NBA Offseason Grades: Pacific Division

gs warriors champs

Welcome to the final part of my 6 part series of NBA Offseason Grades! If you’ve been keeping up with series, I thank you for lending me your time and patience. If you’re just joining us now, well, better late than never!

For the newbies:

I’ve taken it upon myself to evaluate each team’s offseason transactions. I’ve given each team a letter grade based on whether or not I thought they made good moves considering their respective situations. This includes the draft, resigning period, free agency, trades, firings/hirings, and anything else I deem important. Most importantly, I answer the one pivotal question: Are they better?

I’ve unintentionally saved the most entertaining division for last, as today we discuss the Pacific Division. This division has given us so much in regards to entertainment value since June. We’ve seen a team make NBA history, free agency masquerading as a romantic comedy, the fall of an empire, and Vivek Ranadivé doing Vivek Ranadivé things!

This was awesome!

If you missed it:

Atlantic Division Grades

Southeast Division Grades

Central Division Grades

Northwest Division Grades

Southwest Division Grades

Key: 

  • (R): Rookie
  • (DnS): Draft-n-Stash – players drafted, but playing overseas next year
  • (D): Draft-n-Stash player joining the team
  • Bolded Names: Particularly notable players

And we start with our reigning Pacific Division/NBA Champions:

Golden State Warriors: A+

Re-signed: Leondro Barbosa, Draymond Green

Lost: Justin Holiday, Ognjen Kuzmic, David Lee

Acquired: Chris Babb, Jason Thompson, Gerald Wallace

Drafted: Kevon Looney

Other notable moves: N/A

What did they even do?

Exactly.

The disease of more* runs rampant through championship teams across all sports; and the presence of a salary cap keeps this concept a reality. Winning a championship was great, but the iron is hot. And once the team actually climbs the mountain, self goals often take over for team goals. Players want more money, more playing time, more recognition, a bigger role, etc. And so we see key cogs end up taking huge contracts from other teams and then they disappear, with their new money, into irrelevance; all while their former team struggles to defend their title.

*NOTE: “The disease of more” was coined by Don Pat Riley in his book “Showtime.”

Golden State’s team management were able to avoid the disease of more; at least during this offseason.

Of the 5 team free agents that Golden State needed to make a decision on, only 2 were regular rotation guys. Draymond Green may have gotten a huge raise (5-years/$82 million), but his value to the Warriors is actually fairly represented by his max contract; therefore, is exempt from this rule. And Leandro Barbosa (1-year/$2.5 million) is coming back on a very team-friendly deal.

The David Lee salary dump was a way for Golden State management to save money on the luxury tax. Lee is a solid player, but he really didn’t fit in Steve Kerr’s system anyway. He only played 904 minutes in 49 regular season games in 2014-15 (both career lows), and really only had a cup of coffee in the NBA Finals. Lee may be a good guy to have in your foxhole, but the Warriors certainly don’t need him to defend their title.

(Image from USA Today) Yup, the Warriors are bringing back everyone [who matters].

The drafting of Kevon Looney with the 30th pick sparked a little debate due to the prospect’s health issues (he had offseason hip surgery). This doesn’t worry the Warriors, though. They’re super deep and Looney is likely to ride the pine his rookie season anyway. However, he was expected to be a lottery pick before the report of his surgery surfaced the day of the draft. This makes Looney one of those low-risk/high-reward draft picks. And considering the personnel that the Warriors are boasting next season, they’ll have time to wait on Looney.

So management did their part in avoiding the disease of more. The Warriors will be bringing back just about everyone who mattered on an NBA championship team that boasted one of the 4 best regular seasons of all time. Golden State was right not to tinker with the roster. In this case, less is more. And now we’ll wait and see if Steve Kerr can keep the disease of more at bay during the regular season.

The Warriors may not have gotten better from a personnel standpoint; but they’re still a super deep team with championship experience and arguably the hardest home court for opponents to play on. The Spurs may have won the offseason, but the Warriors are still the champions. And like the Nature Boy Ric Flair once said, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.”

Are they better?: No (But dammit they’re still good).

Los Angeles Clippers:  F-   A

Re-signed: DeAndre Jordan, Austin Rivers

Lost: Matt Barnes, Glenn Davis, Jordan Hamilton, Spencer Hawes, Lester Hudson, Dahntay Jones, Hedo Turkoglu, Ekpe Udoh

Acquired: Cole Aldrich, Branden Dawson (R), Chuck Hayes, Wesley Johnson, Paul Pierce, Pablo Prigioni, Josh Smith, Lance Stephenson

Drafted: N/A

Other notable moves: N/A

DeAndre Jordan was rumored to want a larger role than one he was receiving with the Clippers. Perhaps to finally have an offense built around him. ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz reported that DJ also grew tiresome of his relationship with Chris Paul , saying:

He [DJ] was tired of Paul’s constant barking and petty gestures, like distributing high-fives to the three other guys on the floor following a timeout but somehow freezing out Jordan.

And so on July 3rd, DJ agreed (in principle) to sign a 4-year/$80 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks.

A few days later in an interview with Bleacher Report Radio , JJ Redick gave the Los Angeles Clippers his own grade on how they handled their offseason to that point. Keep in mind JJ Redick is still under contract with the Clippers for 2 more years…

Is there an F-minus?

Listen, we had one priority this summer and that was to re-sign DJ and we missed out on that, so barring some miracle, [the] makeup of our team is completely different now. He’s such an integral part of what we did, not just defensively but offensively with his screening, his rolling, his offensive rebounds. His presence down low essentially made teams either commit to the three-point line when Blake [Griffin] or Chris [Paul] penetrated or commit to him, and that either opened up lobs for him or threes for guys like me and Jamal [Crawford] and Matt [Barnes].

So he was a huge part of what we did and missing out and having him leave for Dallas gives us a failing grade.

Yes JJ, I make up the rules for this article, so there is such thing as an ‘F-.’

But on the last day of the free agent moratorium, team owner Steve Balmer, Head Coach Doc Rivers, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, JJ Redick, and Paul Pierce organized a special ops mission to bring DJ back to the Clippers on a long-term deal. They literally infiltrated his house in Houston, Texas, with the intent of locking DJ inside his house until he agreed to sign a contract. They hashed out their differences, and then they played cards until midnight when DJ was able to officially sign a 4-year/$87 million deal to stay in Los Angeles.

It was an emojional day…

with a few laughs…

and some hurt feelings.

It was the most entertaining offseason day in NBA history.

Getting DJ back puts the Clips in good standing grade-wise. I roasted the Mavericks for even trying to sign DJ; so why would I applaud the Clips for going to such lengths to woo their center back?

It’s simple, the Clippers needed DJ to stay.

DJ is actually a perfect fit with the Clippers, his overpaid price tag be damned. He’s the third best player on a contender (ideal role), CP3 and Blake Griffin are running the offense and are very good passers, DJ is the best pick-and-roll finisher in the NBA, and he anchors the defense.

Obviously I was alluding to the fact that I don’t think he’s worth the $21 million+ per year, but it’s not like the Clippers could parlay that money into other players. The Clippers were already over the salary cap before the DJ contract, and the only reason they could pay him big money in the first place was because they owned his Bird Rights. If they lost DJ, they’re not getting anyone else who can replicate what he does for this team; at least not in free agency.

