Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Paul Pierce is joining Free Agency Palooza 2010.

According to it looks as though Boston's Paul Pierce will be joining the ranks of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, Joe Johnson, Amare Stoudemire, and Dirk Nowitzki as this offseason's most coveted free-agents. However, I don't really think he'll be going anywhere. He has become one of the best Celtics players in team history and it's just hard to imagine him playing for anyone else. I think he's opting out just for the sake of getting a new contract. By opting out, he can now get a 4 year, $96 million contract from the Celtics or a contract from another team for $3 million less.

But let's just suppose he did leave. Obviously, that would be a BIG problem for Boston. Pierce is their leading and primary scorer and at the moment there is no one on the team who could step up and take his place, unless Tony Allen somehow gets really good over the offseason or Marquis Daniels returns to his early Dallas Mavericks form. As such, I'm pretty confident that GM Danny Ainge would do whatever it took to keep Pierce should he actually decide to leave. Or they could replace him with someone via free-agency or trade, but I'm not sure who at the moment.

But where would he go if he did leave? He's from Los Angeles, so it seems like the Clippers would seem the logical place. I've also seen New Jersey as a possibility (see linked story). Whatever the case, whether it's Pierce or any of the other big names, it's going to get very interesting over the next few weeks.

Q&A: Where will top free agents land?

Also, The Onion has been cracking me up for the past few weeks with its wacky takes on the NBA free-agency hoopla. See:

Speculation About Where LeBron Will Play Could End When He Signs Contract
LeBron James Photoshopped Into Cavaliers Jersey For Some Reason
LeBron's Next Team

Thursday, June 24, 2010

NBA Draft tonight!

The NBA has just one more matter of business to attend to before LeBron James can be the sole focus of everyone's attention, and it's tonight's NBA Draft. This has become one of my favorite parts of the NBA season and I wonder what it would be like to be one of the people making the big decisions. It certainly seems like it would be stressful, considering the fact that decisions made tonight could possibly set a franchise back, but it must also be pretty exciting bringing in some new young talent.

So who's going #1? At this point, the general consensus is that John Calipari's latest wunderkind point guard, Kentucky's John Wall, will be taken first overall by the Washington Wizards. If so, what will happen with Gilbert Arenas? Will he move to the shooting guard position or will he be traded? Regardless of that, the Wizards will certainly be getting a good player on which to build their team.

At #2, the Philadelphia 76ers seem ready to take Ohio State's Evan Turner, the Naismith Player of the Year in college basketball last season. I live in SEC territory so I didn't get to see him play a whole lot, so I will instead have to defer to Jay Bilas (ugh), who says that he is a very versatile player. At #3, "sources" are indicating that the New Jersey Nets are taking Georgia Tech's Derrick Favors. Again, didn't get to see him play that much but all indications are that they will be getting a strong post presence on both ends of the floor.

After that, it's anyone's guess how the draft goes. There are several scenarios that could play out depending on who takes who and it will be interesting to see how it plays out. Here's how ESPN's Doug Gottlieb thinks the top 14 picks will go (and sadly, this isn't one of those segments where he jabs at the giant touchscreen).

The Boston Celtics sit at the #19 spot in the first round, and are said to be looking to trade the pick. I think I would rather see who I could get with it, because at some point the team needs to start adding players for the future because of the number of old people veterans on the team. And then my San Antonio Spurs have the 20th pick, their highest since they got one Tim Duncan first overall in the 1997 draft. I would like to see them pick up a big man, someone like Kentucky's Patrick Patterson if he were to still be available. Whatever they do, I just hope they don't trade Tony Parker, something they're allegedly looking into.

As usual, it will be interesting to see what goes down with the picks and subsequent trades that are sure to follow. The draft gets underway on ESPN at 7 ET on ESPN.

ESPN NBA Draft home

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The NBA Finals are mere minutes away!

