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

1992 VS 2012: Which Olympic Team Wins?

Yes. If you haven’t figured it out, I was born in 1996. But even though that was four years before I was born this is a topical post that’s interesting to me so, moving on…

Who would win if the 1992 Dream Team squared off with the current chapter of the Men’s Olympic Basketball team?

We’ll never know of course. If we did know, then time machines would work and the magic of Back to the Future would be lost on us.

The one glaring difference between the teams is their respective post presences, or lack thereof. The Dream Team was stocked with Hall-of-Fame-worthy big men who dominated the paint: Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing and David Robinson led that elite group. While this year’s contingent is stocked with… Tyson Chandler. Similar, I know.

(The Secret Word is… Sarcasm)

While ’92 was more well rounded, with dominance at every position, the current team is more wing oriented and athletic. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, James Harden and Andre Iguodala form a daunting group of wing players. They are fast, and athletic, they’ll run up the score and force turnovers on you at will. Plus, most of them are in their prime, or some stage of it. LeBron is probably at his best, if not nearing his best play. Kobe is coming off one of his better seasons. While Durant is just entering his prime years, and Harden and Iguodala are fresh off respective breakout years. Carmelo Anthony is pretty good too.

But can this team beat the Dream Team? One of the best, if not the best, team in sports history?

The wings would definitely cause the ’92 team a problem or two. Guys like Magic and Bird were at the tail end of their careers and might have issues guarding some of these guys. But the flipside to that is that Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were in their prime. Two of the best defenders ever, I would certainly take them defensively over most, if not all, of the current guys.

So would the 2012 version of the Olympic Men’s National Basketball Team beat the 1992 version? No, they wouldn’t. I’m not even sure if 2012 could beat the 2008 version.

Dynasty? Nahhhh: Why OKC Won’t Win Titles

There has been speculation from all of the talking heads and what have you that this is the first of many opportunities for a basketball team in Oklahoma City to win a title.

And now I will explain why that is a load of “horse droppings” (again, trying to stay as clean as possible here).

First of all, Kevin Durant is great. And that’s amazing and all, but where is the offensive depth behind him? Russell Westbrook is also a viable point-scoring option, but after that it might get sketchy.  No, I haven’t forgotten James Harden, but he is going to demand a large paycheck when he reaches free agency. And while he is effective, where is the depth after him?

Nick Collison is a nice fourth/fifth post option, and Derek Fisher has his moments, but after that the cupboard is bare. There isn’t a whole lot behind Westbrook and Fisher at the point. While the starting two, Thabo Sefolosha, is defensive, in a word. On the front line, however, well there is a bunch of bargain bin fodder really; Cole Aldrich, Lazar Hayward and Nazr Mohammed aren’t too exciting.

So here is the “pleasant” dilemma OKC has. Shell out a bunch of dough to Harden and lose cash to go after much needed bench help, or let Harden walk and go through a tail spin of sorts. I should also mention that Serge Ibaka will warrant a whole lot of money as well.

The third thing here, and most glaring hole in OKC’s game, is that they have no scoring presence in the post. Take away KD, Westbrook and Harden with three very good defenders like say Dwayne Wade, LeBron James and Shane Battier, then you’ve won the game already.

That leads right into my Finals prediction, Heat over the Thunder in 6.

(Sorry Stern, you already handed Bennett the team, you don’t get to hand him the trophy.)

NBA Off-Season “Hot Topics”

(Never thought I’d write “Hot Topics”….moving on.)

Is it too early to discuss the NBA offseason?

Is it premature to speculate about the goings on in the offseason?

Yes and yes. But I’m delving into it anyways. And don’t think I’m giving up on the playoffs yet, I’m pouring all my energy into jumping on the Spurs bandwagon. I’m not saying this because I’m heavily opposed to the Raiders, which I am by the way.  I’m saying it because San Antonio is the most complete and best team left in the playoffs. There, I said it Heat fans.

Enough about San Antonio, let’s get on to the offseason:

Uncertainty: When I say uncertainty I’m aiming right at Sacramento. David Stern needs to do something right for the first time in a of couple decades. He (and I’m sorry King fans, I feel your pain, I really do) needs to move the Kings north to Seattle. I’d like it done quickly, but honestly just the promise in writing that a team is coming at some point is fine. And no one gives a rat’s whatever about my opinion. Case-in-point-but-not-really-just-wanted-to-say-the-words-case-in-point.

