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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Kazaam (ok maybe not Kazaam) Grants Wishes for the 2012 Offseason

(note: I am sorry for the above video but when you think of genies of course you think of Shaq)

So we move into the offseason after a topsy-turvy, quirky, wierd but never dull 2011-2012 season. With a full offseason including my guilty pleasure, NBA Summer League, teams will be able to have players at facility, talk trades, free agency and all of that other fun stuff that hoop nerds like me need to survive. With all the metrics, smartphones, and just pure knowledge, you figured most teams would scoff at a genie. However, genies are great (especially 7ft 300lb ones with bad lyrics). You ask for something, they snap fingers. You get what you want. So we grant wishes or at least grant quality advice to the 2012 NBA Playoff teams

Eastern Conference

1. Chicago:  See "What Now for the Bulls"

2. Miami:    Size Matters. Bosh's injury forced the Heat to go with Lebron James at the four and some combination of bad between Udonis Haslem/Joel Anthony/Dexter Pittman at center. When Bosh returned, he became the team's center. It worked for the playoffs  but can it be done over 82?  Eddy Curry, Dexter Pittman and Juwan Howard all will be gone or should be gone. With the Chip in place, the Heat should draft a young big man (Fab melo?) and sign another to step in (Ian Mahinmi, Marcus Camby). The most intriguing option probably will not play in 2012-2013: Greg Oden

3. Indiana:  Who is your best player?  The Pacers were a good story but the reality is don't tell me about your depth when you your best player (Danny Granger) may not be your best player. My wish for the Indiana Pacers is an obvious one. Send Granger (he is from N.O) to the Hornets for Eric Gordon (from Indy). Gordon becomes option #1 immediately for a team that lacked a real go to guy

4. Atlanta:  Something Has to Give.  My wish for the Hawks is the management being willing to do something big for its fans that despite reports do support the team. The Joe Johnson/Josh Smith duo has to be broken up and like most things the dude making the most $$ is the one that should go and is hardest to move. Johnson is not at "amnesty" level yet and it would be tough to swallow but moving him should be priority.. Johnson is a guy who when not #1 option can be very effective and is one of the better clutch players in the NBA (My guy SuperNavaho is rolling his eyes right now). Whether its Joe or J-Smoove, something or someone has to give

5. Boston:  A Champion for a Champion. Ray Allen's days with Boston are all but over. So bring in another veteran scorer to give you the punch so desperately needed, The Jet  Jason Terry.  The return of Avery Bradley will give the Celtics the best defensive backcourt in the league but the C's need one more shot creator and maker. My wish for the the C's: Jason Terry

6. Orlando:  Grow Some. My simple wish for new Magic Gm Rob Hennigan is to be ballsy enough to call Dwight Howard on his b.s and trade him. Yes its easy for me to say but for a team like Orlando you can no longer play the "woe is us small market room" (OKC and San Antonio certainly arent). I am all for players controlling their own show but Dwight isnt in control of his and too wishy washy. Make the Decision for him, get the best package of players regardless of location

7. New York: Don't Pay , Jeremy Lin.  Linsanity was fun for about 9 minutes but it all turned the other way when a knee "injury" kept Lin out at the times when he was needed most including the entire first round vs the Heat. Lin as a 15-18 minute a game point guard is all well and good but the Knicks need not overpay for it. Yeah he can sell shirts but he can't be your general. My wish: common sense overcomes dollars and cents

8. Philadelphia:  Variety is the Spice of Life.  The Sixers have a lot of the same player, in order to make another jump under Doug Collins, The Sixers will need to break up that mix, a shot blocker and defender would be preferred  (camby, javale mcgee -RFA) would help a team that struggled with interior defense or a low post scorer. Lou Williams opting out does help matters for the Sixers. My wish: an anchor in the middle

Western Conference

1. San Antonio:  Just do what you do. The Spurs formula will work from now until Duncan/Popovich call it quits and that looks to be at least two more years away for Duncan. For the Spurs, its about tweaking and developing another young talent (Nando De Colo on the way?). My wish: drafting another guard wouldnt hurt matters especially if Captain Jack doesnt return

