abdur-Rahim are a powerful enough trio?), which is now filled with, at best, mediocre talented players who will continue to be pressured to performing well throughout the season.  Although rookie Jason Thompson might show promise this year, he won’t be able to make a huge impact without adequate help around him.

     The Kings need to act accordingly before/during the season or they will continue to be forgotten in the NBA, especially in the star-studded Western Conference.

 

3.  Memphis Grizzlies

          Notable Loss: Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal, Kevin Love

          Additions: O.J. Mayo, Marko Jaric

     Result:  I don’t think anyone has any idea where the Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace’s mind is.  After giving up the Grizzlies only star Pau Gasol to the Lakers last season for star-less Kwame Brown, the Grizzlies could’ve only gone up the ladder of redemption.  However, it seems they went a few rungs down.

     This summer, the Grizzlies continued to shock the world by proving how they cannot partake in any player transactions.  However, they did get hopeful rookie-sensation O.J. Mayo from Minnesota in a huge deal after the Rookie Draft in exchange for veteran Brian Cardinal, sharp-shooter Mike Miller, and to-be rookie-sensation powerhouse Kevin Love.

     In actuality, the Grizzlies may have been better off keeping Love and Cardinal since they only have Marc Gasol (Pau’s brother) as their only force under the boards.  The acquisition of Mayo was gutsy, but this team already has enough shooting forwards and guards.  What they really needed were power forwards and centers.

     On paper, the Grizzlies did not make a dramatic move this summer like they needed to.  However, like I said before, no one knows what GM Wallace is thinking, and in the end this could all be part of a master plan that could actually be the start of the Grizzlies changing for the better. 

     Or at least Wallace and die-hard Grizzle fans believe such a radical idea.

     In all of this mess, the only good move the Grizzlies pulled off was that of losing Kwame Brown, and that wasn’t even a move.  Brown was a free-agent.

———

     Keep a lookout on the SZ Blog as I analyze the teams who made it big and/or flopped in the Eastern Conference this NBA off-season (as well as an overall look at the teams who were “in-between good and bad” during this player movement period).

 

BY: SEAN SPEIRS

IMAGES COURTESY OF YAHOOSPORTS.COM AND NBA.COM

             

 

 

 

NBA Free Agents Deciding to Play in Europe; Change is to Come

By: Sean Speirs

            Money is everything.

            Professional European basketball teams have started to show up on the doorstep of some free-agent NBA athletes this off-season, offering them better contracts and overall salaries that just simply cannot be comparable to any offers the NBA could have proposed to a restricted free agent.

            And money is all it took to convince these athletes to move.

            Although Europe has always been a contender in past NBA off-seasons, premier European teams have started to realize this summer that they can offer better contracts to restricted free agents who may not have the same economic opportunity with an NBA career.

            The biggest transition deal so far has been from the Greek basketball club Olympiacos, who has signed Atlanta Hawks Forward Josh Childress for a three-year $20 million contract after taxes.  This deal also marked the biggest contract in Euroleague history.   

            25-year-old Childress, who averaged 11.8 points and 4.9 rebounds last season, was the Hawks main force off the bench all throughout the 2007-2008 season.  As his contract expired this summer, the Hawks GM Rick Sund was able to match any offer from any NBA team.  However, due to the collective bargaining agreement, the Hawks could not match an offer from any international club.

            It has not been known yet how much the Hawks tried to offer Childress back, but due to the salary cap in the NBA, it was impossible to match Greece’s overall proposal.

            In the midst of Childress’ transaction, other NBA players who were restricted free agents this summer have been following the trend.  Such players include:

            -Earl Boykins:  The 5’5” guard is headed to Italy’s Virtus Bologna for a one-year, $3.5 million contract, making him Italy’s highest-paid player.

            -Nenad Krstic:  The once New Jersey Net center signed a two-year contract with Triumph Moscow worth $9 million.

            -Jannero Pargo:  The 28-year-old guard has signed a one-year deal with Dynamo Moscow worth $3.5 million.

            So far, these players who have decided to transition over to Europe may seem like mere role-players (not even) to any typical NBA team.  An NBA fan might even go to say “go ahead, there is no reason to keep these non-producing players in the NBA anyway.” 

            Unfortunately, for such a case, the bigger picture is not being seen. 

            When dealt in Europe, the Childress’ and Boykins’ of the NBA will have and probably continue to be treated as stars both publically and financially.  They will receive countryside recognition that may possibly be equal to that of any NBA athlete superstar here in the United States.