Last post-season the Clippers beat the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs in a 7-game first round series, and were 1 win away from making it to the WCF. Their starting point guard/league’s best point guard turned 30 in May and is entering year 11 of his career (history suggests he will begin to drop off this year or next), and Blake Griffin is just entering his prime. It’s simple, the Clippers are in win-now mode, and the way they went after DJ during the moratorium confirms that notion. DJ walks, and the Clippers are wasting next season.

The Clippers’ Achilles heal in the playoffs last year was their lack of depth. As I mentioned earlier they didn’t have much in the way of cap room, either. General Manager Doc Rivers turned chicken crap into a half-way decent chicken salad by acquiring depth through means of trades, trade exceptions, and minimum contracts.

They traded Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes to the Charlotte Hornets for the notorious headache that is Lance Stephenson. Stephenson was a triple-double machine 2 years ago in Indiana, but played his way out of the starting line-up in Charlotte via his 38-17-63 shooting splits and just all around bad attitude. I don’t love the risk of bringing in Lance just because of his tendency to rub people the wrong way; but he’s coming into a situation where there’s strong leadership in both the locker room and organization, and he stands a better chance of being kept in check. I can justify the risk given these circumstances. Good move.

The Clippers will miss Matt Barnes’ toughness, his ability to defend multiple positions, and his ability to hit the 3; but the Clips were able to replace Barnes when they signed Paul Pierce to a 3-year/$10 million deal via the tax-payer’s mid-level exception. Pierce brings the same package to the table as Barnes did, plus a proven leadership presence. Pierce is also a native of Los Angeles and won a championship with Coach Rivers in Boston in 2008, so there’s also a little bit of a full circle narrative in relation to this signing. But hey, Pierce is a guy you want in your foxhole.

Doc also managed to pry Josh Smith away from a Western Conference rival despite only being able to offer a minimum contract. Smith is an 11 year veteran who showed a lot of value coming off the bench for the Rockets in the second half of last season; which instantly makes him an upgrade over the 87 year old Hedo Turkoglu. And I imagine the 14 4th quarter points that Smith threw down against the Clips in game 6 to save the Rockets’ season had a little something to do with this signing, as well. But that’s none of my business.

And the Clips also managed to bring in Cole Aldrich, Chuck Hayes, Wesley Johnson, and Pablo Prigioni to beef up the end of their bench. Solid role players at good prices.

Seems like Doc is getting better at this Coach/GM thing.

Are they better?: Yes.

Phoenix Suns: C-

Re-signed: Brandon Knight 

Lost: Earl Barron, Reggie Bullock, Gerald Green, Andrew Harrison (R), Jerel McNeal, Marcus Morris, Marcus Thornton, Brandan Wright

Acquired: Tyson Chandler, Jon Leuer, Ronnie Price, Mirza Teletovic, Sonny Weems

Drafted: Devin Booker

Other notable moves: N/A

I haven’t had a good grip on the Phoenix Suns’ game plan ever since they traded for Isaiah Thomas in 2014 when they already boasted a Goran Dragic/Eric Bledsoe back court; then essentially traded Dragic, Thomas, the Lakers’ top-5 (now top-3) protected first round pick + spare parts for Brandon Knight.

I can’t base this summer’s Suns grade on what happened in past years, but its worth noting I have no idea what’s going on in Phoenix.

Anyway…

The Suns kicked off free agency by signing Brandon Knight to a 5-year/$70 million deal. I personally like Brandon Knight as an all around player, and I think he gets unfairly lambasted based solely on the amount of times he’s landed on the wrong side of a YouTube clip . But he’s a versatile combo guard who does a lot of things well. For some reason his stats dropped after the trade to Phoenix. Granted the sample size was small (11 games in Phoenix compared to 52 in Milwaukee), so it is possible he may have struggled adjusting to a new system on the fly.

(Image from USA Today) With Phoenix committing to Brandon Knight long-term, could Eric Bledsoe be the next Sun to go?

That being said, the Suns went about this all wrong.

Knight was a restricted free agent and the Suns came in with a massive deal in hand without letting the market decide his value. That’s a big no-no when it comes to restricted free agency, unless the player’s name is Kawhi Leonard or Anthony Davis of course.

They would have been better off letting him find a deal in free agency and just matching it. Sure, they may have ended up overpaying him to stick around anyway, but it beats overpaying the guy when the only team you’re competing against is yourself.

The Suns also brought in Tyson Chandler on a 4-year/$52 million contract. He’s obviously being brought in to anchor the defense and serve as a positive veteran leader with championship pedigree; which is good. I imagine Dallas would bring him back if they had a mulligan on free agency. The drawback is that Chandler turns 33 in October, has 14 seasons under his belt, and has had trouble staying healthy his whole career. It’s an alright pick-up at a fairly steep price. I can’t imagine that contract ages well, either.

The Suns also traded Marcus Morris (the lesser twin), and let Brandan Wright and Gerald Green walk in free agency. Mirza Teletovic is a nice pick-up as a floor spacer on the cheap; but other than him, the Suns brought in a cast of role players to fill in the blanks.

I liked the decision to draft Devin Booker at number 13. Booker was arguably the best shooter in his draft class, and should develop nicely in Phoenix’s pace-and-space system.

It’s obvious LaMarcus Aldridge was the apple of Phoenix’s eye this offseason. But LMA chose the San Antonio Spurs, and it appears the Suns didn’t have a contingency plan in case that scenario occurred. So now they find themselves in a situation with no star player and no real direction to go in next season.

The Suns went 39-43 last season (10-17 post trade deadline). Given whom they let walk and whom they brought in, I can’t say that the Suns are better than where they were April 15th. Jeff Hornacek is an under-rated coach who’s been really good at bringing out the best in his players; but even he has his work cut out for him this year in the loaded Western Conference.

I don’t really know where the Suns go from here; but it’s certainly not up.

Are they better?: No.

Sacramento Kings: F

Re-signed:  Omri Casspi

Lost: Reggie Evans, Ryan Hollins, Carl Landry, Ray McCallum, Andre Miller, Eric Moreland, Nik Stauskas, Jason Thompson, Derrick Williams

Acquired: Quincy Acy, James Anderson, Marco Belinelli, Caron Butler, Seth Curry, Duje Dukan (R), Kosta Koufos, Rajon Rondo

Drafted: Willie Cauley-Stein

Other notable moves: N/A

Congratulations, Sacramento Kings! You just took the Most Dysfunctional Organization in the NBA title belt away from the New York Knicks!

Where do I even start?

How about allowing your 3rd head coach in 1 calendar year the opportunity to alienate your franchise center? Then let said head coach keep his job after he publicly looked to trade said franchise center? Yes, DeMarcus Cousins has 3 years left on one of the best bargain contracts in the league; but there’s no chance in Hell he’s sticking around Sac-Town after the 2018 season.

Or how about paying the Philadelphia 76ers a package of Nik Stauskas (2014 – Round 1, Pick 8), a future 1st round pick, and the right to swap picks in 2 future drafts just to take on Jason Thompson, Carl Landry, and their combined $26 million+ salaries over the next 2-3 seasons?

