Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Memo to John Paxson

Dear Mr. Paxson,


You blew it! Everything your franchise has been working toward since the retirement of the man who legitimized you as anything more than a mildly effective spot-up shooter, you've doused with lighter fluid and torched.


I understand that it’s fun to be “loaded with young talent” and an “up and coming” team every year, but you were given the opportunity to trade for the NBA’s best player at price you could afford, and you… passed? For what? Luol Deng? You mean the same Luol Deng that passed on you by turning down a 5-year, $50 million contract extension? While Deng is clearly an excellent young player, even of he sticks around, he will never come close to having the impact of Kobe Bryant, both on the floor and in the cash register.


Since the end of the Michael Jordan era in 1998, the Chicago Bulls have focused on accumulating young talent and freeing up loads of cap space, all with an eye toward making a bold move to attract superstar talent returning to title contention in the NBA.


Heading into the season, your rumored trade for the NBA’s best player, Kobe Bryant, seemed inevitable. For a package consisting of some combination of Ben Gordon, Tyrus Thomas, Ben Wallace, Kirk Hinrich (but NOT Luol Deng!), plus cash and draft picks, the Bulls were on the doorstep of acquiring the best player of the post-Jordan era. However, as was the case with Pau Gasol, and Kevin Garnett before him, Kobe Bryant proved to be just a mirage- the latest in a series of attempts by the Bulls to complete their return to the NBA’s elite. After a decade of planning and scheming for a way to attract a top-flight NBA show-stopper to the Bulls, you not only failed to grab the best opportunity that will EVER present itself to you, you succeeded in turning the Chicago Bulls into a joke. Congratulations, you have officially supplanted the Knicks as the NBA’s “Team Who Cried Superstar” most often without acquiring an actual game-changing playmaker.


For all of the young talent on the Bulls, this is still a flawed team plagued by chronic issues like their slow starts to every season, as well as the lack of both an inside scoring threat and a bona fide “go-to guy”, not to mention the improvement of several teams at the top of the Eastern Conference. If these issues weren’t troublesome enough, a whole new series of obstacles are poised to slam the window shut on the championship aspirations of this Bulls’ era:


  • Both Luol Deng and Ben Gordon turned down 5-year, $50 million contract extensions before the start of the season. The ultimatum that is presents is simple- pay one (or both) of these solid #2 players superstar money ($13+ million/year), or turn back the clock to the 1999-2000 season.
  • After years of hoarding cap space, the man you finally elected to make a huge commitment to, one-time defensive stopper and rebounding specialist Ben Wallace, is a complete bust and looks to have aged about a decade in a little over a year. In addition to having lost his game, at a price tag of $44 million over the next three seasons (including 2007-08), he has NO trade value until he becomes Theo Ratliff 2.0 during the 2009-10 season, with his $14 million salary poised to come off the books.
  • Your other big-money man, Kirk Hinrich (owed $47.5 million thru 2011-12, including 200-08), is an inconsistent, foul-prone (3.33/game for his career) point guard, who’s not much of a shooter from the field (41.1 career; 37.3% in 2007-08).
  • Finally, for all the talk of highway robbery that circled around your trade of Eddy Curry to the New York Knicks, what do you really have to show for it? Well, you paid Tim Thomas to go away (he thrives elsewhere), I think Mike Sweetney and Jermaine Jackson parked my car at an Applebee’s last week, Tyrus Thomas is a very nice player (but’s he’s Shawn Marion without a Steve Nash), and Joakim Noah will go down as one of the most useless top-ten pick in recent memory. Hell, at least Curry’s good for double-figure points!


So let’s get this straight, in your time running the Bulls, you didn’t trade a guy who wouldn't re-sign with you in order to acquire the planet’s best player, you threw gobs of cash at two flawed and overrated players, and you traded Eddy Curry (an underachiever in his own right) for a package of 5 players, only two of whom are on your team today- and they’re giving you a stellar 11.6 points, 8.6 rebounds per game?


Man, you are a terrible GM! Lucky for you Isiah Thomas is still running amock in New York. Otherwise, the NBA might be focusing on what a joke you’ve turned the Bulls into!


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

It's Time For The Lakers To See What They've Got

It’s time to stop protecting Andrew Bynum- the Lakers need throw him into the fire and see what they’ve got. By now everyone knows that last season the team’s belief in Bymun’s potential as a franchise center led them to pass up the opportunity to acquire Jason Kidd, drawing the ire of Kobe Bryant and contributing, at least in part, to his desire to leave the Lakers.


The Lakers’ front office made an executive decision and now the team has to live with it. It’s time they started living with it already! Bynum is entering his third season, he’s visibly bigger and stronger than last year, he showed some flashes of his potential last season and had a very impressive preseason this year. He wasn’t bad in his 19 minutes on Tuesday night either- just 4 points, but 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals and no turnovers.


What are they waiting for? Name Andrew Bynum the starting center, start giving him some serious minutes and see what the kid can do. Not that it was a conscious decision at the time, but Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss indirectly chose Andrew Bynum over Kobe Bryant last season. Time to start living with that decision.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Apparently KG Has Outgrown His Smoke Room and Tea House

I'm thinking KG's gonna survive the mortgage crisis. In the aftermath of his trade to Boston, Kevin Garnett has elected to put his "home" (is that an understatement, or what?) on the market. The palatial estate is located in Orno, MN, a beautiful lakefront community on the outskirts of Minneapolis and features, among other things, a 10 car garage, a "smoke room" (pretty sure JR Rider's hiding in there!), a pool complex (complex?) and a tea house (that joke just makes itself).

The house was bought in 1998 for $6,450,000. Suffice it to say that KG know how to pick his real estate.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Dare to "Dream": Team USA Cruises to Gold in Las Vegas

Last weekend in Las Vegas, Team USA capped off what proved to be a mesmerizing performance in the Americas’ Tournament, earning both the tournament’s gold medal and an automatic berth in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing in the process. Team USA was unconscious from the perimeter in its semifinal blowout against Puerto Rico on Saturday, making over 60% of its shots from behind the arc, and blew Argentina, its most highly touted competition in the tournament, out of the gym in the first quarter of Sunday’s final. A thoroughly dominating performance the likes of which Team USA turned in during this tournament will invariably trigger comparisons to the gold standard of USA Basketball- 1992 Dream Team. More on this later. First, a quick look back at Labor Day Weekend for Team USA:

On Saturday afternoon, Team USA took the floor at the Thomas & Mack Center for its semifinal game against Puerto Rico, with not only a spot in the final of the Americas’ Tournament, but an automatic berth in next summer Olympic Games in China, at stake. The United States was facing Puerto Rico for the second time in four days, having blown them out 118-79 three days earlier. Despite a spirited effort from Puerto Rico, who were within six points after one quarter and down by just 15 at the half, this meeting turned out to be even more lopsided than the first, with Team USA cruising to a 135-91 victory against at outclassed Puerto Rico team. En route to the win, Team USA put on one of the most incredible shooting exhibitions in recent memory, making a ridiculous 23-of-36 3-point attempts (63.9%). The stars of the show were Carmelo Anthony, who got the USA off and running, making his first 6 3-pointers on his way to a team-high 27 points, and the 2nd half knockout punch that was Michael Redd, who added 23, thanks to making seven of his eight 3-point attempts. Even without the dialed-in combo of Redd and Melo, who knocked down thirteen of fifteen 3-point attempts, Team USA shot nearly 50% (10-for-21) from behind the arc, led by Mike Miller (4-for-6), Jason Kidd (2-for-3) and Kobe Bryant (2-for-4). Having made quick work of Puerto Rico and stamped its ticket to Beijing, Team USA looked ahead to a Sunday afternoon match-up against Argentina, its toughest competition and the next most talented team in the tourney. Smells like the recipe for a letdown, doesn’t it? Yeah, about that…

Since they’d both already qualified for the 2008 Olympics by simply qualifying for the final, national pride (and prettier medals) was the only thing at stake in the tournament final between Argentina and the United States. In the teams’ first meeting Argentina hadn’t pushed Team USA much harder than any other team in Vegas, although a late rally did cut the final deficit to a more respectable 15 points. On Sunday, Team USA looked like it may in for a bit of a fight, managing just a six point lead (20-14) in the game’s first 6 minutes. That was about all the suspense this game would provide, as over the next 4+ minutes, the Americans proceeded to drop the hammer on Argentina, scoring the last 15 points of the first quarter and opening the second with a Chauncey Billups 3-pointer. Halfway through second quarter, Team USA pushed the lead to thirty points and never looked back. The United States was led by LeBron James, whose performance in the tournament, was absolutely awe-inspiring. In the final, LBJ played another near-perfect game, leading four US players in double figures with 31 points on 11-of-15 from the floor, making eight of his eleven 3-point attempts, adding four rebounds and three assists. He finished the tournament shooting a video game-esque 76%. Dwight Howard turned in his best game of the tournament, making all seven of his field goals on the way to 20 points, adding 5 rebounds and 4 blocked shots as well. Kobe Bryant turned playmaker in Sunday’s victory, scoring just 5 points on six field goal attempts in 22 minutes, but adding an impressive eight assists.

