Wednesday, May 30, 2007

UW's Tucker a Winner, but is He Good Enough?

Alando Tucker has the labels of Big 10 Player of the Year, 1st All American, Wisconsin's All-Time scoring leader. Unfortunately for him, all of those accolades are not enough to give him a most coveted label this time of the year: first round lock. In this years loaded draft, Tucker will have to sweat out the draft process while guys he outperformed in college go above him. There's a strong possibility he won't hear his name until Round 2. Whats wrong with the guy? Lets take a look at his game.

At 6'5'' 210lb, Tucker has good size for an NBA 2 guard. The problem is his best position is power-forward. Excellent athleticism; great leaper, fast running the floor, agile laterally. Good strength in the legs and upper body. Strong defender who consistently neutrlizes his man. Rebounding a bit dissapointing considering size and athleticism; earlier in his career he was a ferocious offensive rebounder but he seems to have cooled his feistiness there. Good on slashes to the hoop and can finish difficult shots in the paint. Charecter and attitude may be the best in the whole draft; charimatic leader on and off the court (he doesn't drink or smoke and has earned his college degree). With all that being, Tuckers offensive game is far too raw for a 23 year old 5th year senior prospect. Not a distributor. Handle is poor; he handles on par with the average NBA 4-man but remember he is 6'5''! Don't be misled by his FG%, his shooting mechanics are poor (trust the lousy FT%). He has a bit of a two-handed release and his ball is very flat. Has some deep range on his jumper, but is an NBA team really going to want this guy shooting from the perimeter? Gets his points on shots that generally won't be there in the NBA. Ultimately, the problem with Tucker is that he is a 4 in a 2's body.

For Alando Tucker to stick in the NBA, he will have to play dogged defense, crash the offensive glass, become a loose ball kamikaze, and stick the occasional jump shot. He has the athleticism and the intangibles to make it but does he have the skills? He must learn to play the role of specialist (his speciality being energy guy off the bench) after playing the role of college superstar at UW. He might be worth a gamble late in the 1st round, but my guess is he'll be an early 2nd round pick come draft night.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

USC's Young Rising up Draft Boards

Nick Young HAD been something of an under appreciated talent at USC. Yeah he was All-Pac 10 twice, led his team to the Sweet 16 this year and showed enough talent to be on the NBA radar screen the last 2 years. But he was tucked away on the West Coast on an underrated team and his game could be best described as smooth, not flashy or fiery enough to make the national headlines or Sports Center highlights. So why has he gone from "bubble first rounder" to lottery-projected in many mock drafts the last month? The simple answer is that pure talent always seems to rise this time of the year (and Young certainly is a "pure talent"), but taking a deeper look at Young's NBA ready game provides the more comprehensive answer.

The 6'6'' 205 lb Young has very good size for an NBA 2 guard and has enough size to swing to 3 for a smaller lineup: long arms, wide hips, big hands. He is not the most explosive athlete but he is a very good one (think Josh Howard type athleticism); blessed with great body control, Young is one of those players who looks smoother than everyone else on the floor. Offensively he plays as a pure wing and he stays on the wing, he doesn't over dribble or bog down the offense. He likes the mid range jumper and can get the shot off with ease because of a smooth handle, nice elevation and a wide frame which creates separation (he has a nice turnaround jump shot from the right side of the floor that is pure butter). Defensive ability is good; he is not shutdown but he will be able to neutralize his man in the NBA with his size, strong hand usage and good lateral agility. Don't confuse him with a point guard or even a combo guard; he's not a great distributor and though he can handle the ball, he doesn't operate much at the top of circle. Rebounding is average at best and will probably never be a strength of his. Intangibles are very good; he is a confident, unselfish player who plays within the team system. Intensity and focus are questionable as he has been inconsistent during his career (Aaron Afflalo he is not). Young projects as a legitimate starter and 15 plus point scorer in the NBA for many years.

Nick Young should be able to fit in on just about any team in the league. He is a pure wingman who can get his shots in the flow of the offense, play solid defense and bring solid character. I would personally rate Young as a top 10 or maybe Top 7 player in the draft, ahead of some more prominent names like Julian Wright, Joakim Noah and Jeff Green. He may need to toughen up a little bit and he certainly cannot be a teams #1 option, but I really think Nick Young could be a championship type player, a 3rd or 4th guy on a great team. Charlotte would be wise to consider the late-rising Young at 8, as they could use a throwback wing who plays the right way (unlike a certain mustached showboat we all know too well).