Yes, this trade actually happened.

Forget the fact that they could have used the stretch provision to buy out Carl Landry. Why wouldn’t they just offer this trade to Denver for the right to Ty Lawson? After all, Denver basically ended giving away Lawson to the Houston Rockets following his 2nd DUI of the past year. This would have ultimately been a win-win for both the Kings and the Nuggets had it come to fruition. Instead, Denver dumped Lawson for spare parts and a late first round pick, the Rockets solidified their spot as a contender, the 76ers (briefly) looked like the smartest team in the room, and the Kings ended up tossing their future draft picks away and overpaying for a point guard who’s best years were left behind in 2013.

Speaking of which…

Go ahead and add a 1-year/$10 million contract for Rajon Rondo to Sacramento’s dumpster fire. In case you missed it, last season the Mavericks bet the farm on a Rondo resurgence in the hopes that he would be the missing link to a championship team. Instead, Rondo butt heads with Head Coach Rick Carlisle and played his way out of the rotation in the playoffs. Rondo threw away any leverage he had in a big money contract in free agency, and then the Kings gave him a $10 million deal when no one else even wanted him.

Yes, Boogie Cousins and Rondo will play for a team coached by George Karl. This instantly makes the Kings a must-watch NBA League Pass team. Not for the games themselves; rather for the comedy. Boogie, Rondo, and Karl could end up choking each other out on any given night! No seriously, its going to be Survivor: Sacramento Kings in 2015-16.

A couple other moves I’m not a huge fan of:
1.) Kosta Koufos – 4-years/$33 million. Bleh.
2.) Drafting Willie Cauley-Stein with the 6th overall pick; passing on Emmanuel Mudiay (7), Stanley Johnson (8), and Justise Winslow (10). I love WCS as a prospect; but the last thing the Kings needed was another center. There were better options at number 6, even if they planned on trading Boogie.

I’ll close with this. Pardon me while I borrow/touch-up a quote from Billy Madison that I think correctly reflects the Sacramento Kings’ offseason:

[Sacramento Kings], what you’ve just [done this offseason] is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever [seen]. At no point in your [embarrassing], [franchise debilitating moves] were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational [plan]. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having [witnessed] it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Original Version!

Are they better?: No.

Los Angeles Lakers: D

Re-signed: N/A

Lost: Vander Blue, Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis, Wayne Ellington, Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson, Jeremy Lin, Ronnie Price

Acquired: Brandon Bass, Michael Frazier (R), Jonathan Holmes (R), Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams

Drafted: D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance, Jr., Anthony Brown,

Other notable moves: N/A

This summer we witnessed the end of an era. Sure, the Lakers haven’t won a championship since 2010, and they last made the playoffs in 2013. But I’m not talking about wins and losses. Down years happen to just about every franchise, and the presence of a salary cap has made it especially difficult to maintain dominance over consecutive years.

Instead, I’m referencing the aura and the mystique that once upon a time surrounded the Lakers franchise. 16 championships, a big market, an LA lifestyle, establishing a legacy; what star player wouldn’t be drawn to these elements? Especially if the money was equal.

After all, good things would just happen to the Lakers throughout NBA history. Stars like Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O’Neal would just fall onto their laps.

But not this time. There was no LaMarcus Aldridge; nor Greg Monroe. Instead their was Brandon Bass and Roy Hibbert.

It’s not just failing to get a star, it’s why they didn’t get a star. Aldridge sat down with the Lakers twice, where they pitched branding, young pieces, and the opportunity to play with Kobe Bryant; but LMA was turned off by LA’s old-fashioned style of play. And he had no interest in being the Pau Gasol to his Kobe Bryant.

Meanwhile Greg Monroe turned down both the Lakers and the Knicks to play for the small-market Milwaukee Bucks because he believed they had the best chance of winning.

It was a bigger loss for the Lakers than it was for the Knicks. The Knicks have sucked for the better part of the last 15 years, and have swung-and-missed on a number of premier free agents. The Lakers aren’t used to this. This uncharted waters.

This summer was one of the last chances for the Lakers to extend Kobe’s career by adding another star, and yet it ended horribly.

I mean, the sum of the parts gained is actually fairly better than the parts lost. Brandon Bass cancels out the loss of Ed Davis, but Roy Hibbert finally gives the Lakers a rim protector. Reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams is a good pick-up assuming the Lakers keep him in that role and not try to shoe-horn him into the starting line-up with Kobe.

I also LOVE D’Angelo Russell as a prospect. But even D’Angelo drew the ire of Lakers Nation when he had the cajones to call Tracy McGrady the GOAT when one Kobe Bryant is on his team. Take a lap, young fella.

The Los Angeles Lakers now find themselves (temporarirly) stripped of their competitive advantages. Now they are forced to rebuild the old fashioned way like the rest of the teams in NBA: through draft picks and smart business decisions. Truth be told, it’s not the worst way to rebuild in this league. But this was not the gameplan GM Mitch Kupchak drew up. So this is going to cost them.

Are they better?: Yes.


 

 

6 divisions and 30 NBA teams later, and we’ve have completed the NBA Offseason Grades series! I’ll revisit these grades somewhere around the all-star break just to see where each team stands and see how accurate each representation was. Only 7 more weeks until opening night!

Thank you very much to basketball-reference.com , espn.go.com/nba , and hoopshype.com for the stats and information used in this article.

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2015-2016 NBA Season’s Most Intriguing Games

With the 2015-2016 NBA season tipping off next month (preseason begins early October with the regular season beginning October 27th), it is never too soon to start talking big games. With so much change and drama happening over the summer, this upcoming season promises to be one of the more intriguing seasons yet. Here are just a few of the must watch games of the upcoming season.

Los Angeles Clippers @ Dallas Mavericks 

Unless you were living under a rock this past summer, you know one of the biggest headlines to come out of the offseason was Deandre Jordan’s last minute decision to stick with the Los Angeles Clippers instead of agreeing to sign with the Dallas Mavericks, the team he had, in college recruiting terms, verbally committed to previously. Given the drama that arose from the apparent change of heart, which included Deandre Jordan apparently ignoring Mark Cuban’s calls, there really is little doubt Deandre Jordan will have quite the “homecoming” when the Clippers come to Dallas on November 11th. I expect the fans will not soon forget how Deandre spurned the Mavericks and the city of Dallas.

Deandre Jordan not listening

Photo by USA Today

A preview of Deandre Jordan playing at American Airlines Center on November 11th?

San Antonio Spurs vs …… pick your team

The 5-time NBA champion Spurs undoubtedly won the offseason with the acquisition of the biggest name on the 2015 free agent market, All Star Power Forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Next year’s Spurs team looks to be greater than ever, which given their history, is hard to imagine.

New Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge

Photo by Spurs.com

Besides Aldridge, the Spurs also got veteran David West to agree to a 11 million pay cut to play alongside Spurs stars Parker and Kawhi and not yet ready to retire, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. So whomever the Spurs play will really be a game worth watching, but some of the more intriguing match-ups I’m looking forward to are the Cleveland Cavaliers (preview of the 2016 NBA Finals?), Los Angeles Clippers (last year’s NBA playoff series looked more like a WCF series), Golden State Warriors (in order for the Spurs to get back to the Finals, they have to get past the defending champs), and the OKC Thunder (most expect them to rebound from their injuries last year and once again be one of the teams to beat in the West).

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors 

Rematch of the 2015 NBA Finals. Christmas Day game. Enough said.

Houston Rockets vs. Los Angeles Clippers (November 7)

Another entertaining playoff series from last year. After the Clippers blew a 3-1 series lead, the Rockets appeared to have brought back that Clutch City magic from the 90s. Josh Smith had a big impact in this series for the Rockets so it was surprising to see Houston let him go sign with the Clippers this offseason. Other big signees like Paul Pierce and Lance Stephenson for the Clippers and Ty Lawson for the Rockets should make this an even more entertaining series. Now only if we could somehow forget that whole Hack-a-Jordan/Howard free-throw nightmare.

OKC Thunder vs the best of the West and the Cavs

As mentioned earlier, injuries plagued the young stars of the Thunder so it should be interesting to see if they are able to bounce back and regain their place in the top tier of the West. With Durant and Ibaka hopefully back healthy, the Thunder will have some much improved teams to deal with in the West.

So besides the Cleveland Cavaliers, it seems the East didn’t even need to apply. Da Bulls who?

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Bryant’s optimism not as misguided as you might think

(photo from www.variety.com)

Kobe Bryant made headlines last week by proclaiming his Lakers could be good enough to make the playoffs this year. The Lakers were atrocious last year, finishing second from the bottom in the West due to a rash of injuries, but mostly due to a roster that was better fit for the D-League.

And yet, Lakers’ pride has reason to exhale. This year’s team will look nothing like last year’s concoction of misfits. Jeremy Lin, Jordan Hill, Ed Davis, Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Price, Wesley Johnson, Wayne Ellington and Xavier Henry are gone. Mitch Kupchak and the rest of Lakers’ brass were extremely active this offseason, desperately trying to build a contender in what may be #24’s swan song season.

They didn’t reel in a big fish free agent that Laker fans had hoped for. LaMarcus Aldridge nearly chose LA, having met with Lakers’ officials twice before ultimately succumbing to a realistic shot at a title and becoming the heir apparent to Tim Duncan in San Antonio. Instead, they acquired Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams and Brandon Bass, additions that don’t make the purple and gold sudden championship contenders by any stretch of the imagination, but a solid trio nonetheless. Hibbert provides a much needed presence beneath the rim while Williams and Bass will add more scoring options to a team that is too reliant on one player to shoulder the load offensively.

Third overall draft pick D’Angelo Russell is probably the team’s most intriguing offseason addition. Russell, combined with an already promising guard in Jordan Clarkson, make the backcourt in LA a very young and talented one. It will be interesting to watch how Russell adjusts to pro ball. Unlike many rookie guards, the lefty has a smooth touch from the perimeter. Jump shooting is one of his strengths and his ability to finish at the rim shouldn’t be overlooked. And while he isn’t the most explosive player, his backcourt mate may be the Lakers’ most athletic player. At 6’4″ Clarkson entertained audiences throughout his rookie campaign with a litany of highlight reel plays. His length, to go along with that of Russell, could prove to be an under-the-radar weapon in LA.

But as has been the case the last few years, the health of Kobe Bryant remains paramount. If the Black Mamba can stay healthy, the Lakers have a chance to live up to his optimistic outlook. With a solid batch of offseason reinforcements and youthful promise abound, Laker fans can exhale.

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DiMoro’s Call: Landing Spot Predictions for 5 Top Free Agents

(Bruce Ely/The Oregonian)

As we inch closer to the official start of 2015 NBA Free Agency and rumors are swirling, I wanted to take a look at 5 of the Top Free Agents and where I project them to end up signing. I based my predictions on what I have gathered from reading reports, my gut feeling and how I perceive the free agent landscape panning out once Wednesday arrives.

For each free agent I’ll provide a darkhorse team to watch. So, just in case you haven’t had your fill of NBA free agent speculation (is there ever enough?) here are a few more tidbits to help feed the appetite for more free agency talk.

For those looking for LeBron James on this list, he isn’t. Why? Because I don’t think for one minute he won’t re-sign in Cleveland.

 

LaMarcus Aldridge

LaMarcus Aldridge’s schedule of visits reads like a band’s national tour.

According to reports he is scheduled to meet with the Los Angeles Lakers first. After he meets with the Lakers he’ll then meet with the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks (in that order).

Many people have Aldridge signing with San Antonio but I’m not completely sold that it’s pretty much a “lock” he ends up in silver and black. Yahoo Sports is reporting that Tim Duncan will reportedly join Tony Parker and Gregg Popovich when they meet with LaMarcus Aldridge in Los Angeles on Wednesday so it appears San Antonio is preparing their full court press.

But I don’t think the Spurs are interested in anything dragged out in terms of Aldridge’s decision process. So, if Aldridge leaves the meeting without a deal with the Spurs ironed out, I think it’s more likely he ends up in another uniform.

So who could that team be?

Although many would think the Mavericks or Lakers would be my choice, I think the Phoenix Suns could be a team to watch here. They have a young roster and a big need (no pun intended) for a low-post presence like Aldridge. This move would make a lot of sense and the style the Suns play could appeal to the offensive-minded Aldridge.

This is if, and a big if, he leaves his meetings with the Lakers and Spurs without deals.

Signs with: San Antonio Spurs

Darkhorse: Phoenix Suns

 

Kevin Love

Cavalier fans may not be too high on Kevin Love but he certainly is in their long-term plans.

I don’t anticipate anything dramatic happening unless the negotiations drag out a bit. The only team I would think could put a wrench in the Cavs’ plans to re-sign Love would be the Los Angeles Lakers, but I think with LeBron James putting pressure on the organization to improve the quality of talent of their roster the Cavs will get this nipped in the bud.

I anticipate Love being signed on Day 1 of free agency.

Signs with: Cleveland Cavaliers

Darkhorse: Los Angeles Lakers

 

Marc Gasol

This might be the most boring of the list.

All report are indicating the the Memphis Grizzlies are re-signing Gasol and Gasol has no visits scheduled outside of his meetings with Memphis.

I think of all the names on this list, Gasol re-signing with the Grizzlies is the closest to being a “lock”

Signs with: Memphis Grizzlies

 

DeAndre Jordan

According to ESPN, Jordan is 50/50 split between returning to the Los Angeles Clippers or signing with the Dallas Mavericks. Bottom line; he is likely staying in Los Angeles. How’s that for a headline?

At the end of the day I think Jordan will ink with the Lakers. The fact that he is even 50/50 on a decision to stay or leave isn’t a good sign for the Clippers in my opinion and I don’t think many Clipper fans are going to be heartbroken over his departure (judging from your reactions on social media)

There isn’t really a ‘darkhorse’ here since it’s pretty much a three team race, but I think the allure of a fresh start with the Lakers will be too good for Jordan to pass up.