It’s also that time of year when the time-old tradition of imploding-playoff-teams-if-they-can’t-work happens. The Lakers are a sure candidate for this after being bludgeoned out of the playoffs by the Raiders.  Pau Gasol is a likely trade possibility, as is Andrew Bynum if the right return presents itself (read Dwight Howard). The Boston Celtics are probably next in line at the blowing-up establishment. The Big 3 are obviously in their twilight years and even if they win a title, change could be in order. Atlanta has gone through a lot of one-and-done as well as second-round exits in the last couple years. The underlying-theme-spoiler-alert-WRITTEN-IN-ALL-CAPS theme is that the current group isn’t doing it. Joe Johnson is good, but not good to the point of warranting his contract. Josh Smith supposedly wants out, Marvin Williams is an amnesty option and Kirk Hinrich’s contract is up. Al Horford is the one sure thing on the roster. He’s backed up by a solid Zaza Pachulia and will likely be joined by the potentially-potent Jeff Teague. After those guys, and I’m not kidding you, the rest of the roster is one-year, minimum contract guys. That’s how low the Hawks are on cap space. So now that I’m done rambling about them I’ll give you the short version of the story on all the other possible roster-dynamite-lighters. Utah was a surprise playoff team and could move some of their vets toward a larger youth movement. Dallas might blow it up to get under the cap, and Orlando has the whole Dwight Howard conundrum.

If you haven’t heard (because whenever you Google “NBA free agency” you get a load of pick-your-expletive  on the Miami Heat and what not) free agency is almost upon us. That’s right, no LeBrons or Chris Boshs, but very good players none the less. Steve Nash is an option for teams looking for point guard help (just realized that might be the worst lead in on a topic ever). After Nash there’s a guy you might have heard of that kind of took the world by storm and then couldn’t make the tail end of Sportcenter: Jeremy Lin. Not because he played bad, but because he just wasn’t playing at a ridiculous level. In the rest of the free agent pool there are a lot of guys wading (pun intended… eh… not my best) for a big payday. Roy Hibbert could cash in big time after a nice bout of postseason play. Ditto JaVale McGee. Other guys waiting in line for a bigger pay check include Lavoy Allen, Omer Asik, Lopez’s Brook and Robin, Landry Fields, Ersan Ilyasova, Kris Humphries as well as Eric Gordon. Let the speculations begin.

There’s also this little thing where guys get to represent their country called the Olympics coming up, again, not sure if you’ve heard of it. There are plenty of spots available now that Dwight Howard and Derek Rose were lost to injuries. Just thought I’d mention that so you could run to the Y and practice before you try out. Anyways, the loss of Howard is a real blow to the Americans. With a daunting Spanish frontline consisting of the Gasols and Serge Ibalka, it might be a problem without one of the better rim defenders in the league. But the options after him are quite good. Tyson Chandler might be second in everything that Dwight Howard is first in defensively and Kevin Love is a rebounding monster. And I write this as I look at the roster of finalists, you thought Beijing was good? Listen to the potential here, you’ve got almost everybody from ’08. Which means Kobe, LeBron, D-Wade, Chris Paul, Deron Williams. Then there’s the “new guys” Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Andre Iguodala and Russell Westbrook. This is going to be a really good team and a fun one to watch too.

So there it is, enjoy your off-season folks. Well, enjoy it after the finals, but enjoy it none the less. And let’s bring the NBA back to Seattle while we’re at it. (Looking at you Stern.)

Trade Rajon Rondo?

Rajon Rondo has evolved from a spare part to key cog in Boston. Rajon Rondo might also be the key to any success the Celtics wish to have in the future.

The question now shifts to, “Do you trade Rondo or keep Rondo and Build around him?”

This branches off into multiple questions. One being, “If they do trade Rondo, what would they get back?”

And another being, “Should we trade the Big 3 for younger pieces to build around Rondo?”

If the Celtics do in fact choose to trade Rondo, then the return has to be substantial, if not an offer that blows them out of the water. The Celtics need a torch bearer, a star or center piece to lead them into the next phase of Celtics basketball. Rondo could be that player, and currently is that player at the present time. If he is traded, then the return has to be a player almost exactly like him. Not so much in a playing sense, but one who can be the center of a team, but also one who is young.