Yes, it’s important to maintain perspective. But let’s not become incorrigible cynics in the process. The ultimate goal for the Team USA is a gold medal in Beijing, but their outstanding performance in Las Vegas shouldn’t be ignored. Team USA’s dominant showing in the America’s Tournament is exactly the shot in the arm that USA Basketball was in desperate need of. Congratulations to everyone on Team USA on this gold medal performance.

It was fantastic to see USA Basketball return to dominance, especially playing a beautiful and unselfish style of ball not seen since the 1990s. Speaking of the 90s, Team USA’s performance in Vegas raised a heretical question- could this team be as good as the 1992 Dream Team? I don’t have the answer but, if for no other reason than to show respect to Team USA’s present-day stars, the question deserves to be asked.

For fifteen years, ever since the gold medal ceremony in Barcelona, it has been universally accepted that no team will ever join the 1992 United States basketball team on the Mount Rushmore of basketball. Why is that? Two reasons- timing and sentimentality.

When the Dream Team took the floor in 1992, the popularity of the NBA was at an all-time high- Michael Jordan, fresh off leading the Chicago Bulls to consecutive NBA titles, was approaching mythic status, fans were eagerly awaiting the arrival of recent #1 over draft pick Shaquille O’Neal in Orlando, and despite their recent and imminent (respectively) retirements, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were international legends, each looking capitalize on the only chance he’d ever get at Olympic gold. In 1992, NBA fans were more plentiful, less jaded and emotionally committed to the game and its players. These factors, combined with the incredible anticipation of seeing NBA stars in the Olympics for the first time created the perfect backdrop for the Dream Team. The audience in 1992 was considerably more receptive than the one today.

Additionally, there is a generation of basketball fans that simply doesn’t want for there to ever be a team as good as the Dream Team. I’d like to think that I’m more objective and open-minded than that. But I’m not. I am a life-long Lakers fan, Magic Johnson was/still is my favorite NBA player ever, and I was 13 years-old in the Summer of ’92- you think I can keep myself from romanticizing the Dream Team even a little bit? And therein lies the problem. The NBA’s recent decline in popularity, along with USA Basketball’s recent failure to capture gold in any major competition have cast a could of cynicism over USA Basketball, a cloud so dark that a truly great team with statistical credentials similar to their legendary predecessors, could slip between the cracks.

There’s no way to scientifically compare this team with the 1992 version, but if we as basketball fans can part with our emotional biases, what we’ll see is that the gulf in talent, as well as achievement, is not nearly as large as we’d like to believe. The 1992 quartet of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley (Bird was omitted because he was injured and on the decline) was phenomenal to be sure, but were they so far out-of-this-world that Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudamire don’t even deserve the respect of a comparison? Did Christian Laettner really contribute any more than Tyson Chandler? What did Chris Mullin achieve in the NBA that, given time, Michael Redd couldn’t match? You get the picture.

As for performance on the international stage, let compare the teams’ respective showings in the Tournament of the Americas (now the Americas’ Tournament). It’s a small sample, I know, but in the interest of comparing the teams’ efforts in similar competitions, so far this is all there is. Consider this: in six games in the 1992 Tournament of the Americas in Portland, the Dream Team averaged 121 points per game and shot 63% from the field, while holding its opponents to 70 points per game on 38% from the field. In ten games (against superior competition) in 2007, Team USA averaged 117 points on just under 59% shooting and held the opposition to 77 points on just under 38% shooting. Is one team statistically superior to the other? Not if you consider the significant improvement in competition over the past fifteen years. Does one team have a clear edge in talent? The Dream Team had the legendary names and the greater body of NBA work, but talent gulf is not as wide many would think. Also, if fans could ever get past the dogmatic impression of Michael Jordan as an eternally untouchable “God in shorts”, the answer to this question becomes “not really”.

I’m not saying that one team is better or worse than the other, but if we remove emotion from analysis, this debate becomes one worth having. I realize that I’ve used an absurd amount of words here just to conclude, “Who knows?” but when comparing a basketball team to the 1992 Dream Team, it’s a pretty radical statement.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

LeBron Pitches A Perfect Game

LeBron James was a madman on Wednesday night. With leading scorer Carmelo Anthony on the bench with a sore heel and Kobe Bryant playing well, but hardly brilliantly, LBJ made Las Vegas’ Thomas and Mack Center his own personal playground. Against a very game Uruguayan team, the United States found itself searching for a spark. Despite holding a 12-point lead two minutes into the second quarter, Team USA had not looked particularly impressive, the offense running in fits and starts and their ball movement falling short of the standard they’d set in previous outings.


Enter LeBron James.


LBJ re-entered the game with about seven and a half minutes remaining in the second quarter, having already made all five of his first quarter attempts, three of them from behind the 3-point line. Within seconds of returning to the floor LeBron took a Jason Kidd pass on the left wing, elevated in the lane and hammered home as powerful a tomahawk dunk as you’ll ever see. Just over a minute later, LeBron slice through the Uruguayan defense for a transition lay-up, followed by an off-balance finger roll in the lane about ten seconds later. For those of you scoring at home, that’s 8-for-8 for LeBron, and a suddenly commanding 18-point lead for the United States. James added another 3-pointer and a bone-jarring dunk on the baseline just before halftime, giving him 26 points on a perfect 11-for-11 from the field, 4-for-4 on 3-pointers, and giving Team USA a commanding 66-38 halftime lead. It was one of the most exciting and impressive basketball clinics in recent memory, enough to leave anyone watching his performance laughing in disbelief.


Showing a quality that few possess and many relinquish upon entering Las Vegas, LBJ took his winnings and walked away at the highest point. In what was an inspired move by James and Coach K, LeBron spent the entire second half on the bench. With Team USA cruising to yet another blowout win, and a showdown with unbeaten Argentina looming on Thursday night, there was no point in having him on the floor any longer- both individually and from a team standpoint. LeBron had played the perfect game of basketball in the first half: 26 points, 11-11 field goals, 4-4 3-pointers, 4 assists, 2 steals 0 turnovers!


Outstanding work, LeBron! I’m glad I stayed up to “witness” that performance!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

USA Basketball Showing Signs of Recovery

Team USA looks really good.


I realize it’s only been two games. I also realize that Venezuela (ranked #21 in the world) and the Virgin Islands (#38) are not the stiffest of competition, but the United States men’s basketball team has looked downright unbeatable in the first two games of the FIBA America’s Championship in Las Vegas, winning by an average score of 118 (actually 117.5)- 64. That doesn’t just sorta happen. More than any U.S. national team since 1996, the current incarnation of USA Basketball has the look of an actual team, not just a collection of incompatible individual talents that happen to be wearing identical shirts. A chemistry exists between the members of this team that only results from genuine commitment and a desire to make the game easier for one another.