            Which brings about the main problem that is bound to hit the NBA. 

            What if the superstar’s in the NBA, come their restricted free-agency time in the league, want to not only receive a better salary the NBA cannot offer, but also a greater fan-base that extends worldwide?

            NBA superstars such as Lebron James and Kobe Bryant, whose contracts expire in 2010 and 2011 respectively, have jokingly pondered about the thought of relocating. 

            But when the joke becomes a serious matter, how will it affect the NBA?

            There have already been written articles that compare possible future contract moves (that may send a Bryant, James, or Wade to Europe) with the move that brought European soccer sensation David Beckham to the Los Angeles Galaxy.  An NBA superstar outcome to Europe would be just as big as Beckham’s, at least for American’s, since we seem to follow the NBA and its players more closely. 

            Although most of the NBA’s superstars are already somewhat big names in Europe, the experience of playing against new forms of competition and living in a different country could be something worthwhile and appealing to the athlete.

            When the chips are set, the overall outcome will always come down to money.  It ultimately did for the restricted free agents this summer, and probably will for one of the NBA’s super-stars in off-seasons to come. 

            At least the NBA has time to think of a way to keep their game-selling stars in the league, or else a possible Bryant-less and James-less future is in sight.  And without them or other superstar moneymakers, then there will be no money, sales, or profit driving the NBA.

            And money…is everything.

BY: Sean Speirs

IMAGE COURTESY OF YAHOOSPORTS.COM

  Now that the season is over and free agency has begun, it seems that the biggest story of the NBA off-season so far is Elton Brand and his betrayal.  I know you are all waiting for my opinion on the NBA draft and free-agency so far, but I’m going to wait to discuss that.  However, a story, that in my opinion that has not gotten enough coverage is not just a sports story, but the story of how a city, an ownership group, and the NBA has ripped off the fans of Seattle.  To better tell this story, I asked a friend of mine from Seattle to write down some feelings:

“July 2, 2008 brought closure and heartbreak. The NBA franchise formerly known as the Seattle Supersonics and the City of Seattle reached a buyout settlement of $45 million on the final two years of the team’s lease contract at Key Arena. This stunning move ended a two year long saga and struggle between the two parties. This period of uncertainty, initiated by the sale of the team by Starbucks owner Howard Schultz to Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett in 2006, finally ended with the Sonics seeing a sad end to their professional basketball history as the team officially completed its relocation to Oklahoma City.

Bennett’s intentions were clear when he purchased the team just two short years ago, and the way the situation was handled leaves a Seattle sports enthusiast like myself genuinely sickened. Now I have a been a hard-core Sonics fan ever since I moved to Seattle in 1994 and I’ve never had any other professional basketball team to cheer for.  To me, the Sonics were the one. It pains me to read articles about the move and all the good that has come from it. How can anyone in the city of Seattle, outside of those in the politics, who are in it for the money and seemed to have devalued loyalty, benefit from such a move? The team that I have dedicated so much of my time going to games and cheering loudly for was swept away by a big shot owner whose blatant apathy towards the fans and established basketball tradition of Seattle represents the sad reality of the business end of pro sports: People are in it for the money. Bennett felt that the Sonics would lose an estimated 60 million over the next 2 seasons if they stayed in Key Arena, and tried to convince the public that this was an absolute last resort move. A man from Oklahoma City buys the team and says he will keep it in Seattle, only if he can net large sums of money. Anyone who buys that has lost the ability to process information logically.  It was a win-win situation for the apparently shrewd businessman Clay Bennett, and it looks as though he has certainly won.

The promise of a new team and subsequent financial penalty to Bennett if a team, either from expansion or relocation, is not brought to Seattle by 2013 does little to suppress the pain from a loss like this. The city may take some of the money back, but Bennett has already stripped the city and loyal sports fans of, among other things, its basketball pride and its lone men’s sports world championship. (Yes, the Supes won the NBA Finals in 1979 and no; the Seahawks and Mariners have never won a championship in their respective sports). I may not have been there to watch you capture this title, but I was intently watching in 1996, at the tender age of 7, when the Sonics almost blew a 3-1 series lead over the Utah Jazz in the conference finals, then squeezed out a four point win in game 7 to reach the NBA finals for the first time since 1979. I loved that group of players; they were my heroes. “The Glove” Gary Payton, “The Reign Man” Shawn Kemp and “Mr. Sonic” Nate McMillan. To me and all other Sonics fans, that magical ride to the Finals showed just how much the Sonics meant to us. Unfortunately, the Sonics were simply outmatched that year by the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals, who were working on their fourth championship in six years, finishing off a season where they set the NBA wins record and had the best player of his era and perhaps of all time, Michael Jordan. I cried when I saw the final seconds tick away of your magical march to the top.