Because if the Celtics do trade Rondo for lesser pieces, so to speak, then they will be left with those supporting players in three to five years and will be nowhere near the level they were a couple years ago.

It’s a long road back to a championship level. The Pistons are on that long road, the Lakers where making that trek before some guy named Gasol showed up.

But probably the one constant is that it’s hard to blow everything up and compete at the same level the next season. If the Celtics are going to move Rondo it needs to be a player on the same level as Rondo coming back. The problem with that is that players of the stature in the league are entrenched in playoff runs. These would be guys like Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Russell Westbrook, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin. There isn’t a chance any of those teams makes those moves with the exception of maybe Orlando with Howard, but then the reoccurring question comes up for Orlando, can you build around Rondo? (This is assuming Rondo goes to Orlando in a Howard deal.)

The answer is … to be determined. If the Celtics jettison their vets for youth and keep Rondo, then we will see if you can build around him.

If the Celtics chose to build around their young point guard they need to, as stated, move their vets.

I’ve run through some potential situations and it makes the most sense to move KG and Ray Allen. Paul Pierce’s contract is probably one that the Celtics wouldn’t mind paying at a reduced rate, but Pierce retiring wearing another team’s jersey? Come on. Allen, Garnett and Jermaine O’Neal lead a horde of expiring contracts that dot the roster. The C’s will have a lot of cap room in the offseason. What they might choose to do with it is their decision. On the flipside, the expiring deals could be a draw for contenders and cellar dwellers alike to clear money. O’Neal’s contract is particularly interesting seeing as it is upwards of six million. Meaning the Celtics could move it for a sizable return and not be limited by the restrictions of a high-ish dollar value returning. Names like Michael Beasley, Tyrus Thomas and JJ Hickson are all potential targets for Boston. All three are young and have upside, and wouldn’t be a bad paring with Rondo.

Another thing that the Celtics should consider is Jeff Green, who they retain the rights to seeing as he is missing the year due to injury. Green paired with Rondo down the road suddenly doesn’t seem as bad as just Rondo. Still it’s nowhere near an elite nucleus the Celtics would like. Now if they get Thomas and pair him with Green, Rondo and maybe Avery Bradley, then maybe you get somewhere, but to be clear, Boston needs to make something happen.

One last name to consider is Josh Smith of the Hawks. His salary certainly isn’t obnoxious given his play, but it isn’t necessarily a bargain either. I’m not completely sure that Atlanta would move him to Boston for Ray Allen just to clear cap space.

Kevin Garnett could help a lot of squads. Squads who feel they are on the cusp of being legitimate contenders. Squads who feel they are that one veteran guy away from doing big things. If team X is out there, then they better have some monetary assets to move because KG makes north of 21 million this year. It’s not going to be a straight up swap to get him, and it might allow Boston to do something like this-

Boston offers KG to Dallas for Shawn Marion and Lamar Odom. Then makes Dallas throw in Dominique Jones and Rodrique Beabois, because the Celtics are taking Marion’s contract off of Boston’s hands, hence allowing Dallas to pursue the inevitable Deron Williams and Dwight Howard paring in free agency.

All of a sudden you have a team of Rondo, Pierce, Marion, Green, Beabois, Bradley, Brandon Bass, JaJuan Johnson, E’twaun Moore, potentially Odom and free agent signings X and Y. That’s not too terrible, seeing as X and Y are probably big guys because that team would be a bit back court/wing heavy.

That scenario isn’t too bad. It actually seems a bit desirable. I would certainly take it over their current roster.

Here is another involving former Sonics great Ray Allen.

First off, Ray Allen would be an obvious fit in a lot of places, some of those being Oklahoma City and the Clippers. There is no way the Thunder can finagle Allen from the Celtics. Yes Allen is a great, if not perfect acquisition for Clay Bennett’s Raiders. But the return for Boston would probably be some mix up of Cole Aldrich, Nazr Mohammed, Thabo Sefalosha, Royal Ivey and Daequan Cook. There is no shot the Celtics take that. It also deprives the Thunder of most of their bench.

