February 21, 2013

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NBA Trade Deadline Deals

By: Joe Williams

It happens every year in the NBA. There are a lot of discussions, a lot of rumors, a lot of hype, and not very many deals. At least not the deals that have been getting the headlines for the last few weeks.

Dwight Howard is not going anywhere. Pau Gasol is not going anywhere. Kevin Garnett is not going anywhere. Neither is Josh Smith. Ok, Smith is the one guy who may get moved.

Should the Celtics trade Rondo before the Trade Deadline?

But if it was up to me, just about all of these guys would be changing zip codes. The question is – where should they go?

The Lakers will be taking a huge risk when they don’t trade Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol. Without an injured Gasol, the Lakers are poised to miss the playoffs this season and have no guarantee that Howard will stay in L.A. next year. And even if they convince the big man to re-sign, there is no evidence that he can play nice with Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol. And even if they do all come together…they will all be another year older and didn’t Kobe make headlines already this year saying the team is too old? They need to trade Gasol and go all-in this season or trade Howard and re-load for next season.

If it is all about winning a title, the Atlanta Hawks should give Josh Smith what he wants to stay and then use him to recruit Dwight Howard in the summer.

Howard may not like playing with Kobe, but one would think he would enjoy playing in his hometown of Atlanta with one of his best friends in Smith.

Several teams are after Smith and if he ends up with the Nets, they could challenge Miami in the East.

With Rajon Rondo out for the year, Boston needs to do something. We all thought they were done without Rondo, but the team has gotten hot without him and will give anybody in the East a tough time in the playoffs. Since Kevin Garnett has made it clear he isn’t going to accept a trade, they need to get him some help this year. How many more times can Boston give it one more run with Paul Pierce and Garnett? That’s why I would try to trade Rondo. The Celtics could get help now and future picks for the injured all-star.

Everybody knows the Orlando Magic are looking to unload J.J. Redick. And if the reports on Derrick Rose looking good in practice and being ready to go sometime soon, the Bulls should do this deal. Chicago tried to get him a couple years back and couldn’t. But now they can and if they can add a great shooter and a healthy Rose to a team that is only 2.5 games out of the No. 2 seed in the East, they are legitimate contender.

Other deals:

The Clippers should keep Eric Bledsoe until Chris Paul has re-signed.

The Jazz should keep Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson.

The Raptors should trade Andrea Bargnani.

The Bobcats should trade Ben Gordon.

The Heat should trade for anyone who can rebound.

May 7, 2012

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Injuries Should Pave Way for Miami Heat to Reach Finals

By: Anson Whaley

Despite assembling a trio of some of the league’s biggest stars last year, the Miami Heat were unable to win the NBA championship, falling to the Dallas Mavericks. They received a bit of a pass since it was their first season together, but that won’t be the case if Miami fails to bring home the franchise’s second title this year.

The Heat may not have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this year, but there’s little doubt they are the favorites to advance to the Finals because of the huge rash of injuries to key players.

Miami’s already on the brink of disposing of the New York Knicks, leading their series 3-1 in the first round. The Knicks might have been in better shape against LeBron & Company if they were a bit healthier. New York was already without rookie sensation Jeremy Lin (knee injury) since late March. But then came Iman Shumpert’s torn ACL and a bizarre hand injury to starter Amare Stoudemire, who somehow thought punching a fire extinguisher case out of frustration after the team’s Game 2 loss was a good idea. After sitting out the third game, Stoudemire returned for Game 4. But missing Lin and Shumpert has definitely hurt the team in this series.

The Chicago Bulls, perhaps the best team in the entire league with a 50-16 record, were dealt a cruel blow in their first round series. With only a little over a minute to play in their first playoff game against the Philadelphia 76ers, star point guard Derrick Rose tore his ACL and, just like that, his season was over. Rose was the team’s leader in scoring and assists and without him, the Bulls have been a shell of their former selves. Chicago won that first game, but has fallen short in the past three without Rose. And as if that weren’t enough of a hurdle to overcome, the Bulls lost center Joakim Noah in Game 4 to an ankle sprain. Even if they can somehow fight back and make it a series against Philly, there’s little chance they could do much more in the playoffs.