After nearly two months of teams eliminating one another in the playoffs, the 64th NBA Finals get underway today. And stop me if you've heard this before, it's the Los Angeles Lakers vs. the Boston Celtics, who have made a combined 52 Finals appearances and won 32 championships (17 for Boston, 15 for L.A.). This is a pretty good consolation prize for the NBA, which was really wanting a Kobe vs. LeBron Finals after not getting one last season. I hope this turns out to be a really good series, preferably a Celtics series win in seven games, because the 2010 playoffs have left a lot to be desired. Kobe Bryant is looking to avenge the Lakers humiliating 2008 defeat at the hands of the Celtics, while Paul Pierce can become one of the greatest Celtics ever if he can get a second championship. It should be fun.

Obviously, I'm picking the Celtics to win. Not only do I like the team and its rich history, but I think they have the better overall team. This postseason they've been playing like they did during their 2008 championship, with a reliance on defense, team play, and a no-nonsense attitude. They made short work of the Miami Heat in the first round as expected. They were undaunted by the 62 win Cleveland Cavaliers and two-time MVP LeBron James in the semis, against whom their playoff hopes were supposed to end. Then they withstood injuries and a a comeback from the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Point Guard: Rajon Rondo vs. Derek Fisher
Since the 2008 Finals, Rondo has become one of the NBA's premier point guards. Derek Fisher may have the advantage in terms of shooting and experience but he'll have a tough time staying in front of Rondo, who has consistently been Boston's best player on the floor with his passing and driving. In fact, Kobe Bryant will be guarding Rondo more. People talk about him not being able to drive as much against the Lakers because of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, but he just got done facing Dwight Howard.

Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant vs. Ray Allen
Kobe Bryant has been on a tear this postseason and I don't think that Allen will be able to do much to slow him down. In fact, I find it worrisome that there is not a player like James Posey, whose job it was to come off the bench and hound Kobe in the 2008 Finals, on the team. Allen can put up an inspired fight on defense, but it's going to be a team effort to defend Kobe. On offense, though, Allen is just as deadly as he has always been on the offensive end with his three point shooting.

Small Forward: Paul Pierce vs. Ron Artest
Remember who guarded Paul Pierce in the 2008 Finals? Vladimir Radmanovic. That didn't work out too well. Nowadays, Ron Artest is the Lakers' small forward and he's also their best perimeter defender. In fact, he was brought in during the offseason for just such a matchup as this. If he can turn Pierce into a jump shooting chucker, then it will be difficult for the Celtics to win. However, he is just as likely to melt down during the Finals, which has been the expectation all season long. Pierce just needs to stay aggressive.

Power Forward: Kevin Garnett vs. Pau Gasol
Of all the matchups, I think this one is the most even on the offensive end. Gasol has been very effective in the postseason with an average of 20 points. Garnett may be a step slower, but he's still definitely more aggressive than Gasol and can still be a reliable scoring option for the Celtics as he was in the series against Cleveland. Garnett is also better defensively and hasn't lost any of his trademark intensity, but Gasol will be the beneficiary of the calls in L.A. when he's flopping playing defense.

Center: Kendrick Perkins vs. Andrew Bynum
It should come as no surprise that Bynum is once again battling a knee injury. He missed the 2008 Finals because of one, he wasn't effective in the 2009 playoffs, and he hasn't done anything during the 2010 playoffs. If it were anyone else, like Greg Oden, he would have already been written off, yet people are still trying to convince us that he's supposed to be really good. Perkins, on the other hand, is one of the better interior defenders in the NBA. Since the 2008 Finals, he's even improved on his scoring. However, he is sitting on 6 technical fouls for the postseason and is very likely to pick up a 7th and earn a one game suspension. He needs to try to not act as if he's never had a foul called on him.