Obviously it’s important to maintain some perspective. Needless to say, this team is only beginning its journey, and match-ups against Brazil and Argentina will serve to either validate this early dominance or to brutally strip off its luster. However, it must be said that right now this team has come flying out of the gates, looking like it actually believes that not only will it not be beaten, but that no team in the world can eve compete. Kobe Bryant has been an outstanding playmaker, looking to make the extra pass that will get his teammates an easy bucket. He, Jason Kidd and Chauncey Billups bring experience and a winning pedigree to a team that otherwise has little of either. Aside from this trio, Team USA has a combined 3 trips to the NBA Finals (LeBron James and Tayshaun Prince twice) and just one championship ring (Prince). Additionally, Michael Redd and Mike Miller give this squad a deadly outside threat that’s been missing since Chris Mullin and Reggie Miller were wearing the red, white and blue.


With a full complement of backcourt players, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony (particularly LeBron) have been afforded the luxury of being able to play almost exclusively on the wing, rather than having to both set up the offense and finish going to the basket. Playing with talented guards that can spot passing lanes and get him the ball has revealed the possibility that LeBron James is truly at his best making cuts in the halfcourt and filling the lane on the break, not bringing the ball up the court and setting up the offense. Add in the inside presence of Dwight Howard and Amare Stoudemire, two of the NBA’s top big men, the maturity and defense of Tayshaun Prince, as well as the defense and rebounding of Tyson Chandler (underrated!), and Team USA really does not have any glaring weaknesses. What will happen when this team lines up against the likes of Brazil and Argentina? That remains to be seen. But right now, it needs to be said-this team is STACKED!


Allow me to reiterate. I’m not saying that dishing out a couple of beatdowns to a couple of marginal international teams is cause to hang a “Mission Accomplished” from the roof of the Bellagio. However, the way in which Team USA has dominated these games is extremely encouraging. These guys are looking to make the extra pass, hitting the open man on lobs and backdoor cuts and, most importantly, protecting the ball (15 turnovers in 2 games; just 4 turnovers against the Virgin Islands). Beyond that, this version of Team USA just has the look of team that’s out for blood. These guys look like they are on a mission.


Now that we’ve seen they’ve got it in them, let’s hope they can maintain their focus, because this team has to potential to be special.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

All-Time NBA Starting Fives- Northwest Division

With the All-time Starting Fives for the NBA’s Eastern Conference franchises in the books, it’s time to jump into the Western Conference. I’m going to start today with the Northwest Division. Have fun reading and debating these. As with the previous batches, I had a great time putting these together! I’m very eager to hear your opinions.


NORTHWEST DIVISION


DENVER NUGGETS

PG- Lafayette Lever (17.0 ppg, 45.4% FG, 78% FT, 7.6 rpg, 7.5 apg in 474 games)- A woefully underrated player. Other than Magic Johnson, the best all-around point guard of the 80s. He scored, shot a good percentage, and check out his rebounding and assist numbers!

SG- David Thompson (23.7 ppg, 50.6% FG, 77.6% FT, 3.9 rpg, 3.4 apg in 415 games)- One of the best NCAA players ever. Along with Dr. J, Thompson is responsible for taking the NBA game “above the rim”. If not for injuries and substance abuse, he’d be one of the all-time greats.

SF- Alex English (25.9 ppg, 50.9% FG, 84.0% FT, 5.6 rpg, 4.4 apg, in 837 games)- English had some stiff competition from Kiki Vandeweghe and Carmelo Anthony here, but his scoring, better-than-expected rebounding and assists and “face of the franchise” status won out.

PF- Antonio McDyess (18.2 ppg, 48.6% FG, 65% FT, 9.0 rpg, 1.7 bpg in 361 games)- Before injuries turned him into a role player, McDyess was one of the best young PFs in the NBA. George McGinnis got a look here too, but McDyess’ played three times as many games in Denver.

C- Dikembe Mutombo (12.9 ppg, 52.3% FG, 65% FT, 12.3 rpg, 3.8 apg in 391 games)- A two-man race between centers with contrasting styles. Dan Issel outstanding offensive game made a strong case, but the nod goes to the NBA’s best defensive centers of the 90s.


MINNESOTA TIMBERWOVES

PG- Terrell Brandon (15.6 ppg, 45% FG, 89.5% FT, 3.5 rpg, 8.3 apg in 202 games)- A solid PG everywhere he went, Brandon’s teams just never won enough for him to become a star. More interesting here is that Stephon Marbury came in third, behind Brandon and… Pooh Richardson!!!

SG- Isaiah Rider (18.8 ppg, 45.9% FG, 82.2% FT, 3.8 rpg, 2.9 apg, in 229 games)- One of the most gifted, and dumbest, players in NBA history. Rider was a pretty easy choice here since Sprewell’s numbers didn’t real stack up well and, well, he was REALLY good for a while.

SF- Christian Laettner (17.2 ppg, 47.4% FG, 81.4% FT, 8.1 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.2 spg in 276 games)- Laettner’s NBA career never lived up to hype of his NCAA dominance, but he was actually a very productive pro. His main competition here? The immortal Tony Campbell (seriously, a franchise-record 20.6 ppg in 237 games!).

PF- Kevin Garnett (20.5 ppg, 49.1% FG, 78% FT, 11.4 rpg, 4.5 apg, 1.4 spg, 1.7 bpg in 851 games)- Almost as easy as SG for the Bulls. He is (still!) the face of this franchise and one of the greatest all-around forwards ever to play the game.

C- Felton Spencer (6.0 ppg, 47% FG, 69.7% FT, 6.6 rpg, 1.2 bpg in 213 games)- Center for the Timberwolves may be the worst position in NBA history. Spencer won an epic battle against Rasho Nesterovic and Sean Rooks. You could make a case for Rasho here.


PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS

PG- Terry Porter (14.9 ppg, 47% FG, 84.6% FT, 38.5% 3PT, 3.5 rpg, 7.0 apg, 1.6 spg in 758 games)- A team leader and an excellent postseason guard. Porter teamed with Clyde Drexler in the best backcourt in franchise history, appearing in 2 NBA Finals.

SG- Clyde Drexler (20.8 ppg, 47.8% FG, 78.9% FT, 6.2 rpg, 5.7 apg, 2.1 spg in 867 games)- The best player in franchise history. Drexler’s all-around game was so good, there was actually a debate at one point over who was better, Drexler or Jordan. Appeared in two finals with Portland before finally getting a ring in Houston.

SF- Kiki Vandeweghe (23.5 ppg, 52.6% FG, 88.1% FT, 40.8% 3PT, 2.9 rpg, 2.2 apg in 285 games)- One-dimensional? Maybe. But Vandeweghe was one of the league’s top scorer’s in the 80s, including a great run in Portland in the middle of the decade.

PF- Sidney Wicks (22.3 ppg, 46% FG, 71.3% FT, 10.3 rpg, 4.1 apg in 398 games)- Wicks just edged out Maurice Lucas, Portland’s Walton-era enforcer. Though he peaked in his rookie year, Wicks’ was a monster in Portland, producing some huge numbers in his five seasons with the team.

C- Bill Walton (17.1 ppg, 51% FG, 67.4% FT, 13.5 rpg, 4.4 apg in 209 games)- An obvious choice. The real story here is that Walton would have been a top-five all-time center had he stayed healthy. A classic “What if?” By the way, did you know Mychal Thompson was pretty damn good over 7 seasons in Portland?


SEATTLE SUPERSONICS

PG- Gary Payton (18.1 ppg, 47% FG, 72.9% FT, 4.2 rpg, 7.3 apg, 2.1 spg in 947 games)- Payton was the heart and the swagger of the franchise in the 1990s and one of the best defensive guards of all time. This was no gimme though- Lenny Wilkens stats warranted serious consideration here.

SG- Ray Allen (24.1 ppg, 44.1% FG, 89.8% FT, 38.9% 3PT, 4.7 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.3 spg in 241 games)- An extremely strong and competitive position- even surprisingly so. While Ray Allen’s stats set him apart, Dale Ellis, Ricky Pierce and Gus Williams also put up outstanding numbers in the Seattle backcourt.

