June 29, 2011

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Top NBA Free Agents

By: Rick Jarrell

NBA Playoffs are over. The draft has been completed. What now? Free agency!

The looming collective bargaining agreement, set to expire June 30, is more than likely going to hinder the beginning of the free agency period. Hopefully the owners and players can hash out their differences in a relatively short time span, but we’re still going to be forced to talk about offseason moves, even though they can’t happen yet, slightly longer this year.

The 2011 NBA free agent class is nowhere near as heralded as last year’s barrage of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Amare Stoudemire, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, Joe Johnson, and David Lee. But there’s interesting players out, a few sure to sign max contracts.

Nene Hilario

Every team can use another frontcourt bruiser, and at 28 years old, Nene will surely garner at least a four year contract. Left behind in the midseason trade of Carmelo Anthony as the only remaining building block, Nene’s performance in the second half helped lead the team to the playoffs. Putting up 14 points and 7 rebounds a game, plus a block and a steal, could turn into a solid double-double provider night in night out on the right team. Plus at 6-11, 250 pounds, the man can play both the 4 and 5 positions.

The downside, which I actually see as an upside in some respect, is how Nene makes an impact. He’s a glass man – gets rebounds, tips balls to his teammates, and cleans up the mess. Running plays designed for him consistently is not likely to pay off. But his willingness to do the dirty work outweighs, and a backdoor layup is right up his alley.

Tyson Chandler

What a difference a year makes. A season ago, Tyson Chandler was deemed expendable by the Charlotte Bobcats after his worst statistical year and burgeoning knee problems. But the Dallas Mavericks took a chance that paid off. Chandler provided a key force near the rim during the finals, limiting the impact of Miami’s Big Three.

Chandler has a similar problem to Nene, to a greater degree, in that he is not offensive minded. Aside from rebounds and put backs, his value is on the defensive end. Blocks, steals, help defense, the whole lot. Chandler has readily admitted he likes defense, that’s where he belongs. Plus, even though it feels like he’s been in the ABA merged into the NBA, he’s only 28 years old. The knee may cause some concern, but someone (possibly the Mavericks), will take another chance.

Marc Gasol

The Memphis Grizzlies have stated they intend to resign their rising star. But after paying Rudy Gay and Mike Conley last summer and Zach Randolph a couple months ago, and uncertainty regarding salary cap rules, they may not have the funds left to make a deal. Gasol will surely have a high price tag. His sweet mid-range jumper (for which he does not jump) helped power the Grizzlies past the number one seed Spurs in the first round. Rebounding and defense come in the package, as well. But despite his size, don’t expect him to post up anyone on the block and back them down. Gasol is more effective on the move, using his mid-range shot and a variety of “trick” shots, in addition to put backs.

He’s the kind of player you’d love to see on your team. No one would have ever thought the “Pau Gasol trade,” where the Lakers and Griz swapped brothers years ago, would look like a decent move Memphis.

David West

A late addition to the bunch, and another front court player! West said this week he would test the NBA free agent market this summer, likely because of the constant rumors swirling around Chris Paul’s longevity in New Orleans (more Decision fallout!). Averaging a quiet 19 points and 7.5 rebounds for another season, West suffered a potentially career-threatening ACL injury before the playoffs. If healthy, he’s arguably at the top of this group (Gasol could be, too). But a serious knee injury for a 30 year old big man causes concern. He’ll probably get a decent sized contract, assuming he passes a physical, but the tail end of his contract may become an issue.

May 25, 2011

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Fallout at the OKC Corral

By: Rick Jarrell

Two days ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder had a commanding 15 point lead with five minutes left in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals. Kevin Durant had just nailed a seemingly dagger-three, consequently celebrating by turning to the OKC bench and miming a wrestling championship belt around his waist. But the gesture was premature, as the Thunder fell victim to a Dirk Nowitzki led comeback by the Dallas Mavericks in one of the most epic collapses in recent  history of NBA playoffs.

To be fair, the Dallas comeback was both highly improbable and astonishing. No one expected them to make a run to get back into the game, let alone win, especially in the fashion they did – Dirk hitting ridiculous shot after ridiculous shot. At one point, Nowitzki pump faked to draw contact, which he clearly did, severely altering his shot, but didn’t get the foul call. But it didn’t matter. He nailed the jumper. Just Dirk being Dirk.

Even more improbable than Dallas’s Game 4 comeback is OKC coming back to win this series. That’s a tall order, especially for a young  team with little NBA playoff experience. The series will likely end, in my opinion, tonight in Dallas. But Oklahoma City, team and fans, shouldn’t look on the outcome as a complete loss. For young teams, unfavorable NBA playoff losses and crushing disappointment often serve as building blocks for perennial championship contenders. The heartbreak Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka felt after Game 4 and (most likely) the end of the series will fuel their offseason routines have them more than ready for next year.