Signs with: Los Angeles Lakers

Darkhorse: Dallas Mavericks/ Los Angeles Clippers

Greg Monroe

Detroit is likely to lose the services of Monroe, who will be seeking a lucrative short-term deal to test life outside of the Pistons’ organization.

A lot of reports link Monroe to the New York Knicks and it makes plenty of sense, but I think team’s like the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Lakers could come calling if they lose out on LaMarcus Aldridge.

Don’t count out the Los Angeles Clippers or the Portland Trailblazers either, but something tells me the biggest threat to a union of Monroe and the Knicks are the Toronto Raptors.

Signs with: New York Knicks

Darkhorse: Toronto Raptors

 

 

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5 Observations and Rants to Chew on During the NBA Playoffs

(Image from DailyNexus.com)

 

With the NBA playoffs off and running there’s been no shortage of story lines and talking points for us fans to chew on. I’ll save my series-by-series breakdown for my Second Round Preview and Picks column set to go up in about a week. But here are some observations and rants that I want to get off my chest in the mean time.

 

1. Derrick Rose is playing like a man on a mission.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: “Derrick Rose hasn’t played a playoff game since April 28, 2012.”

Other Chicago Bulls narratives that just get beaten to death in no specific order:

  • Derrick Rose will never again be the player we saw in 2012.
  • Tom Thibodeau has worn out his welcome in Chicago.
  • (Enter any Bulls player here) can’t stay healthy.
  • It’s now or never for the Bulls to win a championship.

Yada yada yada, we get the picture.

In 51 regular season games this year , Derrick Rose averaged 17.7 points, 4.9 assists, and 3.2 rebounds in 30 minutes/game. If his per game stats left something to be desired, then his 40-28-81 shooting splits certainly made Bull’s fans pull their hair out.

The NBA playoffs are a time where 16 fortunate teams start off 0-0 again. “New year, new me” is a lie that many of us tell ourselves every January 1st, but Rose has taken this resolution to heart. So far in these playoffs, he’s averaged 24 points, 8 assists, and 4 rebounds in 37.8 minutes/game. His efficiency has improved dramatically, as well, putting up 47-45-92 shooting splits. While the sample size may be small (three games), D-Rose has obviously made it a point to play every game as if it’s his last . If he’s going to go out, he’s going to go out playing the way he loves.

He’s confident, he’s fearless, and he’s back.

 

 

2. Insert mandatory “Tim Duncan defies father time” acknowledgement here.

Many fans will remember game two of the Clippers-Spurs series for Blake Griffin’s triple-double, or his untimely/unforced turnover with 13 seconds left in regulation . It’s fair to say I’ll remember that game for those reasons too. But what most of us won’t remember is the historical significance of this game.

(Image from AirAlamo.com) How is it possible that the best power forward of all time doubles as the best player that nobody talks about?

Tim Duncan led the Spurs with a 28 point, 11 rebound performance, marking the 100th playoff game he’s posted at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. What really stands out to me is not the quantity of these games, but the duration. Tim Duncan now has 20/10 playoff games 17 years apart. It took a little digging, but turns out only three other players in NBA history have put 20/10 playoff performances at least 17 years apart: Magic Johnson (17), Karl Malone (18), and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (20) [A thousand pardons to any legend I may have missed]. While you’re at it, throw in that Duncan became the fifth player in NBA history to score 5,000 playoff points.

Longevity is rare for NBA players; productive longevity is even rarer. Dominant longevity? He’s on the shortlist.

 

3. Stop calling it “Hack-a-Jordan!”

This section isn’t about why the “Hack-a-whomever” strategy is ruining the NBA; or how it’s a brilliant chess move employed by the wisest of coaches. This is about what’s right!

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Stop calling intentional fouls “Hack-a-Jordan” or “Hack-a-Dwight.” Heck, I even heard Mike Krzyzewski say “Hack-a-Okafor” once this season! You know why Hack-a-Shaq sounds so natural and smooth? Because it’s a cool phrase and it rhymes. Not only do these contemporary examples not rhyme, the last one is just an aberration of proper grammar!

(Image from NBA.com) Hack-a-Jordan sounds like another phrase for “The Jordan Rules”  that the Pistons employed during the Michael Jordan era

Hack-a-Shaq is an homage to the only strategy that (sometimes) stopped Shaquille O’Neal from dominating games. Swiping at DeAndre Jordan and calling it “Hack-a-Jordan” is an insult to Shaq and his legacy. We haven’t changed the “Ted Stepien Rule ” to the “James Dolan Rule,” or the “Larry Bird Exception ” to the “Carmelo Anthony Exception,” so why is this even an issue? Let’s not become prisoners of the modern-day NBA. These may not be the first examples of their respective rules; but they’re the most famous examples, and we have to respect that.

DeAndre Jordan has had 29 free throw attempts in the first three games of this series , so expect to see a lot more hacking (oddly enough he had zero free throw attempts in game three). I propose that every time he’s intentionally fouled, fans call it “Hack-a-Shaq.” Every time Dwight Howard is hacked, call it “Hack-a-Shaq.” Every time Rondo is hacked….oh wait, never mind (too soon?).

Let’s a Hack-a-Shaq this Hack-a-Jordan nonsense until justice is served.

 

4. Rick Carlisle should tread carefully moving forward.

To put it bluntly, Rajon Rondo stunk this year. The Mavericks were 20-8 when they traded for him, and finished the season 30-24. As if his shooting woes weren’t bad enough (43-31-40) , he was also constantly bickering with the coach and appeared to have his own agenda during games. I’m not going to fault the Mavericks for making this trade. I thought it was a good gamble to bring in a former all-star point guard with championship pedigree; the right cards just didn’t come out. The benching was warranted; I know that, you know that, and the media knows that.

The players may view this differently, though.

The NBA being the player-driven league that it is, players don’t like to be alienated and publicly benched; especially during primetime NBA playoff games. They don’t like hearing coaches take shots at their players. And they REALLY don’t like it when this stuff happens during contract years; because now it’s affecting their money.

(Image from NESN.com) Those who live by the system shall perish by the system

This isn’t college basketball where the coach is the face of their program. It’s the front office’s job to bring in the right players, and it’s the coach’s job to coach said players. If the players don’t fit the coach’s system, then that coach needs to change his system to best utilize his players. If the coach cannot do that, then he’s relieved of his duties. This is why system coaches typically do not survive in the NBA. Gregg Popovich is obviously the exception, a system coach surviving in a players’ league.

The Mavericks have nearly $34 million coming off their books after this year , and there’s a star-studded free agency class this summer. It’s worth noting that pending free agent LaMarcus Aldridge is a Dallas native who also played his college ball in Texas. With Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, and Chandler Parsons all under contract for the next two years, it’s reasonable to believe that the Mavericks could contend for a championship next year if they strike gold in free agency.

Rick Carlisle is walking down a bumpy road, because not many coaches have been able to duplicate what Pop has accomplished. Players don’t take kindly to coaches putting them in their place; and some players may think twice about signing up to play for such a strict coach. Mark Cuban appears to have Carlisle’s back for now, despite the Rondo fiasco. If not for the 2011 championship he helped bring to Dallas, Carlisle may be coaching somewhere else. But if a player like LaMarcus Aldridge this summer or Kevin Durant next summer snubs Dallas because Carlisle rubs them the wrong way, don’t think for a second that Mark Cuban won’t hit up the coaching carousel.