Bulls Eye East Crown Next Year...What Will it Take?

It's taken almost two weeks for the Bulls second round exit to sink in, and I finally feel ready to go back to the drawing board for my team. Tonight's Detroit-Cleveland game and the rest of the series should provide a good barometer for the Bulls, who took the Pistons to 6, and could've taken them to 7 had they not melted down in the second half of game 3.

The Pistons exploited the Bulls weaknesses, most glaringly in the size department. Chicago had no answer for Detroit's arsenal of skilled bigs, and while Ben Wallace was doing his darnedest to pose as an offensive threat, let's be real, Wallace's hands belong in one of the city's meat packing plants. PJ Brown played a stellar series, highlighted by a 20-point first half outburst in game 6, along with his usual solid post defense, but the elder statesman's star is dwindling. Malik Allen, for once, stayed where he belonged on the bench and was a non-factor. Ditto for Michael Sweetney. Tyrus Thomas, as is his way, showed brilliant flashes followed by knuckleheaded traveling violations, turnovers, and post defense. This is the Bulls front line crew, and it ain't gonna get it done next year either. So what should Paxson do?

The Bulls own the 9th pick in the draft, and likely will be able to get a serviceable big like Washington's Spencer Hawes, a slightly stiff but surprisingly polished post presence. Along with Wallace's bruising and Thomas's athleticism, Hawes could be a real fit here. The trio could help mask each other's weaknesses. Draft-wise, the other option would be to trade into the top six, and guarantee that Al Horford, Brandan Wright (whose offense is arguably better than Thomas's), or Yi Jianlin would be available. Rumor has it that Pax is into Yi, who scouts have described along the lines of a Dirk or Bargnani. But Yi is more of a 3/4 and while he has the size to be a back to the basket player, he certainly isn't yet, and may never be. Horford has the passing, defense, and grit that Skiles would love, and would fill the gap in the paint. The next question is what will it take for the Bulls to move up those 3 or 4 spots. My money says Nocioni and the #9 pick would get it done. A team like Boston, with so much youth and unproven talent should be dying to get their hands on a proven commodity like Noce. His game is not perfect, but you're getting someone who can shoot the 3, post up smaller forwards, and harass other teams scorers. Noce's contract is up so the Bulls would have to do a sign and trade and possibly take back some salary to make the #s work.

A free agent option that has to be revisited is Pau Gasol, although he's recently backed off his trade demands and said he wants to remain in Memphis, which I actually find surprising. If I'm Memphis a combination of Nocioni, #9, and maybe Tyrus gets it done. Memphis gets younger, tougher, and deeper and saves some money in the process. For the Bulls, a Gasol deal would vault them to the top of the East with a 1a to Ben Gordon's 1b.

The Bulls have the wings and backcourt of the future, which Pax has repeatedly said is untouchable. Nocioni is not and given the contract situation, we can expect him to be used as bait in any trades before Luol, Kirk, or BG. With Sefalosha waiting in the wings the Bulls 1-3 positions are already set. PJ Brown should be brought back, if he wants, for the veteran's minimum, while Sweets should be let go--to the donut shoppe. Gordon and Deng are up for extensions this summer and expect them both to get around $11 million/year, hopefully with as much up front money as possible.

Either way, the Bulls have an opportunity (thank you Isiah) to take another leap next year. Our young guys are not done improving, and with more size and an aging Detroit, you could be looking at next year's eastern conference champs, which would look like this.

1--Kirk Hinrich, Chris Duhon
2--Ben Gordon, Thabo Sefalosha
3--Luol Deng, Tyrus Thomas
4--(Yi/Horford/Wright/Gasol/Hawes), PJ Brown
5--Ben Wallace

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Here Comes Portland

1) Portland wins lottery. 2) Portland uses #1 pick draft Greg Oden. 3)Therefore, Portland is now a title contender waiting to happen. That's how great of a player Greg Oden is going to be (and already is). One truly great player (particularly Center) can change a teams fortunes immediately, particularly when the player is as unselfish as Greg Oden. With him and their existing core, the Blazers have the foundation to go deep into the playoffs, maybe as soon as next season.