SF- Detlef Schrempf (16.6 ppg, 49.4% FG, 80.9% FT, 41.4% 3PT, 6.3 rpg, 4.0 apg in 393 games)- Although Tom Chambers and Xavier McDaniel produced better offensive numbers, Schrempf’s all-around game was vital in making the Sonics a Western Conference power in the 90s and making the 1996 Finals.

PF- Spencer Haywood (24.9 ppg, 46.3% FG, 81.3% FT, 12.1 rpg, 2.4 apg in 326 games)- I’ll let Spencer Haywood’s stats speak for themselves at this position. I’d like to mention his main competition here: Shawn Kemp. Please take this moment to think back and remember when Kemp was the “Rain Man”.

C- Jack Sikma (16.8 ppg, 47.1% FG, 83.6% FT, 10.8 rpg, 3.3 apg in 715 games)- While the best Sonics’ teams were from the 1990s, it was Sikma’s 1978-79 team that won the only championship in franchise history. Interestingly, Bob Rule (with whom I’m not very familiar) put up huge numbers for the Sonics in the early 1970s.


NEW ORLEANS/ UTAH JAZZ

PG- John Stockton (13.1 ppg, 51.5% FG, 82.6% FT, 38.4% 3PT, 10.5 apg, 2.7 rpg, 2.2 spg in 1,504 games)- One of the great point guards in history and the all-time leader in both assists and steals. He and Karl Malone will forever be the faces of this franchise.

SG- Pete Maravich (25.2 ppg, 43.4% FG, 82.9% FT, 4.3 rpg, 5.6 apg, 1.4 spg in 330 games)- The first superstar and most spectacular talent in franchise history. Maravich was the runaway choice here. Jeff Malone and Darrell Griffith also deserve a great deal of respect for their efforts in Utah.

SF- Adrian Dantley (29.6 ppg, 56.2% FG, 81.8% FT, 6.2 rpg, 3.7 apg in 461 games)- No contest! Not only was this a one-man race, the one man is among the greatest, and most underrated offensive players in NBA history.

PF- Karl Malone (25.4 ppg, 51.7% FG, 74.2% FT, 10.2 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.4 spg in 1,434 games)- One of the best power forwards in history, the NBA’s #2 all-time scorer, a two-time MVP, and he led the Jazz to consecutive NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998. Not bad- if you’re into that sort of thing.

C- Mark Eaton (6.0 ppg, 45.8% FG, 64.9% FT, 7.9 rpg, 3.5 bpg in 875 games)- Mark Eaton made up for his limited offensive game by hitting the boards and playing defense. He’s still the NBA’s all-time leader in blocked shots per game.

Up next: The All-time Starting Fives for NBA’s Southwest Division. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Optimism for Shaun Livingston

Back-up point guards for the Los Angeles Clippers don’t really get a lot of ink here, and maybe rightfully so. But Shaun Livingston’s story is one that deserves some attention. In a fantastic July 29 article in the Los Angeles Times, Livingston gave author Kurt Streeter a first-hand account of what the past five months have held for him, along with a look to the future. I’m very happy to report that there seems to be some real optimism emerging in a situation that could have ended tragically. For those of you that don’t know what happened, even if you don’t know who Shaun Livingston is, here’s his story.

During a home game against the Charlotte Bobcats on February 26, he suffered one of the most gruesome injuries in NBA history, which Livingston himself described as “Pure pain. Pain so bad it’s hard to even describe”. Following a steal, he was on his way downcourt for a breakaway lay-up, he took off, no one with ten feet of him, just after releasing the ball, his feet hit the floor, and then, disaster! As he landed, what happened to Shaun Livingston’s left knee can best be described as an “explosion”, not only tearing his ACL, MCL and PCL, but dislocated his kneecap as well. Watching the talented 20 year-old fall to the Staples Center floor in a heap is one the most stomach-turning NBA moment I’ve ever witnessed.

At the hospital, Livingston’s knee was scanned for nerve and artery damage (of which, fortunately, there was none) and he was told that there was chance that part of his left leg would have to be amputated. His doctors told him that his was one of the worst knee injuries they'd seen, more similar to something stemming from a major car wreck. It was bad enough that the first two years of his career had been plagued by back and knee injuries, but this was getting scary. Apparently this wasn’t just a basketball injury. If you haven’t stopped reading already, you’re probably wondering why (other than compassion and sympathy for a suffering young man) I’m devoting so much energy to an article about a guy who’s averaged 7.4 points and 4.8 assists in his 145 game NBA career. Well…

Shaun Livingston is special. Straight out of high school in Peoria, IL, Livingston, the #4 overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft, is a truly once-a-decade talent at the point. At his best Livingston is a mix of Scottie Pippen and Steve Nash, seeming to float when he runs the floor and making passes that very few players in NBA history have been able to make. He's a constant threat to make the kind of play that leaves you with your mouth open, bursting into spontaneous laughter. Most NBA fans have no idea what they’re at risk of losing because playing in the Pacific Time Zone has made Livingston fandom something of a regional phenomenon. Even those of us who have regularly watched Livingston play have only a vague idea of just how good this kid can be, because we've still only seen flashes of Livingston's brilliance.

But the flashes, along with his kind, polite and thoughtful personality, are enough to make you believe that this rail-thin, 6-foot-7 point guard will be a big part of the NBA’s future. And just as he was learning how to adapt his incredible talent to the NBA game, he suffered this devastating, career-threatening injury. It’s as though the sports gods have decided to have some laughs at his expense.

Thankfully, as reported by Streeter, thing are looking up for Shaun Livingston. Following a successful operation, performed by Dr. James Andrews, he’s now able to walk without a limp, to ride a stationary bike and lunge from side to side. Although he’s not sprinting or jumping yet, Livingston’s doctor says that his comeback chances good. But that’s only part of the good news.

In addition to his encouraging physical prognosis, Shaun Livingston’s financial outlook is encouraging. Needless to say, any kid that is guaranteed $12.5 million before the age of 21 is at risk of peaking too soon and flaming out (see Lohan, Lindsay and Spears, Britney). Fortunately, it seems that Livingston is the rare young athlete whose finances are closely and smartly managed, with real estates investments in Chicago and the possibility of dabbling in the entertainment industry.

Having met Livingston, hearing first-hand accounts of how good a guy he is and having seen flashes of his game at its best, I took his injury (which sent shivers up my spine when I saw it live and will forever be etched into my brain) pretty hard, and I am extremely happy to hear that Shaun’s life, as well as his left knee, have plenty of cause for optimism.

Rather than focus on the negative aspects of his injury he says he wants to focus on taking his game “to new heights.” I can’t wait.

Good luck, Shaun!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

All-Time NBA Starting Fives- Southeast Division

With the Atlantic and Central Divisions covered, let’s look at the All-time Starting Fives for four of the five teams in the Southeast Division. I didn’t think it made sense to include the three year-old Charlotte Bobcats. Of the first three, this division actually presented some of the most difficult decisions. Let’s get to it…


SOUTHEAST DIVISION


ATLANTA HAWKS

PG- Mookie Blaylock (14.9 ppg, 41.3% FG, 73.5% FT, 4.6 rpg, 7.3 apg, 2.5 spg in 518 games)- An interesting comparison between Blaylock, Doc Rivers and Lenny Wilkens. Their stats with Atlanta are extremely similar. Blaylock’s has a slight edge over Rivers in all categories and beats Wilkens in all except scoring.

SG- Pete Maravich (24.3 ppg, 44.8% FG, 80.9% FT, 4.2 rpg, 5.6 apg in 302 games)- After an unbelievable college career, “Pistol” didn’t miss a beat in his first four NBA seasons in Atlanta. With Joe Johnson still having a LONG way to go to challenge for this spot, Steve Smith was the only other candidate, and it wasn’t very close.

SF- Dominique Wilkins (26.4 ppg, 46.7% FG, 81.3% FT, 6.9 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.4 spg in 882 games)- No contest. ‘Nique is one of the most dominant and entertaining scorers in NBA history. Playing during the Michael Jordan era kept him from being remembered as one of the best ever.