Rick Carlisle has to decide right now what kind of coach he’s going to be. His job depends on it.

 

5. I was mad at the Scott Brooks firing, until I remembered he should have been fired years ago.

Ok, I’m cheating a little bit here. This is not a playoff story. But in all fairness, Scott Brooks’ firing was at the top of the headlines despite playoff basketball going on. I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least comment on what happened.

Scott Brooks was not the reason why the Oklahoma City Thunder failed to make the playoffs this year. The reason is that their three best players, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka, missed a combined 88 regular season games and still only managed to miss the playoffs by virtue of a tie-breaker. Hats off to Brooks for accomplishing this feat in the loaded Western Conference.

(Image from USAToday.com) It’s hard to imagine that Scott Brooks will ever coach a team as talented as the Thunder again

But as I said in the last section, it’s the coach’s job to adjust their system to maximize the talent of their players. The Oklahoma City Thunder have had two of the best 10 players in the NBA on their roster for the last five years, with only one finals appearance to show for it. Yes, injuries have had a large part to do with that result; but at a certain point you have to look at this team’s body of work.

How many times have we watched Russell Westbrook shoot the ball on three or four straight possessions, then give the ball to Kevin Durant so that he could shoot the ball on three or four straight possessions? How many times have we seen Durant AND Westbrook on the bench for prolonged stretches during big games? How many times have we seen Kendrick Perkins play crunch time minutes in those same big games?

It’s not very often that I’ve said to myself, “Scott Brooks just out-coached (insert any top 5 coach here).” I’ll give him credit for developing Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, and James Harden. It can’t be a coincidence that all four of these players turned into dominant players at their positions. But as far as coaching acumen goes, Scott Brooks peaked with this team three years ago.

 

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NBA Playoffs First Round Preview and Picks (Part 1: Western Conference)

(Image from BouncyOrangeBall.com)

 

As the 82-game round robin has ended, so do the seasons of 14 NBA teams. For some, the season ended in the last couple weeks in which they were not able to do enough to secure a playoff berth. For most teams though, the season ended long before the clock hit 00:0 at the end of game 82.  However for 16 fortunate teams, a new journey has begun; a new beast to conquer. Yes, 16 wins separates them from the Larry O’Brien trophy and a place in basketball immortality. In a league that determines greatness by the rings on your fingers, legacies are often built and broken during these next eight weeks. As the weather continues to warm up, so does the NBA action; and every big time performance, buzzer-beater, and upset win will get lumped into the inevitable “NBA Playoffs: Where Amazing Happens” montage.

Speaking of where amazing happens…

Last year’s first round gave us what I believe to be the most exciting opening round in recent history, as it included an NBA record five game sevens, three of the eight match ups ending with an upset, a series-ending block at the buzzer , and a series-ending 3-pointer at the buzzer .

Some NBA pundits are bearish on this year’s first round of the NBA playoffs. While I don’t anticipate five game sevens, this year’s opening round should still give us some exciting basketball.

Walk with me as I put myself, as well as my credibility out in the open and make my first round picks and predictions.

Part 1: Western Conference

Part 2: Eastern Conference

Western Conference

If the Western Conference playoffs were a reality TV show, it’d be called Survivor: Western Conference. Each team brings a different set of skills to the island. Where the older, more experienced contestants are typically the favorites to win the grand prize, some of the younger contestants have shown the creativity and resourcefulness to make a deep run in the competition. It’s a conference where at least seven fan bases can make a reasonable argument as to why their team belongs in the NBA Finals.

 

And the first round match ups…

 

(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) New Orleans Pelicans

Records: GSW 67-15; NOP 45-37

Season Series: GSW 3 – NOP 1

Let me start off by congratulating the Golden State Warriors for finishing the season 67-15, tying the 1991-92 Bulls for the third best regular season record of all-time.

The Warriors bring their MVP frontrunner (Stephen Curry), their coach of the year candidate (Steve Kerr), their super deep/healthy team, and the NBA’s best home court advantage (39-2 at the Oracle Arena) into a first round matchup with the allegedly “happy to be here” Pelicans of New Orleans.

(Image from BasketSession.com)(Left to Right) Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Klay Thompson, Jrue Holiday

The Pelicans basically started their postseason on the last day of the regular season with a home game against the reigning champion Spurs. The Spurs needed a win to clinch a 2-seed, and the Pellies needed a win to secure a playoff spot. In stunning fashion, the Pelicans outlasted the Spurs 108-103 in one of the most emotional “play-in” games in recent memory.

The interesting thing about these teams’ season series is that Anthony Davis only played in two of the four games: a 27 point loss in Golden State (12/14/2014) and a 3 point win in New Orleans (04/07/2015). In his two games against the Dubs, The Brow went for 30 points, 15 rebounds, and 3 blocks, and 29 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 blocks.

The Warriors may lead the league in defensive efficiency (98.2), but they cannot stop Anthony Davis from doing Anthony Davis things. The Pelicans face their own conundrum, though: how do they stop the Splash Brothers? Jrue Holiday, a capable defender when healthy, has played only three games since returning from a stress reaction in his right leg. While Pelicans Coach Monty Williams hopes Holiday can start for his squad against the Warriors, history tells us that he probably won’t be that effective, as he still has to get back into “game shape.”

Predictions:

The Warriors will not stop Anthony Davis. The best Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, and the rest of the front court can hope to do is slow the man down; try to limit his production. The Warriors are a sophisticated defensive team. If Davis is going to put up big numbers, they’ll be sure to make sure their next best players don’t get hot. This shouldn’t be a tall order, considering Tyreke Evans and company aren’t the most imposing of threats.

My prediction for the Warriors is that they’ll lose two home games in their entire playoff campaign. Steve Kerr’s lack of playoff coaching experience may haunt him in certain spots in the playoffs, but not verse the Pelicans. Too much Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and overall depth will be the demise of the Pelicans.

Warriors defeat Pelicans in 5

 

(4) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies

Records: Por 51-31; Mem 55-27

Season Series: Por 0 – Mem 4

The Portland Trail Blazers sent ripples across the West with their Northwest Division Title. NBA rules mandate that all division winners are awarded home court advantage in the first round, despite their overall record. This explains why the Blazers have a 4-seed when they finished with the West’s 6th best record. The Grizz would have found themselves in the 4/5 match up, anyway (this time as a 4-seed); except they would’ve been paired with the reigning champion Spurs. In retrospect, the Grizzlies might have been the only winners in this fiasco. I’m sure your favorite team would sacrifice home court advantage for one series to not play against the Spurs; “Search your feelings, you know it to be true,” I say in my best Darth Vader impression.

The Portland Trail Blazers were 40-19 and title contenders going into their March 5th match up with the Dallas Mavericks. The Blazers may have won that night in regards to the box score, but they lost when Wesley Matthews went down with a ruptured achilles tendon. The Blazers were already battling injuries all season long, but the Matthews injury was the most devastating. Not only was Matthews their best defender, but he was the leader of the locker room. The Blazers stumbled to the finish with a 10-12 record in their final 22 games.