2. Oklahoma City:  Another summer, another year of maturity. The disappointing end to the season for the young Thunder reminded us of how young they were. The combined ages of their three best players isn't seventy years old  and with Presti pushing the buttons , this Thunder team is here for the now and the future. The bad play of James Harden in the Finals will start the calls for trading him but not so fast. Losing one of your three best players isnt the move. Growing up, maturing, and toughening up is. My wish: Captain Jack. D-Fisher is likely gone so this teams needs an old head. Bringing in Captain Jack would help this team in immensely

3.  Los Angeles Lakers:  Chicken or the Egg?   The trade for Ramon Sessions paid little dividends and Steve Blake is what he is. The calls for the Lakers to bring in a point guard will start again but there is that whole Kobe thing. Bringing in a tradition PG does what when the ball still goes through Kobe?  Bring in Steve Nash for what, to become Steve Kerr?  My wish for the Lakers:  Someone with more pull to tell Kobe he isnt wearing #8 anymore and the offense to be more equally distributed to their bigs. Hint: that someone isn't Mike Brown

4. Memphis:  The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight.  A summer to get Z-bo healthy will be great for the Grizzlies. The Z-bo/Marc combo can be as devastating as Gasol/Bynum but the problem with the Grizzlies is they are a grind it out team in a spread him out league, they are running the wing t in a league playing run and shoot. OJ Mayo likely is gone and Agent Zero was a zero. Mike Conley despite his career number is a streak shooter at best.  My wish: Ray Allen. The Grizzlies need a deadeye marksman from the stripe. If not Allen, the son of Ray's ex coach would be a nice fit: Austin Rivers

5. Los Angeles Clippers:  Lob City was one of the stories of the league with the Clippers being the winner of the Chris Paul sweepstakes (yes it was a sweepstakes). The Clippers first round win was a bigger deal  in the bigger picture because it got Vinny Del Negro an extra year (they will be sorry) . Resigining Eric Bledsoe is a top priority regardlesss of Chauncey Billlups health. My wish: Someone sneak behind Donald Sterling's back and tear up VDN's deal and offer the full boat to Phil Jackson

6. Denver: Think of this team as Indiana Pacers West. They are fun, good young talent but no closer. While this George Karl's type of team with plenty of diversity and versatility, they have no bell cow. My wish for the Nuggets: Danilo Galinari grows up. He is clearly their most talented offensive player but too often is a liability, its time for Galinari to become that 20 point scorer his skill level says he should be

7.  Dallas:  Must be the  Money. With the 2011 championship ring to show, the Mavericks bit the bullet and fell down to earth  in a subtle version of playing for next year. Simply put, the Mavericks have to land hometown boy Deron Williams.  My wish:  cuban's brinks truck pulls up at D-Will's house dumbs all the money on his lawn and one way ticket from NY to Dallas

8. Utah:  Going through puberty. The Jazz were swept by the Spurs expectedly but for a team that could have easily been Lottery bound making the playoffs meant something. The challenge for the Jazz will be coming up with another gem in the draft to go with (milsap, jefferson, hayward and favors). This summer is very important for Enes Kanter, he has to start to become what high Lottery pick big men are supposed to be. My wish for the Jazz: draft a point guard and find a taker for Devin Harris

Sunday, June 10, 2012

So What now for the Bulls?

When Derrick Rose crumpled to the UC floor in Game 1 of the first round series vs Philadelphia, the Chicago Bulls season ended. There has been a lot of "What if" and "Maybe" but reality is you don't win 16 playoff games without your star player, not even in this strange season. The Philadelphia series exposed everything about the team that Bulls fans quietly knew would cost them. Without Derrick Rose, the Bulls are a likeable team that tries hard but are comprised up of 11 role players made better but one tremendous talent. There are no other game changer on this team, no other man who can carry you for 8 to 10 minutes at a time. No one who you can give the ball to and say  "Stop this run" or "Win The Game". As much we can extol the virtues of team play and depth, the NBA is a star's league; always has been, always will be. The Spurs played great together as a team but they have been eliminated the last two years in the playoffs because the opposition had the best player(s). Zach Randolph was the best player in the 2011 series and the young trio of Durant,Westbrook, and Harden took turns in the Spurs being "pseudo" swept this season. The Bulls have to know answer serious questions about who is around Derrick Rose and is it good enough?  D-Rose's knee will heal, its honestly my least worry. Here is what i worry about. The "core"  of this team are all older than him and making big money. 