PF- Bob Pettit (26.4 ppg, 43.6% FG, 76.1% FT, 16.2 rpg, 3.0 apg in 792 games)- The NBA’s first great power forward and still, more than 40 years after his retirement, one of the best ever. No one else was really close, although Dan Roundfield and Kevin Willis deserve to be mentioned.

C- Zelmo Beaty (17.4 ppg, 47.1% FG, 74.8% FT, 11.2 rpg, 1.5 apg in 501 games)- Spend seven years with the Hawks before jumping to the ABA in 1970. The franchise leader in points by a center, Beaty ranks in the top three among Hawks’ centers in both scoring and rebounding average.

MIAMI HEAT

PG- Sherman Douglas (16.0 ppg, 50% FG, 68.7% FT, 7.9 apg, 1.7 spg in 159 games)- I expected to be writing Tim Hardaway’s name here, but the numbers tell a different story. Douglas holds a small edge in both assists and steals, and his scoring average is just a point shy of Hardaway’s, despite attempting more than two fewer shots per game.

SG- Dwayne Wade (22.9 ppg, 48.2% FG, 76.9% FT, 5.0 rpg, 6.1 apg, 1.7 spg in 213 games)- As good as Eddie Jones and Steve Smith were, D-Wade wins this position in a landslide. It’s probably safe to assume that if he’s ever supplanted here, it will be long, long time from now.

SF- Glen Rice (19.3 ppg, 45.9% FG, 83.5% FT, 38.6% 3PT, 4.9 rpg, 1.2 spg in 478 games)- One of the great shooters of his era, Rice was the Heat’s first star player and is still the franchise leader in points scored and third in scoring average.

PF- Brian Grant (11.0 ppg, 48.2% FG, 79.6% FT, 8.5 rpg, in 312 games)- Grant, Udonis Haslem and Grant Long make up a solid-but-unspectacular group of Miami PFs. Despite Haslem having won a ring in 2006, both his numbers, and Grant Long’s, fall short of Brian Grant’s.

C- Alonzo Mourning (17.6 ppg, 53.5% FG, 66.3% FT, 8.9 rpg, 2.9 bpg, in 491 games)- After being the heart and soul of the franchise for nearly a decade, it’s fitting that Zo won a title with the Heat. By the way, had you also forgotten that Rony Seikaly was REALLY good?

ORLANDO MAGIC

PG- Anfernee Hardaway (19.0 ppg, 47.2% FG, 76.6% FT, 4.7 rpg, 6.3 apg, 1.9 spg in 369 games)- Remember how great Penny was in Orlando? This guy used to be awesome! He was compared to both Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan! Steve Francis’ stats compare favorably, but Penny had a much bigger impact with the Magic.

SG- Nick Anderson (15.4 ppg, 45.4% FG, 67.3% FT, 5.3 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.5 spg in 692 games)- A member of the Magic from Day 1, Nick Anderson was a member of the Magic line-up for a decade. His superior offensive stats give Anderson the edge over Mike Miller.

SF- Tracy McGrady (28.1 ppg, 44.6% FG, 76.8% FT, 7.0 rpg, 5.2 apg, 1.5 spg in 295 games)- The best all-around player in franchise history. The Magic’s “Post-Shaq star”, T-Mac won the back-to-back scoring titles in 2003 and 2004. His only real competition here was Dennis Scott and an injury-plagued Grant Hill.

PF- Dwight Howard (15.1 ppg, 55.4% FG, 61% FT, 11.6 rpg, 1.7 bpg in 246 games)- Howard is already a monster in the paint. When his offensive game develops, he will be completely unstoppable. Also deserving of consideration is Horace Grant, the best post-season PF of the 1990s.

C- Shaquille O’Neal (27.2 ppg, 58.1% FG, 54.5% FT, 12.5 rpg, 2.4 apg, 2.8 bpg in 295 games)- He made the Magic relevant and gave the franchise its first superstar. The most dominant big man since Wilt Chamberlain and the catalyst for Orlando’s 1995 trip to the Finals. By the way, Rony Seikaly was really good with the Magic too!

WASHINGTON BULLETS/WIZARDS

PG- Rod Strickland (15.5 ppg, 43.9% FG, 73.3% FT, 4.3 rpg, 8.9 apg, 1.6 spg in 304 games)- In three seasons in Washington, Archie Clark’s stats surpassed Strickland’s with the team, but Clark never really made a mark in Washington. By virtue of his four solid seasons in DC, Strickland gets the nod.

SG- Earl Monroe (23.7 ppg, 44.5% FG, 79.5% FT, 3.7 rpg, 4.6 apg in 328 games)- It’s only a matter of time before this spot belongs to Gilbert Arenas, but for the time being, Earl the Pearl is the standard for two-guard play in Washington. The impact of his beautiful playground game on the NBA cannot be overstated.

SF- Chris Webber (20.9 ppg, 50.1% FG, 56.0% FT, 9.7 rpg, 4.4 apg in 212 games)- Edging out Bernard King and Antawn Jamison, Chris Webber is Washington’s top all-time small forward. After winning Rookie of the Year with Golden State, his game really developed in Washington.

PF- Elvin Hayes (21.3 ppg, 45.8% FG, 67.7% FT, 12.7 rpg, 2.1 bpg in 731 games)- With all due respect to Chris Webber, the power forward position in Washington belongs to Elvin Hayes. In Washington’s 1978 Finals triumph, Elvin Hayes dominated the Sonics and clinched the title for the Bullets.

C- Walt Bellamy (27.6 ppg, 51.6% FG, 66.1% FT, 16.6 rpg, 2.4 apg in 327 games)- Where is Wes Unseld? It’s a simple matter of numbers. For all of Unseld’s hard-nosed play in the paint, even in Washington’s 1978 championship season, his performances don’t compare to Bellamy’s. One of the most underrated big men in NBA history.

Well, that’s it for the Eastern Conference. There were a lot of big names, but also a lot of star from the NBA’s early days, particularly in the paint (Bailey Howell, Zelmo Beaty). Another trend I noticed was the presence of a lot of snake-bitten careers (Grant Hill, Vin Baker, Penny Hardaway). Hope you’re enjoying these articles so far!

Tomorrow we’ll start in on the West, with the All-time Starting Fives for the Northwest Division.

Friday, July 27, 2007

All-Time NBA Starting Fives- Central Division

With the Atlantic Division now in the books, it’s time to look at the All-time Starting Lineups for the Central Division. In these five lineups, there were definitely a few absolute gimmes, but there were also a fair number of surprises- more than was the case in the Atlantic Division. As you read this, I imagine that, whether you agree with my selections or not, there are at least a couple players whose statistics will make you stop for a second and think “Damn! He was better than I thought!”


On to the All-time Starting Fives for NBA’s Central Division. Enjoy!


CENTRAL DIVISION


CHICAGO BULLS

PG- Reggie Theus (18.8 ppg, 47.7% FG, 80.6% FT, 3.4 rpg, 5.6 apg in 441 games)- Less of a pure point guard than Norm Van Lier, but Theus was a better scorer, rebounder and shooter. Also, his assist numbers are comparable to Van Lier’s (5.6 v. 6.9 apg).

SG- Michael Jordan (31.5 ppg, 50.5% FG, 83.8% FT, 6.3 rpg, 5.4 apg in 930 games)- Does this one really require an explanation?

SF- Scottie Pippen (17.7 ppg, 48.1% FG, 69.3% FT, 6.7 rpg, 5.3 apg, 2.1 spg in 856 games)- Much more than MJ’s sidekick, Pippen, one of the greatest perimeter defenders in league history, was a star in his own right. Could (Should?) have been in the 1994 Finals as the league MVP.

PF- Elton Brand (20.1 ppg, 47.9% FG, 69.5% FT, 10.0 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.6 bpg in 155 games)- The NBA’s best offensive rebounder and a great finisher inside. Brand’s incredibly consistent numbers despite regularly facing taller opponents, gave him the edge over Bob Love.