(Image from FanSided.com) Both Portland and Memphis had title aspirations as late as February. Injuries and sluggish play have sent them back to reality.

The Memphis Grizzlies also started their season strong with title aspirations. They acquired swingman Jeff Green from the Celtics in a mid-season trade to boost their offense. The trade appeared to be just what the Grizz needed, as they went 15-3 in the 18 games following the swap. However, Memphis played .500-ball down the stretch, going 14-13 in their final 27 games. The “can this team score enough points to make a deep run” questions began to resurface with theirs sluggish play down the stretch.

The theme of this playoff match up is ‘injuries.’ With Wesley Matthews out for the postseason, Dorrell Wright sidelined with a broken hand, and LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicholas Batum, Arron Afflalo, CJ McCollum, and Chris Kaman all battling injuries, the Blazers certainly have their work cut out for them. Fortunately for them, the Grizzlies are also a little bit banged up. Mike Conley is questionable for game one, and Zach Randolph and Tony Allen are both coming off injuries of their own.

Memphis has Portland’s number this season, winning the series 4-0. Portland has also gone 1-7 in their last 8 games against playoff teams.  The Blazers are just too hurt right now.

Predictions:

While the Grizzlies may have played .500-basketball down the stretch, they’re still one of the five best defensive teams in the NBA.  Aldridge and Robin Lopez will struggle down low against the best defensive front court in the league. Portland’s lack of depth will ultimately be there killer.

Grizzlies defeat Trail Blazers in 5

 

(3) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (6) San Antonio Spurs

Records: LAC 56-26; SAS 55-27

Season Series: LAC 2 – SAS 2

If there’s any team that should be angry with the Trail Blazers earning a 4-seed, it’s the Los Angeles Clippers.

As I mentioned earlier, legacies are often made or broken in the NBA playoffs. Chris Paul knows this reality all too well. After all, the biggest glitch on his Hall of Fame resume is the fact that he has yet to compete in a conference finals in his career. The NBA’s most offensively efficient point guard has led the league’s most offensively efficient team to a third straight 56+ win season and a 3-seed in the playoffs. Though, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give credit to another key player. DeAndre Jordan’s most dominant season couldn’t have come at a better time. With Blake Griffin struggling to follow up his own breakout year, DeAndre has kept the front court afloat and the paint off limits to any intruder.

(Image from USAToday.com) Doc Rivers has turned DeAndre Jordan in to a top five center worthy of a max contract this summer

The Clippers’ reward for their regular season success: having to play the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs in the first round.

I don’t think the Spurs will lose too much sleep over being a 6-seed. After all, how many times have we seen Coach Gregg Popovich not take the regular season seriously until the final leg? Yes, the Spurs did what the Spurs do best: coast through the regular season, get hot late, and ride that momentum into the playoffs. Following the Spurs cardiac arrest-inducing overtime loss to the New York Knicks on St. Patty’s Day, Pop’s crew went 14-2 in their final 16 games, with wins over the Hawks, Mavs, Grizzlies, Warriors, Thunder (twice), and the Rockets (also twice). Tim Duncan is still showing us why he’s the greatest power forward of all time, and Kawhi Leonard has emerged as one of the best two-way players in the league.

The Clippers drew even with the Spurs after falling behind 2-0 in the season series. Both teams have a win on the opponent’s court to their credit.

Predictions:

The playoffs are often a chess match, and Gregg Popovich understands this better than anyone. The last time these teams faced each other, it was Pop ordering the “Hack-a-Shaq” on DeAndre Jordan, sending him to the free throw line for 28 free throw attempts (DJ made 10 of 28). Look for Pop to continue this strategy to neutralize Jordan’s dominance inside. Coach Doc Rivers will sit Jordan for pro-longed stretches late in games; thus, diminishing the effect of the Paul-Griffin-Jordan Big-3. The Spurs momentum and depth will overpower LA’s talent.

Spurs defeat Clippers in 6

 

(2) Houston Rockets vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks

Records: Hou 56-26; Dal 50-32

Season Series: Hou 3 – Dal 1

Last summer Chandler Parsons agreed to a contract with the Dallas Mavericks, and the Houston Rockets elected not to match the offer. Instead, they brought in veteran swingman and former champion Trevor Ariza to replace the former Florida Gator. James Harden said of Parsons’ departure ,

“Dwight (Howard) and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets. The rest of the guys are role players or pieces that complete our team. We’ve lost some pieces and added some pieces. I think we’ll be fine next season.”

I’d say those are fighting words.

Other notable narratives in no particular order:

  • Veteran point guard Jason Terry was a member of the Dallas Mavericks’ 2011 championship team, and now plays a large role for the Houston Rockets
  • Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban have a rivalry that’s been brewing for a few years; since Morey won over Dwight Howard in 2013 and tried to sign Dirk Nowitzki in the 2014 free agency period.
  • The intrastate rivalry probably has something to with it too, don’t ya think?

What James Harden has done one year removed from a putrid playoff performance is unbelievable. The MVP candidate has led his injury depleted team to 56 wins and a 2-seed in a loaded Western Conference, without having Dwight Howard on the court with him for 41 games. James Harden skeptics are quick to argue that he will not be able to carry his Rockets team deep into the playoffs; that the NBA playoffs are not designed for one player to carry the load. A healthy Dwight Howard is exactly what the Rockets need to advance.

(Image from Zimbio.com) Former comrades James Harden (left) and Chandler Parsons (right) will square off for the first time in a playoff series, eager to prove each other wrong

What concerns me moving forward, though, are a trio of injuries for the Rockets that emerged over the last month. Starting point guard and pesky defender Patrick Beverly, back-up center Donatas Motiejunas, and rookie shooting guard KJ McDaniels will miss the entire postseason.

As for the Mavericks…

The 2011 championship band is back together after trading for Tyson Chandler and signing JJ Barea last summer. And the addition of Chandler Parsons last summer was aimed to serve as  a reinforcement on the perimeter. I was one of the people who believed that the Rajon Rondo trade would make the Dallas Mavericks the favorites coming out of the Western Conference. Instead, the Mavs gave up their front court depth for a point guard that’s more stats-oriented than team-oriented, and rocks a 44-35-45 shooting split in his time with the Mavericks.

One final stat: the Dallas Mavericks would be the first team to ever win a playoff series with a point guard who started at least 46 games, shot less than 45% from the field, 36% from three, and 50% from the free throw line. Just saying.

Predictions:

Rondo’s ineffectiveness will offset the Patrick Beverly injury to an extent. Houston’s injuries will keep this series close, as will Dwight Howard’s inability to find a rhythm early on in the match up. The Mavericks will beat the crap out of James Harden every time he draws a foul in the paint, but it’ll be Harden sticking a fork in the Mavericks with his big play down the stretch.

Rockets defeat Mavericks in 7

 


 

That’s it for the Western Conference Playoffs first round preview. Hang tight for my Eastern Conference predictions and picks coming in Part 2!