People try to compare this Bulls team to the glory days of the early 90s. There is a HUGE difference between those two teams. In the early 90s, Jordan was the established star in his prime waiting on Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant to grow up and become forces. In 2012, the star player is D-Rose at age 23 and his supporting cast are all guys who are set in what they are. Luol Deng , while only 27, will be starting year nine in the NBA. He is not getting anymore athletic, nor will he become a better ball handler capable of getting his own shot. Joakim Noah, also 27, will be entering year six and while he is every bit the energy player and has value in that, he is nothing more than a richer Anderson Varajo (check the numbers if i am lying http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/players/3847) . And of course there is Carlos Boozer who enters his 11th year in the NBA with a huge contract and diminishing returns. Boozer is 2 for 16 in the last two Bulls elimination games and failed to play a fourth quarter.  Taj Gibson, who will be 27, nears free agency and is sure to command big dollars and a starting position from somebody. Gibson was a warrior in the 76ers series and a keeper but will his asking price become too high based on the locked in the dollars of Noah, Deng, Boozer.

So with all that doom and gloom for a team that had best record in the East , where do they go? What is the next move? The next moves are moves that Bulls management will have a hard time dealing with but must be done . 
Who is the 2nd gunman on the Grassy Knoll? 2nd options do not come by trading off spare parts and bad contracts.  Assuming Boozer will not be amniestied (every Bulls fan wet dream), the Bulls have to look at Noah or Deng and decide which pill is least bitter to swallow and make a move to find a wing player who can score the ball on his own to take pressure off Rose.  Noah and Deng are favorites of both management and fans but reality is to get that true difference maker, one of them wont be here.   Have fun with the Trade Machine http://espn.go.com/nba/trademachine, I certainly hope GarPax are

Clear out the backcourt: Everyone named Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler can go.The Rose knee injury exposed the reality that they have a backcourt that is filled with one trick ponies and when asked to pull a second trick off are not capable. Kyle Korver disappeared again when facing real defense, Ronnie Brewer lost minutes to John Lucas III , and CJ Watson when asked to run the club made ill-fated decision time and time again. None of these players are to be faulted because none of them should have been asked to do more which goes back to the greatness and importance of Rose. 

Take the Boston Approach:  Rose and Deng will both probably be out until Christmas time next season. The Bulls will need to spend the first two months of the season holding down the fort. Thibs has to do a better job of managing the regular season. No more 40+ minutes nights for your main guys against the dregs of the league. Banged up players can't play heavy minutes until they are ready to play consistant minutes (i.e Hamilton). Being a number 5 or 6 seed will not be the worst thing in the world, frankly it might be the best thing

Last Point: For all the jokes about the Heat 's  2 1/2 men, the Bulls right now have  1 man (Rose), one half-man (Deng), one 1/3-man (noah), and a 1/4-man (boozer). Add all that up and it doesn;'t add up to this team winning a title anytime soon unless something big happens, and amnestying Boozer isn't enough. Do you want to be the Lebron Cavaliers? I know I don't. Get your star some real help

2012 NBA FINALS..Something For Everyone

Thank You to the 2012 Miami Heat. Yes you read that correctly. I am thanking the Heat. By beating the creaky but venerable Boston Celtics, we have a dream matchup in the Finals. Everyone from the hoops junkie like myself to the casual fan to the Heat hater that lies in the vast majority of the country will find something in this series to enjoy. For a season that was quirky, injury-plagued, and flop-filled, the best possible scenario to crown a champion is now upon us. Its funny how things the Circle of Life in the NBA and sports tends always tends to come about. Twenty years ago, the Portland Trailblazers met the defending champion Chicago Bulls. The main plot was the crown. The subplot was the two best players in the world facing off Clyde Drexler and Michael Jordan who also played the same position. The Bulls won the series in six game but what will be remembered is Jordan slicing and dicing Drexler including the infamous Game 1 "shrug game" and my personal favorite  the 46 point display in game five  (see video above). Jordan would average  35.8ppg, 53% to win the MVP. Drexler would be readed to Houston two years later and get his ring (mostly because of Hakeem).