C- Artis Gilmore (19.3 ppg, 58.7% FG, 71.2% FT, 11.1 rpg, 2.5 apg, 2.1 bpg in 482 games)- Despite spending his best seasons in the ABA, Gilmore established himself among the NBA’s top centers. Offensively (check out the FG%!) and defensively, Gilmore was a force in the middle.

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

PG- Mark Price (16.4 ppg, 47.9% FG, 90.6% FT, 40.9% 3PT, 7.2 apg, 1.3 spg in 582 games)- Although Andre Miller and Terrell Brandon put up some impressive numbers, Price is the face of the Cavs at the point. One of the more underrated players of his era.

SG- Ron Harper (19.4 ppg, 47.4% FG, 71.3% FT, 4.7 rpg, 5.1 apg, 2.3 spg in 228 games)- One of the more athletic and versatile two-guards of the late 1980s. Not the scorer that World B. Free was, but Harper’s all-around statistical edge earned him this spot.

SF- LeBron James (26.5 ppg, 45.8% FG, 74.6% FT, 6.6 rpg, 6.6 apg, 1.8 spg in 238 games)- Entered the league at age 18 with great expectations and even greater hype, and LeBron has not disappointed. Already one of the league’s best, LBJ will be an all-timer.

PF- Larry Nance (16.8 ppg, 53% FG, 80.4% FT, 8.2 rpg, 2.6 apg, 2.5 bpg in 433 games)- Blessed with incredible length and a soft touch, both around the basket and from the line. Despite having better statistics, neither Shawn Kemp nor Cliff Robinson was the player that Nance was for the Cavs.

C- Brad Daugherty (19.0 ppg, 53.2% FG, 74.7% FT, 9.5 rpg, 3.7 apg, in 548 games)- The anchor of the best teams in franchise history. Had he stayed healthy, Daugherty would have built a strong Hall of Fame resume. Zydrunas Ilgauskas warranted consideration here, but the decision was not difficult.

DETROIT PISTONS

PG- Isiah Thomas (19.2 ppg, 45.2% FG, 75.9% FT, 3.6 rpg, 9.3 apg, 1.9 spg in 979 games)- Even with Chauncey Billups becoming a championship-caliber point guard and the Pistons’ leader, Isiah will always be the face of the franchise. His toughness and clutch play were the catalysts for the Pistons’ first two championships.

SG- Richard Hamilton (19.1 ppg, 45.8% FG, 85.0% FT, 3.6 rpg, 3.7 apg in 316 games)- Whaaaa? No Joe Dumars? No, no Joe Dumars. In a photo finish, Rip takes this position. While most of their stats are nearly identical, Hamilton owns higher scoring average, has a championship ring and has a more complete offensive game than Dumars did.

SF- Grant Hill (21.6 ppg, 47.6% FG, 74.6% FT, 7.9 rpg, 6.3 apg, 1.6 spg in 435 games)- Remember what a force this guy was? During his six mostly-healthy seasons in Detroit, Grant Hill looked poised to become one of the greatest all-around players of his, and maybe any, era.

PF- Bailey Howell (21.1 ppg, 47.6% FG, 77.4% FT, 11.8 rpg, 2.3 apg in 387 games)- A model of consistency in the 1960s. He certainly had competition, but Howell’s performance in five outstanding seasons in Detroit outclassed those of Dave DeBusschere, Happy Hairston and Dennis Rodman.

C- Bob Lanier (22.7 ppg, 50.8% FG, 77.5% FT, 11.8 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.3 bpg in 681 games)- A very underrated big men and the best of a solid corps of Pistons’ centers that includes Bill Laimbeer, Ben Wallace and Larry Foust. (By the way, Bill Laimbeer’s stats are a lot better than I thought they’d be!)

INDIANA PACERS

PG- Mark Jackson (8.4 ppg, 43.4% FG, 78.3% FT, 36.2% 3PT, 3.8 rpg, 8.1 apg, 1.1 spg in 405 games)- Despite his limited offensive game, Jackson was an outstanding floor general for Pacers’ in the mid-to-late 1990s. Never made mental errors and always made his teammates better.

SG- Reggie Miller (18.2 ppg, 47.1% FG, 88.8% FT, 39.5% 3PT, 3.0 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.1 spg in 1,389 games)- An obvious choice. Miller is one of the game’s all-time great shooters, particularly in the clutch, and the face of the Pacers’ franchise.

SF- Detlef Schrempf (17.0 ppg, 51.1% FG, 81.3% FT, 8.6 rpg, 4.1 apg in 354 games)- Before starring with the Sonics, Detlef Schrempf broke out with the Pacers. Schrempf got a run for his money from Chuck Person, but Detlef gets the nod, thanks to his superior offensive versatility, rebounding and passing.

PF- Clark Kellogg (18.9 ppg, 49.7% FG, 75.7% FT, 9.5 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1.5 spg in 260 games)- Before his career was derailed by chronic knee injuries, Kellogg was one of the NBA’s top young forwards. Kellogg’s three healthy seasons in Indiana are as good as any by a Pacers frontcourt player.

C- Jermaine O’Neal (19.0 ppg, 46.4% FG, 70.9% FT, 9.9 rpg, 1.9 apg, 2.4 bpg in 403 games)- It’s no surprise to see O’Neal here. It was surprising, however, to find that his toughest competition for this position was not Rik Smits, but Herb Williams and James Edwards.

MILWAUKEE BUCKS

PG- Oscar Robertson (16.3 ppg, 46.8% FG, 84.3%FT, 4.9 rpg, 7.5 apg, in 288 games)- Late his career, Robertson reinvented himself as the perfect complement to a young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and it won him an NBA title. It is this title that won him a spot in this line-up, as Sam Cassell’s Milwaukee statistics compared very favorably to Robertson’s.

SG- Ray Allen (19.6 ppg, 45.0% FG, 87.9% FT, 40.6% 3PT, 4.6 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.2 spg in 494 games)- A three-man race between Allen, Michael Redd and Sidney Moncrief. I expected Moncrief to emerge from this group, but Allen’s all-around game compared very favorably. And Redd, a Ray Allen-clone, will one day replace Allen here- just not yet.

SF- Marques Johnson (21.0 ppg, 53% FG, 73.6% FT, 7.5 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.3 spg in 524 games)- He and Sidney Moncrief were the core of the Bucks’ teams that won five consecutive division titles from 1980-84. Terry Cummings, the man Johnson was traded for, comes in a close second.

PF- Vin Baker (18.3 ppg, 49.4% FG, 63.4% FT, 9.5 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.3 bpg in 324 games)- Once one of the NBA’s best big men, Baker was one of the original big men with athleticism and a mid-range jumper that could also hit the boards.

C- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (30.4 ppg, 54.7% FG, 69.5% FT, 15.3 rpg, 4.3 apg in 467 games)- Arguably the greatest player in NBA history, Kareem was an absolute force with the Bucks. Not only statistically dominant, he combined with Oscar Robertson to bring Milwaukee its only title.

Coming tomorrow: The ALL-time Starting Fives for Southeast Division. Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

All-Time NBA Starting Fives- Atlantic Division

There have been countless books, articles and barroom debates aimed at determining the greatest teams and greatest players in NBA history. Another fun exercise along these lines is assembling the greatest starting five or twelve-man NBA roster in history. I have had a lot of fun debating these topics with some knowledgeable (and some not-so-knowledgeable) NBA fans, and I can’t promise that such an article, authored by me, will not make its way onto this site. The problem with these very simple exercises is that they neglect an entire universe of star players whose greatness falls just beyond the scope of the top fifteen or twenty in the game’s history. My initial aim in writing this column was to determine the five NBA franchises with the greatest all-time starting line-ups, based on the performances of all player who suited up in at least 200 games (there was a little bit of wiggle room used here) for the team. Once I got rolling though, it became kinda fun, so I went ahead and assembled my all-time starting five for 29 of the NBA’s franchises (I omitted the Charlotte Bobcats). I tried to adhere to a strict C, PF, SF, SG, PG line-up, not just 2 guards, 2 forwards and center. Now, I didn’t invent some kind of convoluted, John Hollinger-esque formula to determine these line-ups. I examined the statistics of players during their tenures with a given team (thanks basketballreference.com!), compared the top two or three from each team and considered the era in which each played. I used high points in the team’s history as tie-breaker. A lot of the results are as I expected, but some forced me to stare at the numbers in shock and admit that my initial perception had changed.