Back to trades- Minnesota has been linked to players like Jamal Crawford. Allen certainly isn’t the same player, but would give the Timberwolves a nice shooting touch at the two. The Celtics would get forwards Michael Beasley and Anthony Tolliver in return. Allen is probably a little difficult to replace for Boston, but the potential that Beasley provides for the future probably out-weighs the Celtics need of Allen this season. Tolliver provides the Celtics with another body up front seeing as their current bigs are KG, Bass, O’Neal and Wilcox, not exactly an elite front line. Not a bad one either, but still not elite. There is more upside to this than just Beasley. If he doesn’t work out then the Celtics can let him walk in free agency after the season. No skin off their teeth, same with Tolliver. Point is that they maintain their free agency flexibility.

Now back to trading Rondo. They aren’t going to get a full return on him. If the previous situations play out, the Celtics might look like an athletic, wing-dominated team a la the 76ers. You could have that or you could trade Rondo to say Utah for Paul Millsap (makes a lot of sense now that I think about it, at least from a Utah standpoint) and let’s also say that KG and Allen walk via free agency. So would you lose the Big 3 not named Pierce as well as Rondo, have Millsap to show for it and a ton of cap space? So there’s Pierce, Millsap (or frankly anyone like that that the Celtics would get in return) and cap space and even more cap space. Or the sure thing in a potentially dangerous team for an extended amount of time. Just something to ponder.

 

 

Thunder Struck?

Probably should read “dumb struck” instead of “thunder struck”  after the season.

Why didn’t our beloved Oklahoma City Raiders (sorry) Thunder go deep in the NBA playoffs? Why didn’t we win all the games we were supposed to?

I’m not saying the Thunder won’t win the title. I’m saying they won’t live up to all the hype. They are a very good team, but without a guy named Durant they could be in trouble. People said this all the time when LeBron was in Cleveland:  the Cavs can’t win without the King. Guess what? They haven’t. They’ve barely licked 40 wins without him.

Granted, without KD the Thunder are probably more of a low playoff seed than a bona-fide contender with him.

Let’s be clear. I have no problem with Kevin Durant as a player. I think he’s great. But if and when he has an off game the Thunder could have some problems. Kevin Durant is their offense. It all flows through him and Westbrook. Westbrook is streaky in a word, streaky. If Westbrook gets on the wrong side of a streak and Durant has an off day. Eh, yikes.

There isn’t a lot of scoring anywhere else. James Harden is a potential dynamo-scorer off the bench, but he’s off the bench, thus probably less minutes. The rest of the team is defensive to say the least. In the aforementioned event of the KD off night, Thabo Sefalosha isn’t going to give you 20 points per game. Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka are more of 15-10, point-rebound, guys. Nick Collison isn’t going to be Tim Duncan overnight.

The point is that if KD goes cold and Westrbook is streaky — good luck with the playoffs Raiders! (Sorry, Thunder) (Also, note the heavy sarcasm).

NBA Season Predictions Western Conference

Northwest-

In the somewhat accurately named Northwest division, you have everyone’s chic pick, Oklahoma City (not mine). A rugged team that has gone through a ton of adversity, Portland. The deep team that seems built for a lockout shortened season, the Nuggets. A squad that has a lot of youth, but also a lot of veteran presence, the Utah Jazz, and a team who is looking to take their lumps in a rebuilding year, Minnesota.

Predicted Finish-

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder 40-26
  2. Portland Trailblazers 38-38
  3. Denver Nuggets 35-31
  4. Utah Jazz 34-32
  5. Minnesota Timberwolves 23-43

The Thinking:

Oklahoma City is going to be good, how good, I’m not sure. Kevin Durant will get his 20-30 something points per game, outside of that the starting five could have some problems. The Thunder has made the decision of going with defensive stopper Thabo Sefalosha over the more offensively gifted James Harden. This works when guarding the elite perimeter players, but offensively Thabo isn’t going to give you a lot. Throw in two defensive-minded bigs in Serge Ibalka and Kendrick Perkins, as well as Russell Westbrook’s streakiness and there’s some potential to have a terrible game on the offensive end if KD has a bad outing.

Rip City has been the subject of adversity as of late. Brandon Roy was forced to retire due to his knees. Greg Oden’s status is still up in the air. But Portland has rebounded in one of the better ways possible. They replaced Roy with fellow Seattle area native Jamal Crawford, and added frontcourt depth with Craig Smith and Kurt Thomas. The Blazers also swapped Andre Miller for Raymond Felton, which looks genius from a lot of different standpoints. Throw in those additions with guys like LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Mathews and Gerald Wallace. I’m telling you, Portland is going to be good.