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Top Ten Bigs

(Photo  from  triangleoffense.com)

#10 – Dirk Nowitzki

I was a little skeptical to put Dirk on the list but his consistency boosted his ranking to the 10th spot. Dirk is still a dangerous scorer and high quality shooter. In the offseason, he even worked on a quicker release since he’s a step slower. Throughout his career, no matter the point guard, he has executed the pick-and-pop like no other. He is still very capable of isolating a defender with his back to the basket or a quick face-up, one-legged fade away. 20 ppg is easily expected out of Dirk but I do foreshadow some obstacles in the upcoming season. The Mavericks have added another scorer in Chandler Parsons to the mix which will essentially decrease Dirk’s touches. Jameer Nelson has also been acquired which can be a gift or a curse. Nelson has shown his compatibility with Dwight Howard but you won’t catch him throwing no-look alley-oops to Dirk. Instead, noting the history of Nelson (former Dwight Howard teammate) and Tyson Chandler (former Chris Paul teammate) there is a possibility of an increase in pick and roll plays called for the two. However, despite all variables, Dirk is still the focal point in Dallas. And that won’t change until his number is raised in the rafters.

#9 – Joakim Noah

Last year in the absence of Derrick Rose for the majority of the season, Noah posted career highs in points per game (12.6), rebounds (11.3) and assists (5.4). Not to mention being awarded the defensive player of the year. Obviously the assists and rebounds will see a slight decrease in the return of Rose and arrival of Pau Gasol but Noah is still a solid big. He will still give the Bulls emotional intensity and play at a high level. Noah is one of those players you don’t have to worry about because he comes ready to play every night like it’s his last. He has a constant motor and a high basketball IQ.

#8 – Al Jefferson

Jefferson is a quiet 20 and 10 guy. He is usually overlooked and in my opinion, still underrated by most people. But contrary to the belief, he is a bully in the post. Jefferson has incredible footwork and post moves that leaves defenders in awe. The Hornets have added Lance Stephenson who has shown to be a hothead at times but does work well with big men. I don’t really see Jefferson’s points or rebounds taking a plunge due to any new acquisitions (Lance, Marvin Williams, Noah Vonleh). If anything, he may see a slight increase in points. Lance is an excellent pick and pop player as we saw last year with David West. Jefferson also possesses the ability to knock down mid-range jumpers. Charlotte made the playoffs last year as the 7th seed so expect them to be hungry to climb the standings. And with those hopes, Jefferson must one again produce All-Star numbers.

#7 – Kevin Love

Some people are probably shaking their head with Love only being ranked at 7 but allow me to make my case. Love was arguably the best power forward last year with 26.1ppg and 12.5rpg. Now allow me to throw this stat out there. The year prior to Bosh’s arrival in Miami, he averaged 24ppg and 10.8rpg. The stats between both players are very close to one another. That’s what usually happens when you’re the only star on the team. The first year Bosh played in Miami, he tallied 18.7ppg and 8.3rpg. The drop in points and boards isn’t mind blowing but it’s notable. What is also notable is that Bosh didn’t unite with another dominant big man (in terms of rebounding). Love will be battling for boards along side Anderson Varejao who pulled down nearly 10 boards per game. Love is a third option on a fast-paced team. It won’t be difficult to get him buckets but it will be nearly impossible for him to average the same numbers he did back in Minnesota.

Kevin Love Cleveland Cavaliers

 

#6 – Chris Bosh

Due to the departure of LeBron, Chris Bosh’s potential carries him to the #6 spot. Bosh has the ability to do it all as a big man. He can stretch the defense with his ability to knock down jumpshots, he has the footwork in the post, he can face up, back down and run across the lane with a floater. He’s an excellent team player but this year, Miami is looking for him to be a bit more selfish. Wade will be looked upon as another scorer but Bosh is easily the primary option. Complementary role players such as Luol Deng, Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts have been acquired to lessen the load but look for the offense to run through Bosh. In the 4 year span in games where neither Wade or James has played, Bosh looked like the Bosh of old. Expect him to happily accept his new role.

#5 – Blake Griffin

It hurts me to put Blake at #5 because he’s my favorite big man but it’s where he belongs. Blake has easily become a fan favorite throughout the years with his highlight ability. His jumpshot drastically improved last year and so did his play-making ability. He’s one of the few bigs who doesn’t necessarily need to outlet the ball after a rebound. He has skill to bring the ball up himself and facilitate or create another poster. He’s a very dominant, physical presence that bangs in the paints. And from the look of preseason, his free throws may have improved. Over 20ppg is easily expected whether Chris Paul stays healthy or not. He has clearly shown that last year.

#4 – DeMarcus Cousin

BOOGIE! Expect a big year from Cousins. The Kings were a disappointing 28-54 last season and they lost one of the three 20ppg scorers (Isaiah Thomas) to their division rival (Phoenix Suns). Coming home with a gold medal can’t hurt his confidence either. Sacramento replace Thomas with Darren Collison but it won’t be quite the same. After a summer with minority owner Shaquille O’Neal, Cousins has probably adopted the mindset of The Diesel himself. In other words, assume every time Cousins touches the ball he’s thinking “Barbeque Chicken”.

DeMarcus Cousins NBA

#3 – LaMarcus Aldridge

On paper, Aldridge was the 3rd among power forwards in scoring and 2nd in rebounds last year… in the regular season. However, in the playoffs Aldridge EXPLODED in the first round posting back-to-back 40 point games (one of which he snagged 18 rebounds) and averaged 30ppg and 11.2rpg against the Rockets. He has proved that he has the most promising mid-range jumper of all bigs. Double teams aren’t very frequent either due to the mass amount of shooters Portland has assembled. Expect Aldridge to will his team to a top 3 spot to secure a longer home court advantage. Significantly improving his numbers are unlikely but watch Aldridge sneak into the MVP talk.

#2 – Anthony Davis

Another favorite of mine who was number one before the appearance of Omer Asik. Last year, Asik had trouble staying healthy but when those problems doesn’t occur, he’s a double-double machine. You can’t (and shouldn’t) bank on someone’s injury so I believe that Davis will continue to improve as a star in this league despite Asik’s presence. His potential has just shrunk a bit. Davis is still the centerpiece to the Pelicans success but now Jrue Holiday has another player to play with. Davis significantly got better over the past year and with the combination of FIBA experience, moving to power forward and playoff aspirations, Davis has a chance at putting up some astonishing numbers. And let’s not forget, Davis is a huge shot blocker too. Went from average 1.8bpg to 2.8bpg in one season. He has more than enough potential to shock the world.

Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard NBA

 

#1 – Dwight Howard

Let me give you 3 words: NO MORE ASIK. Everyone has their own issue with Dwight Howard but you cannot argue that he is not the best big man in the world. He may not have the arsenal of offensive moves like other big men but everyone knows what he is going to do and no one can stop him. It’s simple “Give me the ball, move out the way and I’m going straight through whoever’s guarding me.” He’s an absolute defensive presence with his ability to send shots to the stands too. And now that he doesn’t have to share the paint with Asik OR share the ball with Chandler Parsons, I expect his points AND rebounds to increase. MVP candidate for sure. If you can’t stop Harden and Howard’s pick and roll, you’ll be in for a long night.

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