 Bennett’s futile “attempt” (if we can even call it that) to keep the team was unrealistic and destined to fail from the start. Several requests by Bennett and co-owner Aubrey McClendon for local and state governments to fund a $500 million arena complex in Renton, Washington, a city hardly capable of housing such a metropolitan and people-attracting establishment. After their requests expectedly failed, Bennett began his determined mission to relocate to Oklahoma City. Approval from the NBA and its owners was needed, and David Stern and the rest of the NBA owners, minus Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban who voted against it, agreed that this was the right move for the NBA. The final move necessary to move the team came on July 2, 2008, and Bennett’s famous quote “We made it” angers me the more I hear it.

This series of negative events leading up to the relocation leaves a black mark on all of the memories of the Sonics that I have. Clay Bennett should hold all the guilt in the world to the sports fans of Seattle, like he owes us all something in return. The NBA team of Oklahoma City does not yet have a name, but if you were to ask me, I would suggest the Oklahoma City Criminals.”

 

…It truly is pathetic.

 

BEARD

Age Bound to Hurt San Antonio Spurs

By: Sean Speirs

 

     Some say that valuable experience comes with age.  Unfortunately, experience will not be enough to help the San Antonio Spurs as their old age begins to rust this off-season.

 

     After enduring a tough NBA post-season this year with series against the Phoenix Suns (4-1) and the New Orleans Hornets (4-3), the Spurs were hoping their road to another NBA championship would be less stressful.  However, MVP Kobe Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers had a different agenda, and overthrew the defending champs in the Western Conference Finals 4-1.

 

     With their season now over, the future of the Spurs does not appear that promising anymore, especially since their squad will be one year older come next season.  Typically, one would say big deal, it is only one year.  But to the Spurs, that year could mean the demise of their championship franchise.

 

     Currently, the average age of the Spurs is 31.2, a range of two to seven years older than the average age of the other NBA teams [youngest being the Chicago Bulls at 24.2].  11 players of the Spurs 15-man lineup are 30 years old or older.  Six of those 11 will become 35 years old or older during next season, including starters Bruce Bowen (36) and Michael Finley (35), role-players Brent Barry (36), Robert Horry (37), Damon Stoudamire (34) and Kurt Thomas (35).

 

     With such an older team developing in the league, how long will it take until they cannot keep up with other, mostly younger, opponents? 

 

     The answers to this question became evident throughout all of the Spurs playoff games.

 

     Bruce Bowen could not keep up his once stellar defense against Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan suffered a slow inside game due to Hornets big men Tyson Chandler and David West, Manu Ginobli was playing through constant injuries, and Michael Finley could not find his deadly outside shot.

 

     Although the Spurs had an overall good season, clinching second place (56-26) in the Southwest Division, the true test of an NBA team is always the playoffs, whose outcomes can change the face of teams who fail to produce. 

 

     The Spurs this year was one of those teams, as the first signs of rust started to show, officially setting an expiration date for their once effective bench.

 

 

     Enough is enough.  There is no reason for this team to hold on to older players any longer that make up most of their lineup.  The Spurs already have experience from their superstars Duncan, Parker, and Ginobli (all have won 3 or more titles with this team).  By keeping older players, the Spurs are carrying dead weight that is preventing their “Big Three” and overall team from becoming a dominant future contender.

 

     –Bottom line: changes need to be made and fresh legs are necessary in order to compliment the quick style of play from starting point guard Tony Parker (26), the true future of this franchise.  What is needed, more specifically, is an agile/aggressive shooting guard/forward that can drive the ball, finish in the middle, and settle with the occasional outside jumper.  Younger Spurs Matt Bonner ( 28 ), DeMarr Johnson ( 28 ) and Ian Mahinmi (21) will never fill those needs and assets at the pace they are going, all three of these players average between two to four points a game.