Carmelo Anthony is gone. And quite frankly, Denver seems to have moved on just fine. The Nuggets have taken the identity of a team who can play a lot of guys and still score deep on the bench. Denver is very deep in most positions and can beat you in a number of ways. The Nuggets could be a problem come playoff time because of their depth.

Utah is a curious team. Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Devin Harris, Raja Bell and Josh Howard form a nice veteran core for the Jazz. On the flipside they have a talented young nucleus in Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. If the now Jerry-Sloan-less Jazz can find a good mix of intriguing vets and youth, it’s there in Salt Lake City. If they can’t find a good mix, it might be a long year and other teams will come calling for guys like Millsap, Bell and Howard.

Minnesota will be fun to watch. Not on par with Lob City, but a core of Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, JJ Barea, Michael Beasley  and Derrick Williams will excite. The future is there in the Twin Cities, but the present might be filled with growing pains and turnovers.

Pacific-

The California/Phoenix division is going to be fun. In LA especially, Chris Paul will lead the league in Alley-Oop passes, Kobe Bryant will lead the league in… something — you pick. Lamar Odom is out of tinsel-town for the first time in a while. His replacement is the one and only Josh McRoberts. Yes that’s right, the reigning sixth man of the year was, and is replaced by McBobs. Golden State meanwhile is ushering in the Marc Jackson era with a new found attempt at being a defensive team. I’m not messing with you. A team with a starting lineup that includes Monta Ellis, David Lee and Stephen Curry is focusing on defense. We go from one run-and-gun (though they don’t want to show it) to another in the Phoenix Suns. The Suns have Steve Nash, and if they ever lose Nash for an extended amount of time, it could be a problem. We’re talking major problems. I guess Sacramento is the same kind of team, same mold, as the last two teams listed. They are going to run, they are going to gun and a good deal of the time, they will brick. This is a team with some good players with young talents like Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins (it would probably serve them to draft strictly John Calipari guys going forward).  Throw in the Jimmer and there’s some potential for some big highlights, but also some big time bricks. The Clips might be Lob City, while the Kings might be Brick City.

Predicted Finish-

  1. Los Angeles Lakers 36-30
  2. Los Angeles Clippers 34-32
  3. Golden State Warriors 31-35
  4. Phoenix Suns 30-36
  5. Sacramento Kings 19-47

The Thinking:

The Lakers could very well finish fumbling down the stretch if Kobe gets banged up. It’s already a three man squad to begin with, with Kobe, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. There isn’t much else to be pumped up about on the bench or in the rest of the starting lineup. You’ve got nice pieces in McBobs and Steve Blake. Outside of that it’s newly dubbed Metta World Peace, Derek Fisher, Gerald Green and Luke Walton. Yikes.

The laughing stock isn’t necessarily the joke it used to be. If you have lived under a rock for the last couple months you’ve missed that A, we have basketball again, but B, the Clippers are relevant again. When I say relevant, I’m not saying a title is a distinct possibility this season, but a ring certainly isn’t out of the question in the next couple of years if a couple things go as planned. One, CP3 resigns. This is the key. Pair him with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan going forward, and there’s going to be some dunks and points scored. Two is that Blake Griffin resigns long term as well. They’ve locked up Jordan. Now they just need the other two to resign and they are golden. Oh yeah, did I mention that they brought in some guy named Chauncey Billups as well? The Playoffs this year are certainly not out of reach for the Clippers.

Tell me if you notice a theme here. Monta Ellis, strength: offense. Stephen Curry, strength: offense. David Lee, strength: offense. Klay Thompson, strength: offense. Ditto Brandon Rush and Dorrell Wright. Did I mention that new coach Marc Jackson wants to be a defensive team? Confusing, I know. There will be some growing pains in the bay area this year. Don’t be completely shell-shocked if they sneak in as an 8 seed with all the unrest out West.

Welcome to Brick City! Yes, that’s what signs should read all over the capitol of California. Jimmer will make some shots that make people go Google BYU and see how they are flopping in WCC this year. Other than clicks for ESPN’s BYU page, Sacramento won’t accomplish much. And I’m serious about the whole only drafting Calipari players.