The Orlando Magic were another team expected to contend for the title. That all changed, though, once star center Dwight Howard went down with a back injury late in the season. Power forward Glen Davis has stepped up in his absence, scoring 20 points a game in the playoffs and pulling in nearly ten rebounds. But the team clearly misses Howard, who was their regular season leader in points, rebounds, blocks, and steals. Howard’s defensive impact is just as important as the one he makes on offense and the Magic are a weaker team on both ends without him.

There are also the aging Boston Celtics. The Celtics have been relatively healthy, but shooting guard Ray Allen missed the first two games of their opening series against the Atlanta Hawks. He’d been out for the past month with bone spurs in his foot, and even though he’s back, is still trying to get back into game shape.

Miami isn’t a lock to win the East by any stretch of the imagination. The Indiana Pacers are having a strong season and as one of the league’s best rebounding teams, could give the Heat some trouble. And the Atlanta Hawks’ sixth-ranked defense might be able to challenge Miami’s explosive offense as well. The Heat are a combined 6-2 against those two teams in the regular season, but in the playoffs, the intensity will be ratcheted up significantly. Despite all that, though, it’s clear that with all of the injuries to the Eastern Conference this season, Miami has a clear shot at reaching the Finals again.

March 12, 2012

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NBA Trade Deadline Fast Approaching

By: Anson Whaley

With the NBA’s trade deadline coming up this week, a number of teams will have their eye on some heavily coveted players. Who knows what this year’s deadline will hold, but here are some key players that could be wearing different uniforms come next week.

Dwight Howard – The Dwight Howard fiasco has been one that’s dominated headlines all season long and even dates back to last summer. The Lakers have been the team most linked to Howard and their ability to land him will depend on how much they want to give up. A package of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum would almost certainly get the trade done, but I have serious doubts that trading two All-Stars for Howard would improve Los Angeles all that much. The Chicago Bulls have also been linked to talks concerning Howard and his addition would give point guard Derrick Rose another offensive weapon. Stay tuned.

Rajon Rondo – The Celtics claim that they aren’t actively pursuing offers for Rondo, but his name has been linked to so much speculation since the season began that it’s difficult to believe he’s untouchable. The young point guard just turned 26 and likely hasn’t hit his prime yet. Boston will probably consider trading him, but I expect it will take a considerable haul for any team to land him.

Could Rajon Rondo be the point guard somewhere other than Boston this season?

Pau Gasol – If the Lakers don’t go for Howard, a trade of Gasol probably isn’t all that likely, but it is possible. Gasol and Kobe Bryant have been put off by all of the trade talk concerning the power forward and the team may feel as if they need to deal him at this point. If Gasol does get traded, the Lakers will almost certainly demand a star in return since they are a legitimate championship contender with him.

Andrew Bogut – Bogut is one name starting to surface in some reports, which isn’t surprising since the Bucks haven’t made a great deal of progress during his time with the franchise. He’s not a star, but as a 27-year old 7’0” starting center, he’s certainly a valuable commodity. One thing that might hold up any deal for him, though, is the fact that he’s sat out since late January with an ankle injury. Another thing to consider is that the center is owed nearly $30 million over the next two seasons. For a player averaging a modest 11 points and eight rebounds this season, that amount could scare teams away. Even so, there will be teams willing to gamble on him if the price tag is right.

Jeremy Lin – Okay, just checking to see if you’re paying attention.

Chris Kaman – For any team in need of a center, but unable to land Bogut, Chris Kaman could be another viable option. Kaman has put up eerily similar numbers compared to Bogut this season and is only about two years older. Like the Bucks’ center, Kaman isn’t a star. But he’s a solid starting center in the league and should have several more quality seasons ahead.