The Benches
For the Lakers, Lamar Odom is the lone impact player. He has length, he can play both forward positions, he can handle the ball, he can rebound, and he can shoot from the arc. After him, who else is there? Jordan Farmar is shaky at the backup point guard spot and Shannon Brown has his moments. Also, after Gasol and Bynum, there is little depth at the power forward and center positions. For Boston, Tony Allen provides quality minutes off the bench with his energy and defense and Glen Davis has played a big role as well. There's also Rasheed Wallace whose defense will be needed against Gasol and whose range can take advantage of Bynum, but he's been inconsistent at best during the playoffs. Nate Robinson could be valuable off the bench, but Doc Rivers will have to play him more for that to happen.

Yahoo! Sports Playoff home
Sports Illustrated's NBA coverage
ESPN's NBA Playoff home

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Really bored?

I was just poking around ESPN's NBA front page and found this, the NBA Free Agent Slot Machine. Normally I don't play their dopey "games," but I find this one oddly entertaining. I've gotten some wacky outcomes, such as LeBron James and Carlos Boozer joining Dwyane Wade on the Miami Heat or Chris Bosh leaving Toronto and joining the L.A. Lakers or LeBron signing with the Washington Wizards; Amare Stoudemire and Dirk Nowitzki typically don't move. And now that I think about it, it might be kind fun if the NBA really did its free-agency with a slot machine; teams throw money in and then Commissioner David Stern throws a switch to determine who goes where. They already use a lottery to determine the draft order of the first fourteen picks, so why not?

Obviously, I jest, though this could lend us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how ESPN makes their own predictions.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Boston might be in trouble.

Remember when the Boston Celtics had a 3-0 series lead over the Orlando Magic? It seems like that was a completely different series. Games 1 and 2 were close, but then the Celtics blew the Magic out by 23 points at home. This really looked like it was the end of the Magic. They had lost two close games and then got blown out, finding themselves on the brink of being swept. The series was essentially over. But in Game 4 Dwight Howard came alive, going for 32 points and 16 rebounds. Vince Carter disappeared in that game, scoring only 3 points, but point guard Jameer Nelson picked up the slack with 23 points, which included two big threes in over time. Paul Pierce had 32 points of his own to go with 11 rebounds for Boston, but failed to get a shot off that would have won the game at the end of regulation, seemingly dribbling to nowhere in the process. No big deal, right? The series was 3-1. Boston was in control of the series and it seemed that Orlando was just happy to have not gotten swept.

After last night's Game 5, however, things could get out of hand in Boston. This time the Celtics were the ones getting blown out, losing 113-92. Orlando came out and got contributions from just about everyone. 23 from Nelson, 21 from Howard, 14 apiece from Rashard Lewis and J.J. Redick. For Boston, Rasheed Wallace, Rajon Rondo, and Pierce all had nice games-scoring 21, 19, and 18 points each, respectively-but that was about it. To confound matters was Kendrick Perkins being tossed from the game after getting two technical fouls and possibly being out because of it in the next game, Glen Davis getting a concussion, Marquis Daniels getting a concussion of his own after taking Davis' place, and Wallace hurting his back.

So yeah, I think the Boston Celtics are probably in some trouble. However, I don't think they've quit; they still seem to be playing hard to me. The thing is that the Orlando Magic have started playing their game. Really, they were playing pretty well in the first two games; they lost Game 1 92-88 and Game 2 95-92. But after Game 3 it looked like they were finished. Other than Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, and Matt Barnes, it didn't seem that anyone on the team thought they could win. But they came back in Game 4 and got back to what they're good at doing-establishing Howard in the paint and supporting him with shooting. They're giving the Celtics a fight and now, with the injuries and possible suspension to Kendrick Perkins, it might be more than just a fight. It might become the first 3-0 playoff comeback in NBA history.