Greg Oden is 7'1'' 260lb but seems even bigger on the court, if that's possible. And he possess many other attributes on top of the size: Explosive hops and flexible legs, great hands (soft and strong on offense and for rebounding, hammer-like usage on defense), high shoulders and long arms, speed of a small forward, quality and improving post moves, soft touch in the paint and at the line, giant court presence at all times, unselfish, quiet fire to win, likable personality. Bottom line: the best NBA prospect since Tim Duncan (with the potential to be better than TD, he's a better athlete).

The Portland cupboard was looking well-stocked even before the addition of Oden. Now it is simply overflowing. Brandon Roy looks like a 10 year rock in the backcourt. Not a true PG, but similar to Deron Williams and the late Dennis Johnson with his bulldozer strength to get in the paint, rock solid defense and winning court presence. LaMarcus Aldridge is tremendously springy for a 7 footer, with a nice touch and a fundamentally sound defensive and rebounding game. Winning court demeanor is a positive, but heart condition makes him a tainted prospect. Zach Randolph had better REALLY shape up now or the Blazers will look to ship him out. Though improved last season, Randolph must now realize it his not his show and learn to fit in around Oden and Roy. Still, his bruising frame, quick feet and immaculate hands make him a rare NBA commodity: 20 points, 10 rebounds. Don't disregard their other pieces either. Jarret Jack can be a low-level starting PG in the NBA (whether that's actually a compliment is another story). Martell Webster has a big time stroke and a solid frame, but he needs to learn the other phases of the game. Joel Pryzbilla is a serviceable big man off the bench and Travis Outlaw can change a game with his shot blocking and free-throw inducing drives to the hoop.

Their mojo lost after the infamous Game 7 loss to the Lakers in West Finals back in 2000, the Blazers are back with a vengeance. They should be a title contender by 2009 or 2010.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Van Gundy...More Like Van DONEdy

Following a painful first round exit to Utah during which his team lost series leads of 2-0 and 3-2, Jeff Van Gundy was fired last week by the Houston Rockets. This was a make-or-break season for Van Gundy, as the Rockets hadn't made it out of the first round in his 4 year tender. His preffered deliberate style of ball and stubborn demeanor (what, you don't think proven playoff assasian Bonzi Wells would have made a difference against Utah?) have worn out their welcomce in today's NBA. Cmon' Jeff, this isn't 97' anymore. Patrick Ewing isn't out there creating puddles of sweat in the 4th quarter and Charles Oakley isn't clothlining dudes into the 3rd row. Hey Jeff, you're a brilliant basketball mind and a stand-up guy, but we've seen enough. Get with the times or stay out of the league.

Van Gundy certainly is the most accountable for the failure of the Rockets to beat the underdog Jazz but make no bones about it, this is a flawed roster. T-Mac and Yao may be able to win a championship together at some point and they are certainly worth keeping together for the long haul. But there are glaring shortcomings in each of their games, shortcomings that must be improved for Houston to take the next step. T-Mac is a great distibutor of the ball, but he can be something of a ball hog in the halfcourt, over dribbling and forcing pull-up jumpers, the effect being teamates frozen on their heels on the offensive end. 0-6 in the first round of the playoffs, McGrady has not proven to be a clutch playoff performer either. Yao is a defensive liability. He struggles to get up and down the floor, and cannot contain a quick, bullish big man like Carlos Boozer. Both players have lengthy injury histories that diminishes their long-term value.

The supporting cast in Houston features guys put in roles that are too big for their games. Rafer Alston is quick and can pump in a 3 now and then, but his game is better suited for the playgrounds of Rucker Park. Chuck Hayes, for all his defense and hustle, lacks offensive ability. Dikember Mutumbo and Juwan Howard would fit well on Van Gundys 97' Knicks, but these dinosours games and bodies have seen better days. If I'm GM Carrol Dawson, I hold onto my 2 superstars, glue-guy supreme Shane Battier and Luther Head (a nice 3rd guard off the bench) and I try to get a legitimate guard who can take some pressure off McGrady (maybe making a push for Mo Williams or Jerry Stackhouse) and a bruiser with size to take some pressure off Yao (maybe a guy like Jason Collins). And I bring in a coach like Rick Adelman who will open things just a little bit and stop playing the Van Gundy ball that does not work in the modern NBA. As for Van Gundy, maybe his dismissal is for the best. Take a year off, get some sleep for once, go back into the booth and get some polish for that nice shiny bald dome.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Sheed Force