Fast forward twenty years and once again we have the two best players in the world who also play the same position going head to head and this scenario is more mouthwatering than Jordan-Drexler:  Lebron James vs Kevin Durant.  James, the most physically gifted athlete since Wilt, is coming off a trememendous series vs Boston in the ECF. James is playing arguably the best basketball of his career; 30-10 pretty much every night and the virtuoso 45-point Game 6 to save elimination. He seems to have a different focus, a different approach than he had in Cleveland and certainly more assured than last year vs Dallas. Durant is clearly playing the best basketball of his young career as he has led the Thunder past the last three NBA champions to come from the West. He is a three time scoring champ has shown an ability to close like no one else in the league. It is only basketball justice that the preeminent all-around player and the preeminent scorer will meet head to head. Shane Battier and Thabo Sefalosha will not be needed. This is mano e mano, they way it should be.

This series also gives the classic "Good vs Evil" scenario. The "Good" being the arrival of the Oklahoma City Thunder. The young pups from the medium size Midwestern town built from the ground up (Try to ignore that they were stolen from Seattle, its difficult I know). Their core players are comprised of dudes who are not old enough to rent cars (Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka James Harden). Their creaky backup point guard has a chance to win one more ring than his long time teammate and current black hat Kobe Bryant. They have the unquestioned best fan base who support their team because its all they have. OKC home games are an experience even if you have never stepped into their gym.  The "Evil" of course is the Miami Heat. The ill-conceived "Decision" of July 2010 has created almost 24 months of angst, animosity, and hatred for James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh ( I mean if i could live in South Beach with my best friends, be at the top of profession for millions of $$ I would too but I digress). They are the team that was bought together and brought together. They had the rally before a ball was bounced in 2010. Their perceived failures have been fodder for talkshow and photoshop artists everywhere. But when you look through the "noise", you see three of the best twenty in the world who when they are on as they were in the fourth quarter of Game 7 of ECF are the best trio in the game.

The questions and matchups are a hoop head's dream.  Can Dwyane Wade do it again?  Unlike Boston who had to double team him, the Thunder can use Sefalosha, Westbrook, Harden in different spots. Wade, who has has moments of brillance and moments of spotty play, is capable of going off but can he do it against three athletic (younger) players constantly in his face. Wade has been a giant in Finals past but at age 30 and a balky knee, can he muster consistantly great performances one more series. Is Bosh ready to carry the load upfront?  Bosh was tremendous in Game Seven vs Celtics, 19 points and 8 rebounds doesnt justify how big an impact he had. Now he must play bigger minutes and give a similar effort six or seven times. Does he have the stamina coming off the injury to do so? 

Oh dont get it twisted, there are questions for the Thunder too.  Can Kevin Durant keep Lebron James at bay on the defensive end or do the Thunder risk playing James with Ibaka? This is a huge concern for the Thunder. When Ibaka was off the floor vs Spurs, the Spurs went to the basket repeatedly. Durant has to be able to do at least a credible job on James. If Durant can't and forces a switch, it takes a way the best shot blocker in the league. More importantly, will Durant wear down guarding James and have it take its toll on his offense, the way it did Paul Pierce?  When does the youth catch up to Thunder?  The number one Heat fan I know Mosi ( you can check him hear at  http://miami-heat-index.blogspot.com/) have had this debate. I am a believe in having old heads on your team (maybe not D-Fish old) to settle a young team. Mos believes in the "if you are good enough, you are old enough" theory  http://miami-heat-index.blogspot.com/2012/02/heat-check-is-time-on-side-of-miami-or.html.  The Thunder have played with maturity for the majority of the playoffs with the occasional appearance of youthful mistakes. This now the Finals, is this when you get more of their youth showing? They won't be overwhelmed but maybe overanxious and it costs them a  game at home which could be crucial

Regardless as to where your allegiances lie or your level of interest, if you are fan of competition and high drama, subplots, and watching the best in the world perform, then this series is for you. There are going to be plenty of outlets who will talk on the pressure on Lebron, "youth is served", who should be taking the shot, which young coach is under the most pressure (clearly Spolestra but we have to ask these things) etc , etc but even if you ran through every sports cliche there are still 1001 reasons you should be tuned into this. So come Tuesday night, enjoy yourself Heat Haters, Heat Lovers, Thunder haters (mostly in Seattle, sorry), conspiracy theorists, casual fans. I guarantee there is something in it for you