This just in: the league has rescinded Kendrick Perkins' second technical foul from last night. In case you don't know, a player is suspended for one game after he gets his 7th technical foul in the playoffs. Had one of them not been taken back, Perkins would have picked up his 6th and 7th of the playoffs, which would have kept him from playing in the important Game 6. To be honest, I don't think he should have gotten two T's last night. Looking at the replays, I don't think he meant to elbow Magic center Marcin Gortat after his hand slipped as he was helping up Paul Pierce. In fact, I don't think anything would have been done about it if Gortat hadn't knocked the ball from Perkins' arm. In general, I think that the NBA referees have gotten a little too attached to the double-technical fouls. It seems to me like it's a cop-out, an easy decision to avoid upsetting either side. I also think it's lame to give a guy a T when he's got his back turned to you. The more pressing matter, I think, is the health of Glen Davis, Marquis Daniels, and Rasheed Wallace. After the way Davis went down like a KO'd boxer after taking an elbow from Dwight Howard, I don't see how anyone could go back in there and play against him. I would also like to add that it was a heads up move by ref Joey Crawford to recognize that Davis was in trouble and make sure that he didn't hit the floor. And while Daniels may not be as important a role player as Davis, having him out will obviously hurt Boston's depth and might force Brian Scalabrine back into action. Concussions are serious issues (I don't have to tell you that), and there's no telling how these two might be affected at this point. And then there's Wallace, whose play has been, at time, erratic throughout the playoffs, and that's without a tweaked back.

And speaking of bench depth, Doc Rivers should consider giving Nate Robinson more playing time.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

My thoughts on the Cavs' exit.

This summer is going to be crazy. If you thought it was bad hearing about Brett Favre every second of the day, it's going to be a lot worse with LeBron James. It's already unbearable hearing about him as it is, but it's going to be taken to an entirely different level during the summer. The summer of 2010 has been mentioned ad nauseum for the past several years and now it's finally here. Not only that, the way LeBron and the Cavaliers ended their season in a 4-2 series loss to the Boston Celtics in the second round will only add to the hysteria. Because there's no doubt about it, the Cavaliers quit at the end of the game last night. They were down nine points with a minute left and chose not to foul. They just stood there and watched Boston dribble the clock out. When they did get the ball they didn't try to score quickly, opting instead to fritter away the last few seconds doing nothing.

So who's to blame? Is it head coach Mike Brown? The supporting cast? Or could it even be LeBron himself who's to blame? One thing I know is that no one is blaming the Celtics for the Cavs' loss. There have probably been hundreds of polls taken across the nation today asking who's to blame for this debacle on radio shows and websites and I guarantee you that none of the choices are the Boston Celtics. Boston showed up to play in this series, while Cleveland acted as if all they had to do was get off the bus to win. In fact, that's the general feeling I got from the media before the series began; no one expected this. Boston was being dismissed as an old, washed-up team that was beyond their usefulness. They may have gotten blown out in Game 3, but they played hard in the other five games. Watching them play defense during this series kind of reminded me of how they looked in 2008 on their way to the championship. There were times during the regular the season when they looked like they didn't have it in them to make this kind of postseason run, but they've really upped their intensity during the last month. They were also able to rely on 20 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 assists from Rajon Rondo, and another 18 points and 8 rebounds from Kevin Garnett. Ray Allen may have been inconsistent at times and Paul Pierce never really asserted himself, but Rondo and Garnett made for a steady presence in every game. And let's not forget about Rondo's monster triple-double of 28 points, 18 rebounds, and 13 assists in Game 4, which stands as one of the best playoff performances in Celtics history.

The lack of a second consistent player is something that helped contribute to the the Cavs' early exit. In fact, I believe you'll find that there are some similarities between last year's Eastern Conference Finals against the Orlando Magic and this year's conference semis against Boston. Against Orlando, LeBron was the only Cleveland player to play well the entire series. Maurice Williams, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and the rest of the supporting cast were mostly no-shows. This time around it was the same deal. LeBron played well for the series, putting averages of 26 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. Williams had 20 points in Game 1 and 22 in Game 6 (20 of which came in the first half), but was nowhere to be found in the games in between. Antawn Jamison, who was picked up mid-season to give LeBron even more help, scored 20 points only once and didn't break 10 in the final two games.