Detroit and Chicago square off tonight in a 6th game that few saw as a possibility one week, when Detroit was demoralizing the Bulls in a dominant, come-from-behind second half performace. But here we are, back at the United Center,Bulls fans rabidly awaiting the biggest game in their buidling since the MJ dynasty. Chicago should be proud of their team. The Bulls have proven to be a worthy 2nd round team with their precision offense, stout defense and beyond-their-years resiliancy. This is a team on the cusp of big things in the near future. However, for them to get past Detroit this year is not really dependent on their own performance. It has everyting to do with the performance of the Pistons, or more specifically one Piston.

The Pistons and Bulls match up fairly even across the board except for one position: Power Forward. PJ Brown is a proud veteran and still can produce in big games but lets face it Chicago fans, he can't hold Rasheed Wallace's jock strap. Sheed holds the key to tonights game, damn, the key to the whole series. If he plays the game that he knows and everyone else knows he can play tonight, the Bulls won't have to worry about making travel plans to Detroit. Anyone who saw his sublime 2nd half in game 3 has seen the way Sheed can rip the heart out of a good team. The buttery 3's, the outstanding screens he sets on the perimeter, the unblockable turnaround J on the block, the help defense 30 feet from the hoop, the paint eliminating interior D: Rasheed Wallace has a package of skills no one else in the NBA can match. What makes him even more valuable is his floor presence; his big plays have so often destroyed whatever spirit the opposition might have had. But he also might not show up to play tonight. He might jack up 12 3's. He might get a stupid technical. He might not command the ball on the block. Thats why Sheed doesnt make All-NBA teams every year despite being one of the top 15 talents in the league: no one knows which Sheed will show up every night. But he has a history of showing up big in big games. He also has a history of following subpar performances with brilliant performances. As far as a prediction for tonights game, my money is on Rasheed playing big. Therefore, my money is on Detroit.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Recap: Efficient Jazz Make Mincemeat of Warriors

Whoever says that Avery Johnson is a better coach than Jerry Sloan is flat out kidding themselves. Sloan's Jazz, the latest surprise of these playoffs, have earned a berth in the vaunted Western Conference's final series after dismantling two teams that all the "experts"--where's Sean Salisbury when you need him?--picked against them. With superior size, relentless effort on the glass, and the point guard of the future, the Jazz took down a Golden State squad that may have used up all its mojo in the first round.

Give Sloan credit. Unlike Johnson, he didn't change his gameplan to accomodate Nellie at all. Utah used Boozer as the bruiser he is, let Kirilenko roam, and created problems for Golden State's shaky front line. Al Harrington and Andres Biedrins--please. Adonal Foyle, earn your keep or get out of the NBA. For all the Warriors late season success, they looked very human throughout their five-game debacle, and you could see obvious holes in the GMing of this team. Don't forget that they made the playoffs on the last day of the season.

Golden State looked weary by series' end; their guards couldn't score in the paint, and their streaky shooting from 3 was exposed as exactly that. But we have to give credit where credit is due: Deron Williams played B. Diddy chin to chin, although the latter's jowls are without question the largest in the league. The more clean cut, traditional Williams, also played the part of point guard better. Captaining his team like he has done all season, he guided the Jazz into their advantageous matchups, and the rest seemed to take care of itself.

The scores of these games were all in the 100s, which you would think would favor the speedy Warriors, yet it was the Jazz who controlled the tempo, took better shots, and were able to exert their gameplan over their opponent's.

Can anybody say coach of the year? They should award this thing during the playoffs.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Half-Man+Half-Amazing=No Heart

Lets start off by saying Vince Carter is a GREAT player. Not very good, GREAT. He will probably end up in the Hall Of Fame for his brilliance on the court and his legendary dunks. But for all of his greatness, the man does not seem to really care about really fulfilling his or his teams potential. Once again, it looks like Vince and his Nets will be going down to a hungrier team this year, this time LeBron James and his Clevelan Cavaliers. Lets take a deeper look at VC. What makes him great? What is missing in his game? Why does he always seem to let down when it matters most? Lets start answering some of those questions.