Josh Smith – The Hawks forward is one of the most versatile players in the NBA. Smith fills up the box score nearly every night, but is apparently growing frustrated in Atlanta, and reportedly asked to be traded. The Hawks have been a good team with him, but haven’t reached the heights of some of the top teams in the eastern conference. If the Hawks do decide to trade him, they’ll likely need to pick up a power forward in return as they’ll be particularly thin at that spot.

Lamar Odom – I don’t expect Odom to be traded, but there’s no doubt the Mavericks have been disappointed with what he’s brought to the team. Odom clearly didn’t want to be traded out of Los Angeles and it’s shown. This year in Dallas, he’s averaging career lows in points, rebounds, and assists and has been absent for various reasons, missing several games this season. Still, Odom being moved during his first season there may be a longshot. Not only are the Mavericks not likely to give up on him already, but with his disappointing season, getting a good return for him would be extremely difficult.

May 4, 2011

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Second Round Shockers

By: Rick Jarrell

The first round of the NBA playoffs was a surprisingly exciting and competitive introduction to the NBA’s second season. Usually nothing more than a cake walk for most teams, each series seemed to have an unusually enticing aspect to it. The current era of talent is peaking, as the young bucks are surging to take the reins from the old guardas they begin their decline. It’s a thrilling time to be a fan, so in case you’ve been living in a cave for the past two weeks, here’s a quick recap.

The Memphis Grizzlies rid themselves of the Western Conference’s top seed in the San Antonio Spurs, gaining the franchise their first playoff series win. The Dallas Mavericks managed to hold off the upstart Portland Blazers to win their series. The Los Angeles Lakers did the same against the New Orleans Hornets. The Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Oklahoma City Thunder, Chicago Bulls, and Atlanta Hawks provided surprisingly entertaining performances despite vanquishing their opponents with relative ease.  High expectations were met and transformed into more high hopes for the second round. Will the encore be able to please the fans? So far, the answer is emphatically, YES!

Trendy Finals Picks in Peril

Peril may be a more drastic description than currently warranted, but this could get very interesting after Wednesday night. Perhaps the two most common finals picks, the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls, as well as trendy sleeper Oklahoma City Thunder, all lost their respective opening games. That’s three out of four home teams effectively losing their home court advantage. It’s too early to tell whether or not these losses will matter, but not too early to proclaim each Game 2 a must win for the home team. The likelihood any team, even a title contender, loses their first two home games and comes back to win the series is very low.

The away teams are still in the driver’s seat, though. Out of the three in peril, I’m still confident the Bulls will rebound to overtake the Atlanta Hawks. Derrick Rose’s  ankle is a concern, but assuming it’s an injury the newly crowned MVP can play through, his team still matches well against the Hawks. Joe Johnsonwill score his points, but Jeff Teague and Josh Smith will not play nearly as well as they did in the first game, and will revert back to being offensive liabilities. The Game 1 loss for the Bulls, along with the gritty first round series with the Indiana Pacers, should serve as a continued wakeup call, and may help them in the long run.

The Lakers and Thunder, however, may be in trouble. The Mavs charged back from a 16 point deficit and survived a Kobe Bryantlast second shot to beat the defending champs. Bryant said it himself – the Mavs can beat the Lakers. Right now, LA is playing well below their talent level. Other than Kobe, the team seems to lack a sense of urgency.

The Thunder, also playing complacent in Game 1, were caught off guard by an equally athletic, gritty Memphis team. Kevin Durant played well, but turnovers and second chance points fueled the Griz early on as Zach Randolph lit up OKC for a playoff career high 34 points. For the Thunder to win, Russell Westbrook needs to control the ball better, the bench needs to provide a scoring punch, and Z-Bo needs to be at least deterred from dominating the offensive end.

In Game 2, OKC did just that. Turnovers were still higher than they should be, but Westbrook played better, James Harden and Eric Maynor provided a scoring outburst in the first half, and Randolph and Marc Gasol were held to 28 points combined. Now the series heads back to Memphis all knotted up.