That’s part of the beauty of what OKC General Manager Sam Presti has built – a young team that’s molded together who, along with their coach, Scott Brooks, have a single goal in mind. Not fame or fortune, but a championship. Every indication coming from the NBA players leads us to believe they are in it to win it – together – for the long run.

Durant, the humble 22 year old superstar, leads the team on and off the court. During last summer’s free agent extravaganza, while NBA players LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, Joe Johnson, and David Lee were being wined and dined by teams in need of superstars, holding egotistic press conferences and premature celebrations, Durant signed a five year contract extension with the small town team who drafted him. How did the public find out? He tweeted it.

The remaining young core exemplifies the same modesty, as well. Russell Westbook, Durant’s Robin to his Batman, was recently benched for the entire fourth quarter of a pivotal NBA playoff game. Most 22 year old budding stars would have been visibly upset, taking their issues to the media. But Westbrook handled it well, maintaining something along the lines of “as long as we win, it doesn’t matter.”

Kevin Durant

James Harden and Serge Ibaka, both 21 years old, have seen highs and lows in their sophomore seasons. Harden, a potential offensive powerhouse, and Ibaka, a block machine, have been benched and lost playing time for extended times this season, largely due to match ups with opposing teams. But they’ve both taken the reduced minutes in stride, as each has received more playing time since the trade of Jeff Green to the Boston Celtics. But will still sit, if needed, for match up sake.

Beyond the young core is a set of blue collar role players. Kendrick Perkins, the defensive minded center, provides toughness inside. Thabo Sefolosha starts at shooting guard, also as a defensive presence. Nick Collison spells Ibaka and Perkins when needed, providing solid rebounding, causing offensive fouls, and scoring back door layups. Eric Maynor, of Virginia Commonwealth fame, has developed into a more than capable point guard who can come in and hit shots and change the pace from Westbrook’s freight train style.

Together, the Thunder display the true meaning of the word team. They cooperate on the court, hang out off the court. Say the right things, do the right things. They’re everything that is right with sports and competition. Oklahoma City has developed a rare, but successful, organizational model that will be mimicked by other small market teams.

But even with all the right pieces in place, the Holy Grail isn’t a given. There is still work that needs to be done. OKC still has its weaknesses. Westbrook has a tendency to be a “black hole” and be less point guard, more scorer, sacrificing offensive plays and passes for kamikaze dives to the basket (good and bad, depending on the situation and outcome). Durant, while a gifted scorer, is not assertive enough with the team and lacks great defensive skills. Harden, also a capable scorer, is still very streaky and lacks a defensive presence. Sefolosha and Perkins, while strong defensive, are offensively inept. Perkins, too, has terrible knees, and often takes forever to get up and down the court (he also can’t really jump).

Clearly, they aren’t perfect. Presti and Brooks know this, as do the players. And they have the ability to improve and fix these issues, both internally through young player development, and externally, through flexibility available through draft picks and trades. As captain of the ship, Presti is more than capable of steering the Thunder even further in the right direction. So if my prediction is correct, Dallas defeats OKC in the NBA playoffs to reach the NBA finals, it’s not the end of the world (that’s scheduled for October now, right?). Unlike many teams, built for a 3-5 year run, the Thunder, assuming at least some of the team stays together, have the potential to be title contenders for the next ten years. As a Cleveland fan, I’m jealous, but also excited to see what the “good guys” can do.

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.

February 14, 2011

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Five Players Who Could Be Moved Before the NBA Trade Deadline

By: Anson Whaley

The NBA trade deadline is just around the corner, and while some teams will be merely trying to dump salary, others will be legitimately trying to make themselves better for the playoffs. This is always one of the most frustrating times for fans hoping their team will make a big deal, but the fact is that blockbuster trades are always extremely difficult to put together due to salary considerations. Still, here are some stars that might have new homes come February 19th.

Carmelo Anthony

Melo is the biggest fish out there and for good reason. Though Anthony is an eight-year NBA vet, he’s only 26 and in the prime of his career. This season, he’s averaging just under 25 points and eight rebounds per game and is one of the league’s premier forwards. Carmelo’s goal, if we can believe the rumors, may be to play in New York – potentially setting up another ‘Big Three’ along with Amar’e Stoudemire and, later, Chris Paul. But the Nuggets reportedly don’t like what the Knicks have been offering and may not send him there.