Vince Carter cannot be stopped one-on-one and must be double teamed in order to be contained. Though his handle can look sloppy at times, the ball is rarely taken from him because his hands are so big and so strong. When he is in the mood, he can attack the basket and will not be stopped. He has a tremendous shoulder dip move which bowls over just about any defender, including stout 7 footers; VC's body strength is elite for a wing. When he gets to the rim, he uses either his great leaping ability to jump over helpless defenders (see Weis, Fredric) or those tremendous hands to finish on flips or runners. He is so strong in the upper body and in his hands that he can absorb a viscious blow in the paint and still finish. When he goes to the free throw line, he hits about 80% of the time. On those nights Vince doesn't feel like driving (which no one can predict besides Vince himself), he has one of the deadliest jump shots in the league, with a quiet release and unmatched elevation; VC might have the most range on his jumper in the NBA. He can get the shot whenever he wants because of the great elevation but also because his upper-body strength prevents defenders from getting into him. Carter sees the court well and can break the double team. He can rebound on both ends of the court. He has enough defensive skills to neutralize his man when he is interested. He has become more durable and played in all 82 games this past season, logging heavy minutes to boot. In short, VC posseses every tangible skill one could want in a basketball player.

There are only a few tangible weakneses in VC's game. He doesn't play that hard on defense, but he is no sieve. He does not have much of a midrange game; he prefers the long jumper or the drive all the way to the hoop. His sloppy handle does not lead to turnovers but it does casue for the offense around him to bog down a bit. The primary problems with Vince Carter are almost intangible. It all starts with his demeanor. Whether it his fault or not, Vince has a sullen expression and lackadasical body language (part of this is because the game is so easy for him, it looks like he is not trying). He is not a natural leader and comes off a bit aloof on the court. The picture above should be familiar to anyone who has watched VC throughout his career; I have never seen a player overeact or feign more injuries than Vince Carter. That does not project the kind of iron will that is needed to win big in the NBA.

Vince is most likely the Dominique Wilkens of our era: great dunker, great talent, not a champion. Thats not necesarily a bad thing; Dominique is enshrined in Springfield and is one of the more memorable players in NBA history. It's just that when we talk about Vince Carter, we'll always be asking "what if".

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Underrated Utah

There is a tendancy in today's NBA to overlook solid, no frills basketball. The San Antonio Spurs never get the credit they deserve. The Chicago Bulls had to sweep the Miami Heat to get the national recognition they had coming to them. But neither team has been slighted over the years quite like Utah, going back to their glory days of Stockton and Malone in the 80's and 90's.

Does anyone realize that Utah was 7th in scoring this year? They may not have the spectacular finishers to make the highlight reel but they can put points on the board. They are not a great defensive team or a grind-it-out team that everyone wants to make them out to be. They can run the fast break, but most of all they execute in the half court as well as anyone in the NBA.

Their offense all starts with their premier young point guard Deron Williams. Burly like a QB but with nimble feet, Williams can overpower just about any guard in the league. He sees the court very well, can get to the rim and shoot from the perimeter. He is already one of the best point guards in the league and will be a perrenial All-Star. Carlos Boozer is the recipient of many of Williams pinpoint passes. Undersized but strong, Boozer has uncanny scoring touch in the paint, particuarily going left, and cleans up garbage around the rim. Mehmet Okur shoots the 3 better than any bigman in the NBA. His perimeter prowess keeps the lane clear for Boozer and he is great on high pick-and-pops with Williams. Matt Harpring brings toughness to the offense. He can create space with his upper body strength to hit the midrange jumper, or he can kamikaze his way to the rim for free throw attempts. And don't forget about Ivan Drago look-a-like Andrei Kirilenko. Though he only averaged 8.3 points per game in his nightmarish season, AK47 still can fill the lane on a fast break, lead the fast break, hit a 3 and pass surprisingly well in the halfcourt.

Everyone is gushing over Golden State right now. They're Califronia hip, celebrity-approved and fun to watch. But to the basketball purist, Utah's game has all the sizzle with more substance than Golden State. Look for them to take down the Cinderella Warriors, probably in 5 or 6 games.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Next Steps for the Toronto Raptors

Like so many young teams, the NBA playoffs left the Toronto Raptors by the wayside after a hard-fought first round defeat at the hands of a more battle-tested New Jersey Nets squad. The Raptors made great strides this year, in no small part due to the progression of Chris Bosh into what looks like a perennial all-star, and some savvy moves by Bryan Colangelo last summer. But what does Colangelo do now to take this team past the first round, which seems like a legitimate possibility next year given the aging of the Pistons, Heat, and Nets.