 

     For General Manager R.C. Buford and Head Coach Gregg Popovich, in order to accomplish this main goal of change, the best chance the Spurs have is to let go of some, if not all, of their veteran free agents (Horry, Finley, and Thomas) and invest in a younger player through NBA draft trades.  They could also depend on a massive off-season trade that can bring over some youth and adequate help from off the bench.  Either way, expect the Spurs to try to edge their way into trade offerings and draft picks this off-season.

 

     All in all, if the Spurs got anything out of the 2007-2008 playoffs, it was a wake-up call from the future, warning them of the downfall that is about to come. 

 

    This is truly a rude awakening that cannot be ignored any longer.  If serious moves are not administered this off-season, the Spurs are in for a rough season next year.

 

     At this point, it’s safe to say that it’s time to panic.

Sean Speirs

Images Courtesy of YAHOOSPORTS.COM

Head Coach Mike D’Antoni Should Begin to Worry

By: Sean Speirs

     Mathematical probabilities are something our society depends on.  Luck is something our society hopes for.  As for Knicks Head Coach Mike D’Antoni, he is going to need some luck this off-season; the same luck that the Chicago Bulls, against all mathematical odds, had last night during the 2008 NBA Draft Lottery. 

 

     According to the math, the Bulls had an initial 1.7% chance of being top ranked, but according to luck, they came out with the overall No.1 draft pick.  The Knicks (on the other hand without luck), with a 7.6% chance of the top three spots, came out with the No.6 draft pick. 

 

     For Mike D’Antoni, seeing the Chicago Bulls receive that first pick is equal to seeing the “popular girl” in high-school losing the Homecoming Queen competition to the “class nerd”.

 

     This leads to the classic “What If” case scenario that must be running through D’Antoni’s mind.

 

     Less than a month ago, Mike D’Antoni, former Coach of the Year, left the Phoenix Suns to look for a new coaching job.  After picking up Center Shaquille O’Neal (in what some consider an unnecessary trade) and falling to the sixth seed in the Western Conference during the regular season, the Suns were eliminated from the NBA Playoffs this post-season by defending champions San Antonio Spurs.

 D\'Antoni

     Just days after the devastating blow, Suns General Manager Steve Kerr openly stated that the organization will search for a new Head Coach, even after D’Antoni had a 253-136 record in more than four seasons with the Suns.  In response, D’Antoni began to interview with teams who had open coaching positions. 

 

     In such a confusing situation in Phoenix, one would give respect to D’Antoni for leaving the Suns organization.  After all, why would one of the most talented offensive-based coaches in the league continue to stay with a team that does not want him anymore?

 

     After leaving Phoenix and going to a few coaching job interviews, D’Antoni’s future sat on the shoulders of the Chicago Bulls (33-49) or the New York Knicks (23-59).

 

     Now with such a decision to make, one would analyze the following:

 

-D’Antoni: D’Antoni’s style of play includes a quick offense that takes up an average of 7 seconds (about a 1/3) of the 24 second clock (or at least what D’Antoni aims for); due to quick fast breaks, pick and rolls, or speedy inside/outside jumpers. Although not given much respect, D’Antoni’s style of defense can also be praised, as long as his “Big Men” (Center and Forwards) grab defensive rebounds and immediately outlet pass to the One or Two Guard (Point or Shooting) to create the fast break.

 

The Chicago Bulls: The Chicago Bulls are a young team with players such as Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, and Loul Deng.  However, the Bulls were plagued by a season of low percentage shots taken/made both inside and outside the 3-pt. arc.  This style of play was mainly what the Bulls went for, the three-pointers and/or jumpers.  However, due to their youth, under the lead of D’Antoni’s style of play, the fast-break and quick offensive game-plan would have quickly been adapted to these players in Chicago, and much more affective.

 

The New York Knicks: The New York Knicks have been going through a rough patch the past couple years, with problems such as unsuccessful winning records, multiple player injuries, and of course, the Isaiah Thomas era.  The Knicks are also a reasonably older team, with sluggish players such as Eddy Curry, Zack Randolph, and Stephon Marbury (who has had a bad run with D’Antoni in the past when they were both in Phoenix).  It is unknown to predict how D’Anotni’s quick offense will pan out in New York, and whether or not these sluggish/older players will be able to keep up with such game-play.

 D\'Anotni pretending not to be shocked

     After seeing D’Antoni’s possible outcomes, it is unfortunate to see the successful coach agree to President of the Knicks Donnie Walsh’s offer to coach New York’s team (even when a brighter future would have been with Chicago, especially since they clinched the first pick of the NBA Lottery).

 

     At this point, D’Antoni must be worried.  After signing with a losing team in hopes of getting a high draft pick, and instead devastatingly receiving No.6, the only other hope D’Antoni has is either a blockbuster trade this offseason or waiting two more years in hopes for landing Lebron James after he becomes a free agent.

 

     All that D’Antoni needed to do was to give his decision time, pan out his options, and wait until after the draft.  That would have been the smartest decision since D’Antoni would be in the back-seat seeing where his “vehicle” was going.  Instead, D’Antoni rushed into the driver’s seat without taking into consideration the only factor that takes place during the NBA Draft Lottery…luck.

 

     By waiting until after the draft, D’Antoni would have probably gotten and accepted a better offer from Chicago, and would have been going to a team that was once considered in the beginning of this season to be one of the top contenders in the Eastern Conference.

 

     With his final decision, this New York Knicks team is now D’Antoni’s biggest challenge he will have to overcome in his career.

 

     Hopefully, D’Antoni can conquer the odds, make some smart decisions this off-season with what he has to work with, and give the New York Knicks a clean slate.

 

     Besides, waiting two more years for King James is not that bad…right?

Sean Speirs

 

 

Images Courtesy of AP Bill Kostroun and YAHOOSPORTS.COM

 

Before I get into dissecting this matchup, I just wanted to give some brief thoughts about last nights game between the Pistons and Celtics.

1- How bad did Chauncey Billups look? He was extremely tentative and was outclassed by Rajon Rondo, who Billups should own night in and night out. If he plays this in game two, I’m changing my prediction to Celtics in five. Likewise if Billups is healthy and Rondo is keeps outplaying him.

2- Where is Ray Allen’s shot? Why is he in this slump? Has he been hitting the gym and taking extra shooting practice? I believe something is going on in his head that is distracting him during the game. What it is , I can’t figure it out but I have an idea: He knows he can’t live up to the expectations set by the fans and teammates and is faltering when it matters. Pressure is something he can’t handle. Every year besides 2000-2001 and 2004-2005, none of his teams, when he was the first option, made it out of the first round (both of those years he made it to the Conference Finals). Even now as the third banana, he can not handle the expectations set upon himself and his team.

3- The Pistons need to get the ball into the paint. John Hollinger of ESPN wrote a great article explaining this (His article is point 8 on the Daily Dime). He can articulate this thought much better than I can.

Now, onto the Lakers and Spurs…

While this isn’t the matchup everyone wanted to see here, I believe that this is going to be the best series of the playoffs. All of the ingredients are there: The reigning MVP, a top-3 greatest Power Forward of all time, two of the greatest coaches, Los Angeles, and a heated rivalry that has been waiting to be reestablished.

Guards: Advantage Lakers

That should really say Advantage Kobe. Kobe Bryant is the best player in the world right now. Defenses can’t stop him, they can only hope to contain him to 30 points. So far he is averaging 33 points a game in the playoffs and has led the Lakers to an 8-2 record during that time as well (the best in the league). I wish I could say more but then I have to snap back into reality. Derek Fisher showed last year on the Jazz how valuable he is and he is proving it even more so this year. Its not that he is a stat stuffer, its more like he understands how to play the game correctly and will always put his team in a position to win. Couldn’t say that about the Laker’s starting point guard last year. Additionally, Fisher is a veteran of the Triangle Offense and runs it better than anyone else in the league.

This is not to say that Spurs back court is weak. Tony Parker has become a top-5 point guard this year and is only getting better. He can abuse opposing guards with his quickness or knock down the long range J. In my humble opinion, he is the toughest matchup for the Lakers. For the two-guard spot, its tough to say who starts. I’m putting Manu Ginobilli as the starter just for the simple reason that he was the Spurs leading scorer this year. And he plays too much to be a sixth man. He is just as quick as Parker, deadlier from long distance, and capable of handling the point guard duties. However, like most European players (Yes, I know he’s from Argentina), his defense is suspect and I don’t know who he is going to match up with defensively (Radmonovic I guess?).

Forwards: Advantage Spurs

This should really say Advantage Tim Duncan. As much as Kobe means to the Lakers, Timmy D means that much to the Spurs. He is their anchor on defense in the paint and he has the ability to take over games with out even touching the ball. Not to be forgotten is Bruce Bowen who is considered to be the best on ball defender in the league (I believe he is a dirty no good cheater, but thats just my opinion). He is going to have the glorious responsibility to shadow Kobe wherever he goes and attempt to stop him. While he does have little value on offense, he does have the ability to spread the floor for the Spurs and knock down the open three.

The Laker’s front court presents difficult match-up problems for the Spurs. Both Vladimir Radmanovic and Lamar Odom are 6-10 and extremely athletic. This alone should cause nightmares for the Spurs. However, Radmanovic is the worst starting player left in the playoffs and is completely useless on the defensive end of the floor. His only use will be to shoot open jumpers and subsequently miss them. Lamar Odom on the other hand is perhaps one of the best third options in the league. He rebound, drive, defend, and handle the point guard duties. His only weakness is that he can not handle pressure situations. If I am the Spurs, I am fouling him at the end of the game and putting him on the line and force him to win the game for the Lakers.

Center: Advantage Lakers

Pau Gasol has made the Lakers into the best team in the NBA. He gives them the high post presence that they have lacked for awhile. Moreover, his passing ability affords the Lakers to run their offense through him. He can dominate games with his scoring, passing, and rebounding. He is a complete player and has made this team almost impossible to beat.

Whoever the Spurs put at center (whether its Kurt Thomas or Frabicio Oberto) won’t really matter because like Bowen, their main assignment will be to play hard defense, rebound, and score second chance points. Thats it.

Bench: Advantage Neither

Both of these teams have strong benches that are well coached and well used. The Lakers go four deep with Jordan Farmar (PG), Sasha Vujacic (SG), Luke Walton (F), and Ronny Turiaf (F/C). Each of these players has a specific role and fills it well. Farmar is going to be leading this team very soon and is doing an effective job running the second unit. Vujacic add toughness and a Eurotrash aspect that is fun. Turiaf provides the energy, defense, and rebounding off the bench. However, Walton is the real wildcard here. I believe he is the fourth best player on this team and should be starting. He is like a whiter, smaller Lamar Odom because they have the same skill set. He can pass, run the offense, and do the little things that teams need in order to win. I would look to him to making a difference in a couple of games.

The Spurs on the other hand utilize most of their bench players with Michael Finley (G), Jacque Vaughn (PG), Ime Udoka (SF), Robert Horry (PF), and Kurt Thomas (F/C) all seeing minutes. Finley, Horry, and Thomas all provide even more playoff tested veteran leadership and intangibles that always seem to put the Spurs on top. The real wild card here is Udoka though. He is a more athletic version of Bowen and will be relied upon to provide valuable minutes as the Kobe Bryant defender du jour. He is also dangerous as a three-point shooter.

Coaching: Advantage Neither

At least in the West, neither coach will make a mistake that will put the other team in position to win. We saw that multiple times out East with Flip Saunders and Doc Rivers. Both of these coaches have multiple rings and know what it takes to get the most out of their players. I think the mind games they play off the court will be just as entertaining to watch as what happens on the court.

FUN FACT: Dating back to 1999, the Lakers (2000-2002) and Spurs (1999, 03, 05, 07) have accounted for 7 of the 9 NBA Champions (Detroit won in 2004 and Miami won in 2006).

Key Match-Up: Spurs Forwards vs. Lakers Forwards

If the Lakers front court can keep the Spurs less athletic big men out of their comfort zone, this series will not be as close as I believe it will be. But, as much as Odom, Gasol, and Radmanovic provide trouble, Tim Duncan is just as tough to match-up with for the Lakers. Who do the Lakers put on him? Gasol and risk foul trouble for their best post guy? Odom and watch him get abused by Duncan? If Tim Duncan can get Odom and/or Gasol into early foul trouble, the Lakers will be up a certain creek without a paddle.

X-Factor: Vladimir Radmanovic, PF, LA Lakers

If he can force the Spurs to guard him on the three point line, this will open up the lane for KB24. If puts up a 1-6 stinker like he did in Game Four of the Jazz series, then the Spurs will be able to pack it in and allow his defender to sag into the middle of floor and help with Gasol or Kobe.

Prediction: Spurs in 7

I want to pick against the Spurs…but I can’t. The big three of Duncan, Ginobilli, and Parker will be too much for the Lakers to over come. Also, look for the Spurs to take two road games (Game 2 and Game 7). However, it would not surprise me either if the Lakers took this series in five as well. But, I’m going to stick with the Spurs.

BEARD