Also, just like last season against Orlando, the Cleveland bench got outplayed. To be fair, though, they did play well in the first three games, especially J.J. Hickson who averaged 10 points over that span. But in the last three games of the series, Boston's bench played its role much better. In Game 4 Tony Allen scored 15 points, beating the 11 points by Cleveland's bench; in Game 5, Glen Davis had 15; in Game 6, Rasheed Wallace had 13 and Allen had another 10. After looking at the stats for the series, I have to wonder: what happened with Hickson? He played for more than 10 minutes in each of the first three games of the series, but didn't even play 10 minutes in the last three games combined. What happened?

Unlike last season, however, the Cavs gave up. They lost Game 4 97-87 in Boston, but that wasn't really surprising. Boston is a tough team and they were playing at home. But to follow that up with a 120-88 home loss in Game 5 is terrible, and terrible is exactly how they played in that game. They couldn't do anything right. They were listless, and not even LeBron could be bothered to make any effort. And at the end of Game 6, as mentioned before, they tanked and didn't even want to start fouling to try to stay in the game. They had the mentality that they were beat and they wanted no part of the game being extended any longer.

So really, who is to blame? I say it's everyone. It's LeBron for not being a better leader, it's the rest of the team for not showing up, and it's Mike Brown for getting outcoached and not getting the team prepared to play in the postseason. It's everyone. I also think it's the media's fault for this being such a big deal. I'm not surprised that the Cavaliers didn't reach the Finals again. I think he was the wrong pick for the MVP and I don't think he's as great as everyone says he is. I think he's good, but he hasn't done enough to earn all of this talk. He's been to the Finals once and he got swept by the San Antonio Spurs, a fact that for some reason we NEVER hear about. It is ridiculous how people talk about him. It is so insane that we've even got New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and President Obama lobbying for him to sign with their respective teams, the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls. If you want to know what I'm talking about, read this from ESPN Chicago; and no offense to the author, but that article reads like something off The Onion (when I say that, I mean that it's not poorly written but comes off as farcical, like this or this). If it were anyone else failing to win a championship despite having so much talent then they would be the laughingstock of the NBA; they'd be talked about like Peyton Manning, who has lots of talent but "only" one Super Bowl. Again, I think he's a really good player and I don't hate the guy, but talk to me about how great he is after his career is over instead of now when he can't win.

Can The Celtics Get Any Love? (Deadspin)
LeBron overload here (ESPN)

By the way, the Atlanta Hawks "dismissed" head coach Mike Woodson.

Monday, May 10, 2010

What a boring second round this has been.

For the most part, the first round of this year's playoffs was exciting. In the Western Conference, the Oklahoma City Thunder took the defending champion L.A. Lakers to six games, the Utah Jazz took down the Denver Nuggets in six games, the San Antonio Spurs upended a title contender in the Dallas Mavericks in six games, and the Phoenix Suns held off a game Portland Trailblazers team in six game. Then in the Eastern Conference there was the upstart Milwaukee Bucks taking the Atlanta Hawks to seven games and there was also Kevin Garnett's elbow meeting Quentin Richardson's face. Even the Chicago Bulls livened up their series with the Cleveland Cavaliers by winning a game.

But man, the second round has been a real bore; three of the four series have ended in sweeps. That's not to say that the games themselves haven't been bad. The Jazz played hard in all of their games against the Lakers and there were some tight games in the Spurs-Suns series. The same can't be said for any of the games in the series between the Hawks and the Orlando Magic, though. The Magic set the NBA record for the largest margin of victory in a sweep of an opponent at an average of 25.3 points per game. Tragic. Overall, the second round of the NBA playoffs have resembled the MLB playoffs in that there has been a bunch of sweeps and a lot of time off in between series-we won't see the Lakers and Suns play again for another week.

There is, however, the series between the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers. Now, if this series had gone as everyone had thought, I would have included it in the above paragraph and been done with this blog post, but it hasn't. The Cavs were expected to make short work of the Celtics and many thought that the Celtics didn't have it in them to even put up a fight. Instead, both teams have traded victories back and forth and are tied 2-2 going into tonight's Game 5 in Cleveland.

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