Southwest-

The real up and comers out west, the Grizzlies,(that’s right Thunder) are looking to rebound on a solid season last year in which they surprised a lot of people. Not to mention without Rudy Gay, lots to like in Memphis. Then there are the defending champs, the Dallas Mavericks. Excuse Shawn Marion’s blonde hair, I’m not disrespecting Dallas. I still think they are a likely 1-3 seed come playoff time, and I really like the Delonte West signing. A repeat is not completely obnoxious to think about. Following them down the line are the Spurs, who because of the lockout will likely give up some games to rest their Big 3 for the playoffs. Big if here, but if Houston’s clustered roster of former lottery picks plays up to the hype that made them lottery picks, then Houston could be a thorn in some higher seeded team’s side come playoff time. Then there are the Hornets who are just begging to be moved to Seattle (again had to throw a Stern jab in there), and are subsequently owned by the league. But the rebuilding process is under way in NOLA and it’s not too bad of an outlook for the Hornets.

Predicted Finish-

  1.  Dallas Mavericks 43-23
  2. Memphis Grizzlies 40-26
  3. San Antonio Spurs 37-29
  4. Houston Rockets 33-33
  5. New Orleans Hornets 22-44

The Thinking:

The Mavs will be relevant again after their title run last year. They could very well go to the Finals once again because of all the uncertainty in their very own conference. Dallas added some nice pieces (Lamar Odom, West) and lost some pieces that were extremely important to them (Tyson Chandler, JJ Barea). The regular season will likely end in a playoff berth, that much is probably true, because the Mavs are too good not to make it. The key for Dallas will be Brendan Haywood. If he plays more like Tyson Chandler than himself (another big if) then Dallas could repeat, if not, the ring ceremony on opening night might be their highlight of the year.

Memphis is the up and comer. None of the OKC business, the Grizzlies are for real. They have no glaring needs anywhere and are a complete team that can hurt you in a number of ways. Not just one, (cough: Kevin Durant) while the phrase “a lot to like” has been used probably a little more than anyone would like in this column/piece, there is a lot to like for the Grizz.

The Spurs are going to succumb to the shortened season by sitting their Big 3 on some nights for rest. Or entire road trips for that matter. The Spurs will make the playoffs, and if proper rest is used accordingly, this team could be dangerous come playoff time. (Again another overused phrase, but just roll with it.)

Kevin McHale has somewhat of a curious team in Houston. The Rockets are rich with former lottery picks, so the “rebuilding” tag is a hard sell at this point. Houston’s basketball team might be stuck in NBA no-man’s land:  middle of the pack. Like I previously said, if they play up to the potential that made them lottery picks. Watch out. (Yet another overused statement that likely is being burned out of my mental dictionary/word-bank as we speak due to over usage.)

The Seattle Sonics… Oops sorry the New Orleans Hornets, have a difficult season ahead of themselves this year. One, they just lost their starting point-guard and face-of-the-franchise: Chris Paul. And two, they have the second worst owner in the league: (only to every northwesterner’s favorite sports figure, notice the heavy sarcasm, Clay Bennett) David Stern. Plus they don’t really have ownership at all seeing as the league still owns the team (a point I can’t state enough). It might be tough in NOLA. (Yes, I just used NOLA more times than New Orleans.)

If all that becomes somewhat of a reality the playoffs would then look like this in the west:

1 Dallas Mavericks vs 8 Utah Jazz

2 Memphis Grizzlies vs 7 Los Angeles Clippers

3 Oklahoma City Thunder vs 6 San Antonio Spurs

4 Portland Trailblazers vs  5 Los Angeles Lakers

I don’t see a whole lot changing here. With the exception of a Steve Nash miracle (not out of the question) the playoff picture probably looks something like this:

1 Dallas Mavericks vs 8 Phoenix Suns

2 Memphis Grizzlies vs 7 Los Angeles Clippers

3 Oklahoma City Thunder vs 6 San Antonio Spurs

4 Portland Trailblazers vs  5 Los Angeles Lakers

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.

Is Trading Your Young Players for a Superstar Advisable?

Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, when and where they get traded, will haul in a boatload of pieces whether they be young talent or draft picks. We have seen it in recent years with players like Kevin Garrnett, Ray Allen, Jason Kidd and more recently Deron Williams, Carmelo Anthony and Al Jefferson. Is it smart to mortgage most of your future for a guy who’s a superstar, but won’t do diddly by himself? Look at the recent examples of superstars by themselves. LeBron went to a Finals with the Cavs, but lost to the Spurs because his supporting cast’s front runners were Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes and Donyell Marshall. Chris Bosh accomplished nothing in Toronto with Rasho Nesterovic and Jarrett Jack. Dwayne Wade won a title, but struggled after losing Shaq. Ditto Kobe. Then there’s the stars that have a good or even great supporting cast and succeed with it. Tim Duncan has run a dynasty in San Antonio with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili among others. Kobe Bryant and the Lakers won two titles in a row recently thanks to Pau Gasol and the rest of the Lakers. It pains me to say it, but Kevin Durant is building on what looks like a real good team now and later, but is also deep with the Oklahoma City Raiders. Nothing against Durant. He’s a great player and future MVP,  but seeing Clay Bennett succeed and me being from Seattle…. Well, you get the point. Point is that you need a solid if not spectacular supporting cast for your star. Not a smorgasbord mash-up of over-the- hill lottery picks and minimum salary guys who are used to fill out 5-5 scrimmages in practice. You need good players to step up when the star player is on a once-in-a-blue-moon-colder-than-leftover-turkey-sandwhiches-on-Black-Friday cold streak. You need the Robert Horry or the Tyson Chandler. I could go on rattling off players like this for ages, but the main point of this so far, 332 words of babble, is to convey the point that you need players who are good other than your star(s). If you’re the Clippers don’t sacrifice Eric Gordon for Chris Paul. Don’t cave to pressure and dump your good young players for a superstar. Here are two prime examples of this. You’ll probably know who these teams are, but play along.

Team A has two of the most prolific scorers in the NBA who are probably two of the top 10-15 players in the league plus another guy who is probably in the top 50 guys in the league.

Team B has one superstar on the team. Team B also has solid, if not great, role players surrounding him and can go at least ten guys deep and still beat you.

Now you read this and think that Team A is obviously the better team and had a better record and made it farther in the playoffs and blah blah blah. But team A is none other than the Super Friends New York Chapter. While Team B is the Chicago Bulls, a team who had the best record in NBA and went to the Eastern Conference Finals. If you remember correctly the Knicks got handled by the Celtics in the first round after getting crawling into the playoffs on a cold streak.

If you look at those teams’ transactions feeds you’ll see that the Knicks re-did the Nuggets team store Jersey section by sending Wilson Chandler , Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton and Timofey Mozgov to Denver for Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Shelden Willams, Anthony Carter and Renaldo Balkman.

Carter was a role player buried in the rotation, and Blakman played six minutes per game more than Mel Gibson did with the Knicks. So cross those two out.

Williams actually started some games for the Knicks,  but he only averaged four points. Williams and Carter’s contracts are up, so they are probably gone. Ditto Billups when his expires, because the Knicks want cap room to go after Chris Paul. Balkman would probably be gone if his contract didn’t extend for two more years.

The Knicks gave up a potential scoring threat in Danillio Gallinari as well as talented slasher Wilson Chandler, underrated center Timofey Mozgov and a point guard who was having an All-Star year in New York in Raymond Felton. I’m not saying the Knicks would have filled the rafters with banners with Gallinari and Chandler, but hypothetically let’s say the Knicks get Chris Paul if they didn’t acquire Carmelo.

Would you rather have Paul, Landry Fields, Chandler, Gallinari and Amare?

Or an aging Chauncey, Fields, Melo, Amare and Ronny Turiaf?

As much as I love Ronny Turiaf’s game, I’d go with the first starting five. Granted, this is all saying that the Knicks would come away with Chris Paul for some mix up of Bill Walker, Toney Douglas, Andy Rautins, Mozgov, and picks. I don’t see the Hornets doing this in any way shape or form unless David Stern wants a league dominated by the Miami Heat versions 2-30.  So, maybe it happens that the Knicks would have to drag out this year with another 6-8 seed, with Melo still in Denver and lose in the first round and wait for Paul. Maybe they sign Tyson Chandler, and then we’re talking. Point is they’d be built around their superstar(s) and have a complete team, not two superstars and little to no depth.