Rather than go nuts and give you 29 starting fives to consider in one sitting, I will be posting these five at a time, grouped by current NBA division, over the next six days. Next to each player that I’ve named, you will find his statistics with the team in question as well as a 30-word (give or take) explanation of the rationale behind my selection.

I’m going to start today with the Atlantic Division. Have fun reading and debating these, I had fun putting them together! If you think I’m an idiot, don’t hesitate to let me know! I’m very eager to hear your opinions.


EASTERN CONFERENCE


ATLANTIC DIVISION


BOSTON CELTICS

PG- Bob Cousy (18.5 ppg, 37.5% FG, 80% FT, 5.2 rpg, 7.6 apg in 917 games)- A no-brainer. Tiny Archibald at the end of his career and a rock-solid DJ in the 80s can’t compare to the quarterback of the Celtics’ dynasty.

SG- Jojo White (18.4 ppg, 44.2% FG, 83.3% FT, 4.3 rpg, 5.1 apg in 717 games)- One of the bridges from Russell to Bird. Compared to Bill Sharman and Sam Jones (really the only competition), ranks 1st or 2nd of the three in every major category.

SF- Larry Bird (24.3 ppg, 49.6% FG, 88.6% FT, 37.6% 3PT, 10 rpg, 6.3 apg, 1.7 spg in 897 games)- The greatest Celtic since Russell. Some of Pierce’s and Havlicek’s stats compare, and Hondo’s rings must be considered, but Bird is THE starting SF for the Celtics.

PF- Kevin McHale (17.9 ppg, 55.4% FG, 79.8% FT, 7.3 rpg, 1.7 bpg in 971 games)- Not a statistical wonder, but a champion. His dominating low post game made him the #2 option behind Bird, and shot extremely well from both the field and line.

C- Bill Russell (15.1 ppg, 44% FG, 56.1% FT, 22.5 rpg, 4.3 apg in 963 games)- The ultimate champion. While 11 championships in 13 years is the ultimate statistic, Russell’s career stats stack up well against most centers in NBA history.


NEW JERSEY NETS

PG- Jason Kidd (14.9 ppg, 39.9% FG, 80.6% FT, 7.1 rpg, 9.0 apg in 455 games)- The catalyst for the Nets’ back-to-back Finals trips. One of the great all-around guards of all-time as well as the franchise leader in rebounding and assists per game among guards.

SG- Vince Carter (25.5 ppg, 44.8% FG, 80.4% FT, 4.1 rpg, 4.6 apg, 1.2 spg in 218 games)- Flirted with greatness in Toronto before deciding he wanted out. In 2+ seasons with the Nets, Carter’s put up monster numbers for a team without a great two-guard legacy (Kerry Kittles? Otis Birdsong?).

SF- Derrick Coleman (19.9 ppg, 46.1% FG, 77.0% FT, 10.6 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.6 bpg in 348 games)- Maybe a selfish underachiever, but during his five seasons in New Jersey, DC was a HELL of a player, easily surpassing Van Horn, Jefferson and Bernard King’s first two seasons.

PF- Buck Williams (16.4 ppg, 55% FG, 64.9% FT, 11.9 rpg, 1.1 bpg in 635 games)- A stronger and more productive version of Horace Grant. Sadly, one of the best PF’s of the 80s spent his best years on a string of atrocious Nets teams.

C- Sam Bowie (12.8 ppg, 43.6% FG, 76.2% FT, 8.2 rpg, 2 apg, 1.6 bpg in 280 games)- When healthy, the “guy picked ahead of Jordan” was a decent player. It helps that his competition for this spot was Tim McCormick, Mike Gminski and an aging Darryl Dawkins.


NEW YORK KNICKS

PG- Walt Frazier (19.3 ppg, 49.2% FG, 78.3% FT, 6.1 rpg, 6.3 apg in 759 games)- A great big-game guard. Clyde almost single-handedly won Game 7 of the 1970 Finals. Stephon Marbury’s stats stack up well, but Frazier’s team success gives him an easy victory.

SG- Richie Guerin (20.1 ppg, 41.1% FG, 77.8% FT, 6.4 rpg, 5.3 apg in 516 games)- Bronx-born Guerin led the Knicks in the 1950s. Still owns the highest scoring average among guards in Knicks’ history, along with better rebounding and assist numbers than Houston, Sprewell and Monroe.

SF- Bernard King (26.5 ppg, 54.3% FG, 76.1% FT, 5.2 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.2 spg in 206 games)- One of the greatest pure scorers in NBA history. His brief time with the Knicks produced some electrifying performances, capped by his 1984 playoff duel against Isiah Thomas and the Pistons.

PF- Dave DeBusschere (16.0 ppg, 43.9% FG, 71.6% FT, 10.7 rpg, 3.1 apg in 435 games)- A vital member of the Knicks’ championship front lines. A tireless worker in the paint and a selfless teammate. Other Knicks’ PFs (Spencer Haywood and Ken Sears) had no chance.

C- Willis Reed (18.7 ppg, 47.6% FG, 74.7% FT, 12.9 rpg, 1.8 apg in 650 games)- Offensively, Reed fall considerably short of Patrick Ewing. His decided edge on the boards (12.9 rpg v 10.4 for Ewing), along with his leadership and team success earned him this spot.


PHILADELPHIA 76ers

PG- Maurice Cheeks (12.2 ppg, 52.8% FG, 79% FT, 7.3 apg, 2.3 spg in 853 games)- A solid floor leader and one of the best defensive guards of his era. With Iverson falling into the two-guard category, Cheeks’ only competition was the easily outclassed Eric Snow.

SG- Allen Iverson (28 ppg, 42.1% FG, 77.5% FT, 4.0 rpg, 6.1 apg, 2.3 spg in 682 games)- Not only is Iverson the toughest guard in NBA history, he’s one of its best scorers too. Hal Greer, the Sixers’ next-best two-guard, has a championship ring, but pales statistically compared to AI.

SF- Julius Erving (22.0 ppg, 50.7% FG, 77.7% FT, 6.7 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.8 spg, 1.5 bpg in 836 games)- This was no gimme. Offensively, Erving has the edge over Billy Cunningham, but not on the boards (6.7 rpg v. 10.1 for Cunningham). It was Erving’s athleticism and profound effect on NBA wing play won him this spot.

PF- Charles Barkley (23.3 ppg, 57.6% FG, 73.3% FT, 11.6 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.7 spg in 610 games)- Statistically, Barkley and George McGinnis are virtually in a dead heat. In the end, Barkley’s physical dominance and longer tenure won out.

C- Wilt Chamberlain (27.6 ppg, 58.3% FG, 45.6% FT, 23.9 rpg, 6.8 apg in 277 games)- It’s sad that after averaging 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Sixers, Moses Malone never had a chance to win this spot. Such is the fate of centers pitted against Wilt Chamberlain.


TORONTO RAPTORS

PG- Damon Stoudamire (19.6 ppg, 41.5% FG, 82% FT, 8.8 apg, 4.1 rpg, 1.5 spg in 200 games)- Stoudamire made an immediate impact in Toronto, and is still the PG standard for the Raptors. T.J. Ford has shown potential, but has yet to challenge Stoudamire’s status as the Raptors’ #1 all-time PG.

SG- Vince Carter (23.4 ppg, 44.6% FG, 78.3% FT, 5.2 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.3 spg in 403 games)- The first superstar in franchise history, Carter took the Raptors to within a buzzer-beater of the East Semifinals, the franchise’s highest point to date.

SF- Donyell Marshall (13.8 ppg, 45.7% FG, 75.9% FT, 8.7 rpg, in 131 games)- Not a whole lot to work with here. Marshall’s scoring, rebounding and shooting accuracy gave him the edge over long-time Raptor Morris Peterson.

