Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The NBA Pre-Draft Camp Begins

The NBA Pre-Draft Camp in Orlando has begun. After one day, Dominic McGuire has decided that he's NBA-bound and will hire an agent. According to ESPN, that leaves seven players (Ohio State's Daequan Cook, Marquette's Dominic James, Texas A&M's Joseph Jones, Virginia's Sean Singletary, Nevada's Ramon Sessions and Marcelus Kemp, and Clemson's James Mays) competing in the camp who have not signed with an agent. Barring injury, Daequan Cook will stay in the draft and sign with agent Mike Conley Sr.

According to Aran Smith of, there were some notable absences from the draft which include the following players, all of whom are bubble 1st-rounders.

* Sean Williams, PF/C, Boston College. I have a sneaking suspicion that a team drafting from 22-30 will draft Williams due to his defensive upside. Of course, Williams has a well-documented past and this raises another red flag for his character.

* Nick Fazekas, PF, Nevada. Plain and simple, Fazekas is a bubble guy. Right now, he's at the tail end of the 1st round on my board, but his absence may allow for another power forward to showcase his talent and move up the draft boards.

* Alando Tucker, SF, Wisconsin. Tucker is a victim of his own college success. If the NBA Draft operated on merit, then Tucker might not be tagged with the much-maligned "tweener" label.

* Gabe Pruitt, PG, USC. Pruitt is considered to be the 4th-best point guard (Conley Jr., Crittenton, & Law) in the draft, but missing out only allows for Ramon Sessions to fight for that spot.

* Arron Afflalo, SG, UCLA. Despite his failings against Florida in the NCAA Tournament (twice), Afflalo is the type of guard with a steady chip on his shoulder. The strongest franchises who are drafting at the close of Round 1 will get the sense that Afflalo will take it to the naysayers wherever he gets drafted.

Monday, May 28, 2007

2007 NBA Mock Draft Version 2.0

The NBA Draft Lottery hoopla has come and gone. The three teams with the highest chance of being able to draft Greg Oden are ruing their plight as all are selecting after the 3rd pick. Now, Portland will have the honor of drafting Durant and Seattle gets can’t-miss forward Kevin Durant.

With Atlanta keeping its pick as a result of the draft lottery, they now hold the 3rd and 11th picks. While they would like to get their hands on Brandan Wright at pick 3, Mike Conley Jr. is a tremendous need and a top 7 talent, one in which Milwaukee would draft at the 6th pick if they got the opportunity.

Rumors are running rampant in Boston that Danny Ainge may want to pull out of the 5th pick. If such is the case, Chicago may be an interested party as they may not get their hands on a scoring big man with the 9th pick given that Minnesota and Charlotte reach for centers and power forwards on draft night.

Two players rising quickly on many draft charts are Tiago Splitter and Jason Smith. They come in at 10th and 16th, respectively. They can send their “Thank You” notes to Roy Hibbert, who pulled out of the draft and might help them make an extra couple million dollars in guaranteed money.

A growing subplot of the draft is the battle for the 2nd-best point guard between Acie Law IV and Javaris Crittenton. While most boards I’ve seen favor Crittenton due to his swelling upside and 6-foot-5, 195-pound frame, I consider Law to have two point guard qualities (unselfishness and clutch shooting) down better than any prospect in the draft. For this reason, Law currently holds a slight edge.

Late in the 1st round, the draft will see its fair share of talented shooting guards fortify some of the NBA’s top franchises who will have to replace aging and out-of-contract guards.

The 2nd round will be filled with trades, as Portland has 4 picks, Orlando and Dallas have 3 each, and four other teams have two picks each. Players such as Alando Tucker and Gabe Pruitt would not last past pick number 20 in most other drafts, but will be available late in the first round to the early second. Additionally, there is a stockpile of quality point guards who are likely to remain in the draft in spite of their mid-to-late second round projections.

At present, there are five international players selected in the 2nd round, a far-cry from the ten who were drafted last year. We’ll all be shocked on draft night when pundits are forced to pronounce “Mavrokefalidis”.

1st Round

  1. Portland. Greg Oden, C, Ohio State. As if it ever was in doubt. Drafting Greg Oden gives the Blazers a centerpiece they need and allows LaMarcus Aldridge the opportunity to move back to his natural 4 position. Oden's shot-blocking abilities makes Joel Przybilla expendable.
  2. Seattle. Kevin Durant, F, Texas. With Rashard Lewis opting for free agency, we know he won't be cashing in for the Sonics. Durant is the perfect fit for Seattle as he can play both forward positions. The do-everything forward immediately fills the void left by Lewis.
  3. Atlanta. Mike Conley Jr., PG, Ohio State. Absolute need over want. As much as the Hawks want to go with Brandan Wright, they must go with Conley Jr. because they badly need a point guard. Although Conley Jr. struggles at times in the shooting department, his ball-handling skills and ability to penetrate are top notch. Not to mention, Conley Jr. is a winner, something the Hawks badly need.
  4. Memphis. Al Horford, PF, