Making Sense of the Phoenix Suns.

I’m going to give you three NBA teams who aren’t so high in the standings: the Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Throw Phoenix into the mix and you have four struggling teams.

Remember the old Sesame Street bit where they sang, “One of these things is not like the other?” This is similar, in the sense of how the teams built their current rosters.

Sacramento has gone the rout of putting as many young, high potential guys who like to shoot the ball (not much else) together.

Houston has a young group of interesting roster decisions. The point there is that they are young. Agree or disagree with how Darryl Morey got the players, the Rockets have exciting youth.

Cleveland rounds out the list with multiple lottery picks littering the roster.

The underlying theme in this is that the teams are young, and however frustrating it is to watch the team on the court (Sacramento), they have potential.

Phoenix however is different. There is no mention of a young building block with the potential or aptitude for stardom (i.e. Kyrie Irving, James Harden or DaMarcus Cousins). Continue reading

The Best in World of Sports: An Atlas of Atlases

In Greek mythology there is a Titan named Atlas who held up the world, or held up the sky so that it didn’t crash down on the Earth.

In the world of sports, each team has its own “Atlas” who keeps the team from falling flat.

Some of the best “Atlases” in recent sports memory:

  1. LeBron James- Cleveland Cavaliers. During LeBron’s tenure the Cavaliers were essentially James and a never-ending roll call of role players. Shaquille O’Neal and Ben Wallace were the only really good players who James played with in Cleveland. And at that point both were in the respective twilights of their careers, and Wallace wasn’t scoring much (as per usual). Cleveland was so bad without “King James” that they set an NBA record for the longest losing streak: 26 games after he made the decision to go to South Beach.
  2. Derrick Rose- Chicago Bulls. A small sample size, but while Rose dominated Game One of the first round of the playoffs versus Philly, he tore his ACL towards the end of the game. After holding on for the win in that game the Bulls went on to lose the series 4-2 to the eight-seeded 76ers. As a follow up, this year with Rose out for an extended amount of time, most pundits and talking heads have Chicago in the 6-8 seed range in the playoffs. Quite a drop-off for the team who had the best record in the East last season.
  3. Luis Suarez- Liverpool. If you take away Suarez’s fantastic production, the Reds would likely be in the relegation zone if not in last.
  4. Dwight Howard- Orlando Magic. Orlando is so bad without Howard it compelled me to write an entire piece on it, you can see that here. Orlando is going nowhere fast.
  5. Steve Nash- Phoenix Suns. Obviously earlier on in Nash’s career he had Amare Stoudamire and friends, so the team wouldn’t be that bad off without him. However, the Suns of the past couple years have needed Nash to help them stay out of the cellar. With him they were camped on the stairs going to the cellar; now they’re the cellar’s likely tenants.
  6. Mike Trout- Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Trout supporters love overusing the stat about the visible improvement of the Angels’ record with him, as opposed to their record without him. Take away Trout and a lineup that includes Albert Pujols, Kendrys Morales, Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells goes nowhere offensively. Continue reading

What Derrick Rose’s Injury Means for The Bulls

An ACL ligament might have dropped bona-fide title-contenders to team-who-could-be-eliminated.

Let me explain.

Derrick Rose has torn his ACL. As stated, it could drop the Bulls out of the playoffs all together.

And this time I won’t reiterate, I’ll explain.

The Bulls were built around Derrick Rose. That’s not to say they can’t win without him, it’s just going to be tough. This team is built on defense and supporting pieces around the MVP. None of the other players are guys who are going to carry a team. Carlos Boozer can score, but works better with Rose. Luol Deng could be a possibility, as could Rip Hamilton. Outside of that there aren’t a lot of consistent high-volume scoring options. Ashton Kutcher Kyle Korver is a three-point specialist at best. There aren’t a lot of bright spots that stand out without Rose.

The injury means the Bulls have to take up a new identity. One like the Detroit Pistons teams of the mid-late 2000s. They, like the Pistons team that went to the Finals and won, have a defensive-minded center, who doesn’t need consistent touches (Joakim Noah) like a Ben Wallace.  They also have a talented four-man who, when on, is a deadly scoring option, (Carlos Boozer) like a Rasheed Wallace. Then there’s each teams’ long, ace perimeter defender who can also score (Luol Deng for the Bulls, Tayshaun Prince for Detroit). Each team even has the same shooting guard (Rip Hamilton), so no explanation there. The one glaring difference with the two teams is the point guard position. In clutch time, Detroit went right to Mr. Big Shot (Chauncey Billups). The Bulls predictably did the same with Rose. Now the topic of conversation leads to who replaces Rose. To be honest, even if Chicago could go out and get any other point guard they wanted, the only ones who would fill the gap are Chris Paul and maybe Russell Westbrook. The last similarity between the teams is that neither team has a defined top scorer. Just a bunch of guys who can get it done when called upon. (This is the Bulls without Derrick Rose, mind you).

Now the Bulls are without Rose and are knotted at one game-a-piece with Philly in the first round. Will we see the team that sinks without their MVP and point guard, or will we see a team that reminds us of the Pistons of somewhat-old?

Everything Went Right For The Celtics… In the Regular Season

Boston recently clinched their fifth straight division title with a win over Orlando. If you have lived under a rock for the last few months, then yes, the 76ers are in the midst of tanking.

Boston had a ton of questions going into the season, questions that probably needed to be answered more than adequately for them to be successful.

The first question was probably along the lines of: “Is Jermaine O’Neal enough at center?”

And the answer is a big resounding,”NO”. O’Neal wasn’t enough, and Boston has been playing their best basketball without him. The C’s have been using an altered and/or smaller lineup with Kevin Garnett at center and Brandon Bass at the four. This has worked out beautifully because, as stated, the Celtics are playing their best basketball.

The next question was probably as follows: “Is the Celtics’ bench deep enough to be successful?”

Yes AND no. Greg Stiemsma has been a solid defensive center off the bench, and Avery Bradley has stepped up as of late, but the rest of the bench hasn’t been stellar. Keyon Dooling hasn’t been amazing, JaJuan Johnson has shown flashes but has been inconsistent like most rookies. Brandon Bass doesn’t really count because he’s starting right now. What I’m getting to is that the bench could use some help.

The third question was probably something like: “Can Rondo and the Big 3 stay healthy?”

Injuries are going to be a factor, it’s a part of the game. The Celtics to this point have spread the wealth as far as managing injuries. Because of this, the Celtics could be a dangerous playoff squad.

And lastly: “Can Boston win in the playoffs?”

Again, another yes and no. With Boston’s division title they clinch no worse than a fourth seed. Meaning they get home court advantage in at least the first round. This could be a huge advantage for the Celtics. Hypothetical situation time- let’s say Boston plays Atlanta in the first round. Boston has home court and rides their aforementioned momentum to a win in six. Then they run into a Chicago (presumably, not ruling out Philly, or Milwaukee for that matter) in the next round. If the Celtics can clamp down on Derrick Rose, well let’s just say they might get a shot at the Super Friends Miami Chapter in the Eastern Finals.

Who really knows what the Celtics will do the rest of the season, but one thing’s for sure, they’ll be one scary team in the playoffs.

NBA Season Predictions Eastern Conference-

Atlantic-

You’ve got Boston and New York: the old team trying not to fall apart too disgracefully and the up and comers with the shiny new toy. After that there’s the wing dominated, somewhat freakishly athletic Philadelphia 76ers. Following them is the New Jersey Nets, who have the cloud of Dwight Howard staring ominously down at them, with the Darren Williams situation hanging in the process. Finally there’s the Toronto Raptors who are still struggling after the Chris Bosh departure.

Predicted Finish-

  1. New York Knicks 40-26
  2. Boston Celtics 35-31
  3. Philadelphia 76ers 31-35
  4. New Jersey Nets 25-41
  5. Toronto Raptors 20- 46

The Thinking:

I think Boston could make it farther in the playoffs than the Knicks if Doc Rivers can manage the aging Celtics minutes. Bench issues could provide problems seeing as the Celtics best bench options are Chris Wilcox, Keyon Dooling and Sasha Pavlovic. This isn’t your “All Washed Up Second Team” this is the Celtics bench. Throw that in with the minute watching, and it might be a tough season at times for Boston.

New York, on the other hand, might be the exact opposite of the Celtics in some regard. Mike D’Antoni’s job could be on the line, and he might be forced to override Amare and Melo in order to win some games. The wildcard here is Baron Davis. If Baron Davis can play like he did in his Warriors days then this might be a steal for the Knicks. Other than Baron, the rest of the Knicks point guard situation isn’t necessarily great. It’s a nice bench setup with Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby, but not too outstanding.

Philadelphia is a bit tricky, a little hard to figure out. Andre Iguodala is a monster and Thaddeus Young is a big time athlete. You also have former number two overall pick Evan Turner, along with scoring option Jodie Meeks, plus veteran wingman Andres Nocioni. If you haven’t been keeping track you have all of those guys in line for two positions. It’s a bit much seeing as their only size up front is Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes and Mareese Speights. That could be a problem for them in the East.

New Jersey is another hard to predict situation. Dwight Howard could be in uniform at the end of the year, or he might not be.  Darren Williams will probably toil another year away in Jersey with an improved roster none the less, but one that is built around the arrival of Howard. Mehmet Okur and Deshawn Stevenson were nice additions, but at most it places New Jersey in the 10-12 range out East if Dwight Howard doesn’t come to town.

Toronto has struggled since Chris Bosh left. They have nice pieces in place with an efficient point guard in Jose Calderon, a potent-outside-scoring big in Andrea Bargnani. Ed Davis has some upside. Demar DeRozan has a ton of potential. The future certainly isn’t terrible in Toronto, but it’s not your Dream Team type either.

Central-

Chicago is going to be one of the best teams in the East. They, or Miami, could have the top seed going into the playoffs out East. Indiana is a really good looking up-and-coming squad led by Danny Granger. Milwaukee could be a sneaky playoff squad, or they could be picking in the lottery. Detroit and Cleveland both have young point guards that they are counting on in Brandon Knight and Kyrie Irving respectively.

Predicted Finish-

  1. Chicago Bulls 48-18
  2. Indiana Pacers 37-29
  3. Detroit Pistons 30-36
  4. Milwaukee Bucks 29-37
  5. Cleveland Cavaliers 17-49

The Thinking:

It’s hard to argue with an MVP (Derrick Rose), a cast of top notch role players (Ronnie Brewer, Taj Gibson, Ashton Kutcher — also known as Kyle Korver to some), plus a potent post pairing (that’s as far as I could go with the alliterations) of Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. The prospect of a top defense isn’t the worst thing in the world to have either.

Frank Vogel’s Pacers team is complete. Complete is the perfect word. The Pacers have almost every need filled. Outside of being complete they also are deep, which could be more key than anything this year as teams will look to sit players on some nights to preserve them for the playoffs.  Throw in a healthy David West. There’s some potential in Indy this year.

Detroit is going to surprise some people, probably not a title contender this year but as a sneaky, troubling team to a high seeded team come playoff time. They are deep. How good the depth can be or is, is yet to be determined. The Pistons have a glut of 3-4 type players, including Tayshaun Prince, Jonas Jerebko, Austin Daye and Charlie Villanueva. Add in a solid upside guy now and later in Greg Monroe, as well as a stable of guards in the form of rookie lottery pick Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey, Ben Gordon and Will Bynum. There’s somewhat of a little quality depth there, and the Pistons might get some wins playing Charlotte, Cleveland, Toronto, New Jersey and a possibly Dwight Howard-less Magic team.

Milwaukee might get into the playoffs on two things: Stephen Jackson’s attitude and Andrew Bogut’s health. If Captain Jack is on, then he’s extremely potent. Also, if Bogut’s trainer/doctor visits are kept to a minimum, then the whole “fear the deer” hoopla may return and Milwaukee could be dangerous. If not, then fans in Wisconsin could be in for a long, long season.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have problems. I didn’t like their draft choices in terms of potential. Irving and Thompson aren’t going to be any LeBron or Keven Durant. Also, if the Cavs tank, Andy Verajao and/or Antawn Jamison could be moved. It’s a long haul for Cleveland.

South East-

The Big Three could win a ring, not one, not two….. They can’t win two in one season. That’s ridiculous, none the less impossible. There’s also the ongoing Dwight Howard situation in Orlando: Will he stay or will he go? Where is he going? What are the Magic getting in return? Now he doesn’t want to be traded? Can I get a sandwich? (Just thought I’d throw that in there). Let’s see, who else? Oh yeah, Atlanta has no cap space and didn’t do anything except lose Jamal Crawford. Charlotte has “Cardiac” Kemba and the Washington Wizards have a guy you might have heard of called John Wall.

Predicted Finish-

  1. Miami Heat 47-19
  2. Atlanta Hawks 35-31
  3. Orlando Magic 34-32
  4. Washington Wizards 28-38
  5. Charlotte Bobcats 26-40

The Thinking:

The Miami Heat made a great move by bringing in Shane Battier. Add that to a squad that went to the NBA finals last year. It’s a bit of a by-default finals pick for some because of the uncertainty out West. If Eddy Curry can play like somewhat of ghost of his former self, then watch out for this team.

Quite honestly Atlanta and the Magic are interchangeable at this point. If Dwight Howard does leave via trade, this number could drop to a terribly low number. The team is a mess with Howard. Without him… Yikes. But I’m going with the Hawks over Orlando because of the sheer fact that they have a more complete team than the Magic. Yes Jamal Crawford is gone, but Joe Johnson could have a ridiculous comeback year. Or just a comeback year, either way I think the Hawks will be fine with one of the two previous options.

Orlando, like I said, is a mess. You have the Dwight Howard situation, plus oodles and oodles of bad contracts (yes that’s right oodles):  Hedo Turkoglu, Chris Duhon, JJ Redick, Quentin Richardson and I guess to a degree Jameer Nelson. It’s just a tough pill to swallow for the Magic either way. If Howard does stay, I don’t see Orlando being anywhere near Dallas, Miami, or Chicago in terms of title potential.

Washington, Washington, Washington, we’re still here waiting for a new team Stern! (Just thought I’d get that in there.) Now we’re talking about the Washington Wizards, a team with an intriguing core of Jon Wall, Jordan Crawford, Nick Young and JaVale McGee. Again not a lot of title aspirations this year, but a year where they will take some lumps, but also gain a lot of much needed experience. Put another big guy into this group and you have the makings for an exciting team.

Michael Jordan knows how to win. He might not have that opportunity. Any time you have Boris Diaw as a starting center, yep take that one in, Boris Diaw, who could play three in a big lineup as their starting center. I know that there aren’t a lot of elite centers out there, but Boris Diaw at the 5 spot? It’s a humongous red flag for a team who is undersized to the fullest and could take more losses than Jordan was used to as a player.

So just as a recap, this is what I would have in the first round of the playoffs:

1 Chicago vs 8 Philadelphia

2 Miami vs 7 Orlando

3 New York vs 6 Atlanta

4 Indiana vs 5 Boston

With Detroit as the team on the outside looking in, though I will say this, if Dwight Howard (hope you’re keeping track at home of how many times I’ve mentioned his name) is traded, Orlando doesn’t make the playoff and Detroit takes their spot with Philly moving up one spot. Here’s a visual:

1 Chicago vs 8 Detroit

2 Miami vs 7 Philadelphia

3 New York vs 6 Atlanta

4 Indiana vs 5 Boston

There’s your East primer/prediction extraordinaire. Stay tuned for the West primer/prediction.