The Raptors currently have the 4th lowest payroll in the league, and with Alvin Williams's $6M contract coming off the books, the team will be in even better shape next year. Morris Peterson's contract is up, and he has proved to be a valuable piece and steady producer for the team. He makes $4.5M, and Colangelo would be smart to hang on to a player that can go for 15 night in night out, and play solid defense. Colangelo, though, has a penchant for overhauling teams, and it's definitely a possbility that Mo Pete could be wearing different colors next season.

Run by T.J. Ford, the Raptors now play a faster style similar to the Phoenix Suns. But they currently have neither the athletes nor the shooters of Colangelo's other architectural masterpiece. The Raps will be drafting in the late teens, and could see a Marcus Williams type at that spot, an athletic, smooth, and long-limbed swingman.

Bosh and Bargnani form a formidable front court scoring wise, but combined they don't inspire fear on defense or the boards. Neither does Rasho Nesterovic. The Raptors would be well suited for a grinder/enforcer type to take the pressure off Bosh and allow Bargnani to roam the perimeter at will. Can anybody say Danny Fortson? A Dennis Rodman wannabe, Fortson comes off Seattle's books this summer and Toronto could get him on the cheap.

Expect Colangelo to look for more speed in the backcourt, though, to complement Ford. Would he consider making a run at one of the Atlanta Hawks wings, like Josh Childress, who Billy Knight would be wise to unload. Childress could be a great 1 or 2 yr experiment for Colangelo. He can shoot the 3, and moves pretty well off the dribble. The lack of incessant losing would also be a positive, next to a winner like Ford, anybody can take another step. Look how good guys like Anthony Parker looked this year.

With a taller wing to make up for Ford's slight of build, and a bruiser to protect Bosh, the Raptors could stay young, stay cheap, and improve. Bosh has not quite hit the ceiling in my book, but at this point it's going to take better players to make him better. Factor in a Bargnani improvement and added muscle and the Raps could lock down the Titanic for the next 5 years.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Big Changes Needed for Lakers

A ho-hum exit for the L.A Lakers last night, losing 119-110 to their burgeoning (and vastly superior) rival Phoenix. Series done in 5 games, no surprise. After all, for all the hoopla and national TV coverage and extra attention the Lakers get, don't forget that this was a 42 win team. Kobe played most of the year in the rarified air he alone can inhabit and only missed 5 games. Phil Jackson remains a titan in the coaching ranks. Great arena and facilities, great owner, great fan support, hefty payroll. So whats the problem? Why are they a .500 club and first round washout?

It's easy to point the finger at Kobe and he certainly deserves some of the blame. The best player in the league has a unique way of rubbing his teamates the wrong way; his competetive fire resmbles the great Michael Jordan, but his tightly-wound demeanor and hyper-sensitivity make him come off as not as cool of a guy as MJ and not nearly the natural leader. However, Kobe to me is the least culpible for the mediocrity in Los Angeles; what else could the guy reall do. Lamar Odom, for all the talent and all the hype, is not the All-Star caliber player that many claim him to be. He is simply too incosistent; All-Stars don't dissapear every 4 games. But he is a very good player, certainly capable of being a marquee player on a championship team.

But the real problem with the Lakers lies in their complimentary parts. Having Phil and Kobe associated with these guys is like having a world class chef working Taco Bell's ingredients; it's insulting to us and them and it is disgusting. Luke Walton, though a nice player, is a 6th man, not the 3rd man he masquerades as on the Lakers. Andrew Bynum? Great potential no doubt, but call me in two years when he's ready to play a consistent role. Smush Parker WILL be out of the NBA VERY soon. Jordan Farmar is the Kevin Federline of the NBA: a lot of flash, a lot of swagger, a few nice moments (hey, Britney was still A-list when K-Fed snagged her), but at the end of the day he is simply posing as a legitimate NBA player. And the rest of the motley crew? Lets play a little word association: Brian Cook-Soft, Chris Mihm-White Stiff, Vladamir Radmonovich-Imbosil, Ronny Turiaf-A lot of Hair and not much game, Shammond Williams-Pudgy, Kwame Brown-Clueless, Sasha Vujajic-No Talent.