The Original Three vs. the New Three

The one team to take advantage of their home court, the Miami Heat, appear set to fully embrace their villainous image on the way to an NBA title. Dwayne Wade and LeBron James, with a few flashes from Chris Bosh, have dominated the veteran Celtics the first two games. Despite the final scores being relatively close, the Heat dominated each game. Boston fans will point to the large free throw advantage by the Heat and controversial ejection of Paul Pierce as reasons for the team’s shortcomings, but the Heat look to be firing on all cylinders at the right time. Wade and James have learned to alternate domination on the offensive end, and the team as a whole supports with strong defensive stances and timely three (see James Jones Game 1 performance).

I for one am surprised at the outcome so far. Coming in, I expected this series to be the most competitive in the conference semifinals. In the past, the Celtics have proved to be a well oiled machine, turning it on when it matters most, specifically in their finals run last year. But the team’s ability to do so may have reached its peak, as the clearly more talented Miami duo has made the aging Celtics look mortal. There’s a very good chance this series goes the full seven game and alternate home wins, but after the Heat’s performance in the first two games, it’s hard to see how Miami can be stopped.

April 27, 2011

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NBA Playoffs: Lessons Learned So Far

By: Rick Jarrell

With less than a quarter of the NBA playoffs complete, it may be too early to rush to judgment. There’s a lot of competitive basketball to be played, and as we’ve seen so far in the Memphis/San Antonio series, anything can happen. But a few of the first round match ups have made for some fairly concrete, if not obvious, conclusions.

Hold on D-Rose, CP3 is Still Here

The second half of the regular season brought the rise of Derrick Rose. As I’ve said before, Rose took his game to a whole other level the first half of the season. Then with Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer back from early injuries, Rose took his game to yet ANOTHER level to lead the Chicago Bullsto the best overall record. His performance was tantalizing to casual and diehard basketball fans alike. A lot of people, including myself, saw him as the best point guard in the league – with good reason. But with the regular season over, and the playoffs underway, a lot of people are watching with their foot in their mouths as Chris Paul makes professionals look like amateurs.

Despite playing at a high level all season, Paul’s serious knee injury seasons ago left him without his quick first step, and caused many to question the longevity of his career. Still hands down the best pure point guard in the league, it was amazing to watch him adjusting his game accordingly after the injury. But something was still missing. Apparently, that something was stored away for the playoffs.

CP3 has led the New Orleans Hornets against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, currently down 3-2, all without star power forward David West, lost to injury. His ability to manage the game, draw defenders just far enough toward him to seed the pass into the lane for an easy bucket, or nail the mid range jumper if left open, is magical. As for the knee? This video of Paul crossing up Andrew Bynum shows as visual proof CP3 can still break your ankles. If he’s on his game, New Orleans will win the series. Let’s see what he can do with his team facing elimination for Game 6 back in New Orleans.

Brandon Roy is Still Here, Too

The Portland Blazers, perhaps the most trendy upset pick this year, were on the verge of going down 3-1 to the Dallas Mavericks. That is, until Brandon Roy came to life. In the process of being blown out, the Blazers began to slowly pick away at the lead after halftime. Then, in the fourth, Roy took over, hitting shot after shot for the otherwise anemic Portland offense, carrying his team to victory. Impressive for a franchise player, but Roy’s story is different.

Coming out of Washington, he had two severely injured knees. No one knew how long his career would be able to go. After early success, more knee issues emerged, and Roy was forced to miss a ton of time, including the majority of this season. He can’t even play in back to back games in some cases. His knee is essentially a series of bone-on-bone connections. I can’t imagine living with that, let alone running up and down a court and colliding with physical specimens. But Roy was able to get past his problems, and rise above them to a truly inspiring performance. I don’t usually gush over comebacks like this, because he making millions of dollars a year, but Brandon Roy is a classy guy and great teammate. Makes me feel like I should take my fully function knees to the gym immediately. The Portland crowd was ecstatic for their hobbled superstar. The city deserves their first playoff series this decade, and hopefully Roy’s performance will provide momentum toward an upset over the Mavs, who now hold the series lead at 3-2.