PF- Chris Bosh (18.2 ppg, 48.5% FG, 77.5% FT, 9.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.3 bpg in 295 games)- The best big man in the Eastern Conference. Bosh can do virtually anything on the floor and, at age 22, his game is still developing.

C- Marcus Camby (13.5 ppg, 44.8% FG, 65.4% FT, 6.8 rpg, 1.7 apg, 2.9 bpg in 126 games)- Although he played just 2 seasons in Toronto, Marcus Camby doesn’t have much competition for the #1 center position, with Keon Clark the only one worth considering.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

David Stern's Legacy Comes Down to a Buzzer-Beater

In the twilight of one of the great tenures of any commissioner in all of sports, David Stern's legacy, along with the credibility of the league over which he presides, are on the brink of irreparable disrepair. After more than two decades at the helm of the NBA, Stern is faced with the one catastrophe from which it is most difficult for any sport to recover- public perception of compromised integrity. It was reported on Friday that NBA official Tim Donaghy, after racking up gambling debts with some mobbed-up bookies, may have tried (and presumably succeeded) in influencing the results of NBA games which he was assigned to officiate. If these allegations are proven to be true, David Stern may see all the goodwill that he's managed to build up simply evaporate in the black cloud of corrupt officiating.


When Stern took over as commissioner of the NBA in February 1984, the league, led by Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Julius Erving, had begun to successfully shed it's image of being "unrelatable" and drug plagued. One of the most intelligent and forward-thinking leaders in all of sport, Stern leveraged the success and mass appeal of the NBA's great teams, (the Lakers and the Celtics in the 1980s, Michael Jordan's Bulls in the 1990s) as well as its stars, into an international, fan-friendly juggernaut. It was under David Stern that NBA teams began traveling to Europe for exhibition tournaments against local teams, nurturing interest in the league's stars of the day, as well as inspiring young athletes, like Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Tony Parker, who have since gone on to become the NBA's present-day stars. It was David Stern's vision that led the NBA to focus its marketing muscle in the Far East, particularly China (yeah, Yao Ming helped too!). Finally, despite its obvious imperfections and recent scrutiny, the NBA Lottery, designed to uphold the integrity of the league's bottom-dwelling teams, was also a David Stern brainchild. Sadly, all of this may come to mean very little if the Donaghy scandal is not quickly and decisively resolved.


Despite the inconsistent and subpar officiating in the 2007 NBA Playoffs and persistent conspiracy theories about officials showing favoritism to certain teams and players, no one, not even Mavs' owner and frequently fined critic of NBA referees Mark Cuban, has ever succeeded in proving anything more serious than incompetence against NBA officials. And every time the officials' ability or integrity was called into question, David Stern was there, Thor's Hammer in hand, ready to fine any and all that dared question his league's credibility. Sadly, if the allegations against Tim Donaghy are true, this is all poised to change.


If there is any silver lining to this dark cloud, it is that, for the time being, Tim Donaghy is the only official accused of any impropriety. If the allegations are true, the next issue on David Stern's plate is to determine whether this is a matter of a lone bad apple threatening to spoil the whole bunch, or if the NBA's problem is one of wide-spread, systematic corruption. In the case of the former, it is vital that the commissioner reassert himself as the judge, jury and executioner of the NBA by reviewing any and all objectionable games (possibly adding some asterisks to the record books), issuing swift and blinding punishments to all those involved, as well as updating the checks-and-balances which govern NBA game officials. If the latter is proven, and the NBA is exposed for being a league ravaged by widespread corruption, it will bring an immediate and disgraceful end to the David Stern Era in NBA and relegate the league to the fringes of American sport (see Boxing).


Ironically, like the players he's presided over for more than two decades, the last few minutes of David Stern's tenure, not to mention his long-term legacy, has ultimately come to rest in the hands of a referee. It's fitting that he is now powerless, at the mercy of one of the officials that he has vigilantly protected for so long.


Friday, June 22, 2007

2007 NBA Mock Draft- Picks #21-30

21. Philadelphia 76ers – Joakim Noah, PF, Florida- A high-energy guy and great teammate, but NOT a top-10 pick! Lacks the physical strength and offensive skills to be anything more than a role player.
22. Charlotte Bobcats- Jared Dudley, SF, Boston College- Intelligent, unselfish and mature. May not have tons of “upside”, but he plays the game correctly and doesn’t do anything badly, a la Shane Battier.
23. New York Knicks- Demetris Nichols, SF, Syracuse- Potentially an MSG fan favorite. A physically and mentally mature player with a strong mid-to-long range game who also plays tough defense.
24. Phoenix Suns- Marco Belinelli, SG, Italy- Belinelli is an athletic guard with speed, quickness and a quick release with legitimate 3-point range- in other words, he’s the perfect Phoenix Sun.
25. Utah Jazz- Sean Williams, C, Boston College- Character issues hurt his stock. Has dominant physical skills, particularly on defense, and has shown consistent improvement. Will prove to be the draft’s biggest steal.
26. Houston Rockets- Marcus Williams, SG, Arizona- His length, outside game and smooth ball-handling, will be a good complement to Yao and T-Mac. However, must add muscle and attack the basket more.
27. Detroit Pistons- Wilson Chandler, SF, DePaul- Strong and athletic, with a knack for hitting the boards. Although his offensive game needs development, he’s already a very good finisher around the basket.
28. San Antonio Spurs- Arron Afflalo, SG, UCLA- An experienced winner in college. Not an incredible athlete, but plays extremely well in a system and works hard defensively. A perfect fit in San Antonio.
29. Phoenix Suns- Ramon Sessions, PG, Nevada- A strong, unselfish leader with no glaring weaknesses. Like to pass, able to score, in virtually every aspect, Sessions’ game mirrors that of Steve Nash.
30. Philadelphia 76ers- Alando Tucker, SF, Wisconsin- Team player with the size, athleticism and experience to contribute immediately as a weapon on the break. Should work to improve his defense and ball-handling.

2007 NBA Mock Draft- Picks #11-20

11. Atlanta Hawks- Acie Law, PG, Texas A&M- Memo to Billy Knight: DRAFT A POINT GUARD!!! Seriously. Please? Law, an experienced, clutch leader will be on the board. DRAFT HIM!
12. Philadelphia 76ers- Yi Jianlian, PF, China- The draft's biggest wild card. Despite the hype around his impressive workouts, Yi has yet to face NBA competition or play an NBA schedule.
13. New Orleans Hornets- Derrick Byars, SG, Vanderbilt- An all-around talent with great strength and versatility and defensive intensity. He will only benefit from playing with Chris Paul, who makes everyone better.
14. Los Angeles Clippers- Julian Wright, SF, Kansas- A little raw on offense, but Wright is fundamentally sound, very fast and extremely unselfish. As he develops, this may prove to be a steal.
15. Detroit Pistons- Rodney Stuckey, SG, Eastern Washington- Dominated lesser college competition, but he’s very strong, can score from anywhere on the floor and gets to the line. Has an NBA-ready perimeter game.
16. Washington Wizards- Kyle Visser, C, Wake Forest- A great fit. Visser gives Washington the rebounding and an offensive option in the paint. Could be the inside presence they are lacking.
17. New Jersey Nets- Morris Almond, SG, Rice- An offensive machine with a great mind for the game and a willingness to hit the boards. Either a complement or a replacement for Vince Carter.
18. Golden State Warriors- Tiago Splitter, C, Brazil- A big man with Splitter’s speed, quickness and court vision is an ideal fit for Nellie’s system. Hopefully he’ll add muscle without losing a step.
19. Los Angeles Lakers- Jason Smith, PF, Colorado State- The perfect inside-outside big man for the Triangle offense, with range out to 18 feet. Great fundamentals, but needs to add muscle and improve rebounding.
20. Miami Heat- Spencer Hawes, C, Washington- In the top ten, very high BSW (Big White Stiff) potential, but an intriguing later pick for a veteran team with a playmaker like D-Wade.