The Bottom Line: Somebody PLEASE give Phil Jackson a medal for actually making these scrubs look decent at times this year. And maybe a few rolaids tablets and a couple of weeks in the Carribean to make him forget that he, the greatest coach of his generation, actually coached them.

What’s the Real Value of Free Agency?- By Adam Jungdahl

Come every spring we hear the same old rhetoric from NBA GM’s whose teams are headed back to the lottery: “we need to focus on building this team, we need to bring in some of this or that, we need to add one more piece in order to make a serious run”, and on and on about how their team has to acquire talent to improve their circumstances. The prevailing thought process here holds that a team should focus little upon the actions of other teams, only so much as if effects their odds at scoring a free agent. In this sense GM’s tend to focus on absolute gains by trying to acquire talent without regard to overall league activity, the primary concern being the accumulation of as many blue chippers as possible. Imagine, just for one moment, that your team’s GM chose to take a broader view realizing that each free agent loss by a potential opponent, be they a fellow division rival or perennial playoff adversary, improved your team’s chances of success. Thus, your GM approaches free agency through relative gains. The question then is how these different approaches would alter GM behavior. The divergent behavior between these two approaches it seems, would be in assigning values to free agents and potential trade targets.
Let’s take Chicago’s signing of Ben Wallace this past summer as an example. When the signing was first announced many questioned the massive contract Chicago was willing to fork over for an aging, undersized center with no offensive skills. Yet, this season the Bulls improved their record by eight games and advanced to the second round by sweeping a Miami team who bounced them out of the playoffs in six games last year. So in this sense Chicago obviously improved by acquiring Ben. More importantly, however, is how Detroit was effected. The pistons by contrast lost eleven more games this season and until the acquisition of Chris Webber languished behind Cleveland for the top spot in the Central. Now these two teams go at it this weekend, with the Bulls sporting a 4 time Defensive Player of the Year in the middle while the Pistons answer back with a bum-legged, Michigan has-been. The key point here is that Chicago may have over paid for Ben Wallace in terms of the production he’s given them, but he has been of even greater value than his numbers indicate, because his departure from Detroit weakened Chi-town’s chief divisional/playoff opponent.
Granted, this approach does not work in all circumstances, but it should be taken into account in certain situations. This summer we could see similar events play out with Milwaukee and Chauncey Billups. When assessing Billups’s value to the franchise, Milwaukee should take into account the chance to get an elite point guard but also an opportunity to severely wound a divisional foe and possible playoff opponent in the years to come. Thus, any massive contract the Bucks throw out there should be judged not solely on Billups’s contributions in Wisconsin, but also the demeaning effect it has on their neighbors across the crystal waters of Lake Michigan.

note: Adam Jugndahl is a special correspondednt for the NBA Guru.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Warrior Mentality, Part 2

The Mavs and the Warriors played the best game of the playoffs last night, a nail-biter rife with big shots, big attitudes, and Mark Cuban looking like he was going to go home and cry. That was until Dirk played like an MVP, blocking a shot and hitting two deep threes, followed by an icy performance at the free throw line.

The Warriors went up by nine late, thanks to flawless penetration by Baron Davis and red hot three point shooting by his wings. Then the unthinkable happened: Davis stopped getting to the hole and what had been Golden State's lifeblood became their bane. The Warriors kept jacking treys, missed them, and blew what would have been arguably their biggest win as NBA players. What was Nellie thinking, allowing his team to fire away at will, watching the game pass from his hands to Dirk's. What was Stephen Jackson thinking when he got ejected? As usual, nothing.

You cannot take anything away from Dirk and co., but this game was the Warriors' to lose. One drive, one easy bucket, one drip to the line--finito. Now the upstarts face a must-win game six, lest they had back to Dallas for game seven.

Mark Cuban must be thanking the basketball Gods. A loss last night would've sent shockwaves through that organization. Instead, Baron Davis's head got a little bigger, his jaw a little more swollen from all the trash talking he did. Davis must dip during games and the badass beard does little to cover it up. Cuban's team was saved for at least one more game.

This series has shades of Kobe vs. Phoenix last year, when the Lakers went up 3-1, only to bow out in seven. Golden State won last night's game, and then they lost it. It wasn't either or, it was both. Expect Dallas to come out even more aggressively in a game six dandy. The Mavs may have taken Golden State's best shots, does Oakland have anything left?