As recently as last week, Anthony’s name has also surfaced in potential trade talks with the Los Angeles Lakers. According to earlier rumors, Carmelo may only want to be traded to New York, but the thought of playing for the two-time defending champions could change his mind. He would have to take a back seat to Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, but playing for the Lakers might be his best chance to win a ring. The Lakers likely wouldn’t trade for Anthony unless he committed to a long-term deal with the team, so that may be a sticking point in any deal.

Antawn Jamison

It hasn’t been a particularly good year for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland set the all-time record for consecutive losses in all of major professional sports with 26 last week, and things have been dismal with the departure of some key players, including LeBron James. With that kind of ‘success’, the team could be in a position to move some of its more expensive players. At the top of that list would be Antawn Jamison, who is scheduled to make about $15,000,000 next season.

At 34, Jamison is still a productive player in the league, averaging more than 17 points and six rebounds per game and would be a real help to nearly any title contender. Jamison is also in the final year of his deal next season and can offer prospective teams the always-desirable expiring contract. The only problem is that his salary for next year may be more than some teams are willing to take on. Still, the Cavs could be looking to trade him and may be willing to take on quite a bit of his salary in return.

Andrew Bynum

The Lakers’ center is normally not the type of player that would get traded. He’s a young, emerging big man that has shown flashes of brilliance but has yet to reach his full potential. At only 23, it’s conceivable that he could have ten more years of his best play still ahead of him if he can remain injury free. Unfortunately for him, he’s rarely been fully healthy in any given season and has had various injury issues throughout his career. Still, he could become one of the league’s best centers and is a desirable trading chip. The Lakers may be willing to part with him in order to land Carmelo Anthony or another established star who might be able to help them right away. And with Pau Gasol able to man the center position, the Lakers may be able to manage without him.

Monta Ellis

Realistically, I don’t expect Ellis to be dealt. He’s one of the best young shooting guards in the league and averaging more than 25 points and five assists per game, is having possibly his best season as a pro. But the Warriors are not performing as well as they envisioned and are under .500 on the season. Management could be forced to make a move, and Ellis is the team’s best chip. If he is indeed traded, Golden State will almost assuredly need to get another shooting guard in return as the team would be thin in that area without him.

Jamal Crawford

Crawford isn’t the best guard in the league, but he can provide instant offense for a team off the bench, as evidenced by his 15 points per game. He struggles at times with his shot and is only a career 41% shooter from the field, but Crawford can be a good fit for a contender looking for a quality backup off the bench. With Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson, the Hawks have a great starting backcourt. But Jamal is their best guard off the bench, and if they aren’t able to get a guard in return, trading him could leave a huge void. Since the Hawks are still one of the East’s better teams and will expect to compete in the playoffs, it will probably take an overwhelming offer for them to move Crawford.

Gerald Wallace

The Bobcats had high hopes for the season but are struggling through another tough year. The team lost its head coach, Larry Brown, in December, and may be looking to start over. Gerald Wallace is the team’s best player, but he’s having one of his worst seasons in recent memory. His numbers (15.5 points and 8.1 rebounds per game) are down from previous years and, after shooting nearly 50% over the past two seasons, he’s making only 43% of his shots from the field this year. Wallace, however, is still a young player at 28 and may benefit from a change of scenery. If the Bobcats decide to start over and go into full rebuilding mode, he could be the first to go.

July 1, 2010

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Charles’ LeBronathon: Day 1

By: Charles

So it begins.

The day that ESPN has been hyping since about 6 minutes after Lebron inked his first deal is finally here! Everyone and their mother became a free agent at midnight last night including: LeBron, DWade, Chris Bosh, Nowitzki, Joe Johnson, Amare, Dwight, Shaq, Ghandi, Magic, Jordan, Bird, Benny the Jet Rodriguez, Elway, Koufax, Vince Chase, Butkus, Obama, Federer, Jim Joyce, Landis, Hammurabi, Bonaparte, Buonarroti, Spock,  and finally, who may be called the Crowned Jewel of the class, Elizabeth II.

Chaos is currently reigning supreme in the NBA, and I for one hope that BronBron and Co collude to their hearts content, form their own team in Akron, name themselves the MonStars, and vie for interstellar basketball domination.

Questions, Comments, Concerns, and Clown Jokes:

Federer has been eliminated by nobodys in two consecutive majors. WHAT? I like him so much better when he was the Terminator.

First Annual BP vs LeBron race. I think you can figure out the rules. If Brett Favre decides his future first then no one wins and the end of days is nigh. And yes, if you were wondering- BP is indeed still trying to kill the earth and LeBron is still on the loose.

And for our younger fans practicing for the SAT:

BP is to LeBron as is to  

And, as always: Peace. Love. Fatheads.