Grizzlies Rewrite the Rules

Speaking of unexpected performances, the Memphis Grizzlies are on the verge of upsetting the Western Conference’s top seed, the San Antonio Spurs. A playoff mainstay and three time champion over the past decade, the Spurs usually make lunch meat out of inexperienced, young teams like the Grizzlies. But inspired play from Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and OJ Mayo has fueled the athletic Griz past the veteran Spurs to a 3-1 series lead.

Memphis has managed to make the Spurs look inept. Usually a well oil machine, turnovers and lack of defensive presence have so far doomed the powerhouse. There’s still a small chance the Spurs can come back, and if there’s a team out there with that drive in them, it’s definitely San Antonio, but the Griz still hold the reigns. Not only is a first round upset a possibility for Z-Bo and the gang, but a favorable match up with Oklahoma City in the second may wait, depending on the outcome of that series. Memphis has a serious opportunity for the Grizzlies to make some noise.

Big Three Non-existent in NYC

That was fast. All of the media fire surrounding the so-called revival of the Celtic-Knicksrivalry was extinguished before it even had a chance to spread. For the second year in a row, Boston stumbled into the playoffs only to show us, again, that a veteran team doesn’t necessarily have to perform at the highest level during the regular season. And the optimism for New York fans that the Carmelo Anthony trade would finally bring playoff success after a decade of dismal play was squashed, just like that.

In all fairness, this should have been a better series. New York could have won the first game, and probably would have if not for a questionable offensive foul call on Carmelo. If that outcome had come to fruition, the Knicks could have used that momentum towards an upset. But instead, we saw Boston adjust to the Knicks game plan and cause them to panic into late game Carmelo isolations rather than go to Amare Stoudemirein the post. The injuries to Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups weren’t exactly catalysts, either – the downfall of assembly a “big three” surrounded by veterans and minimum contract players.

But is the Carmelo-Amere-Billups combination even really a “big three?” The trifecta do not complement each other like Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allendo, nor are they individually as talented as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. It’s clear the Knicks have a lot of work to do, and even more clear the “big three” euphemism is being thrown around WAY too much. Toward the end of the regular season, my local media outlets began referring to John Wall, Jordan Crawford, and Andray Blatche as a “big three.” The NYC application of the term is nowhere near as presumptuous as the Washington Wizards, and may be slightly off topic, but you get the point.

Look on the bright side, Knicks fans. The NBA draft is quickly approaching us. Oh wait, no draft picks… let the Dwight Howard watch begin!

Demise of the Orlando Magic

Speaking of which, look how far the Orlando Magic have fallen. From a surprise Eastern Conference powerhouse to an athletic superhuman surrounded by shooters who can’t seem to shoot. The team has only seemed to decline since their surprise domination of the Cleveland Cavaliersa couple years ago. From letting Hedo Turkoglu leave, the Vince Carterexperiment, reacquiring Turkoglu, and trading away Rashard Lewis for once upon a time Agent Zero in Gilbert Arenas, General Manager Otis Smith appears to be chasing Howard out of town on purpose.

The Atlanta Hawks, a team that Orlando has historically man handled, largely in part due to Howard’s dominance in the paint, have taken control of the series. Journeyman Jason Collins, Atlanta’s cure for Howard, has kept the big man from taking over. Aside from Howard’s 46 point, 20 rebound performance in Game 2, which Orlando lost anyway, Collins and the Hawks have held their own in the paint. And when Howard does kick the ball to the wings, Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, and Jameer Nelson are unable to knock down open jumpers. Sharpe contrast to what we’ve seen in the past.

Some highs, some lows, but an exciting beginning to the 2011 NBA playoffs for sure. Non-NBA fans point to the long post season as one of the negatives of the league, but I’m thankful we get two months of the highest level of competitive basketball. Honestly, it’s hard to get anything productive done during this time frame, unless you count watching the playoffs as productive. Which I do…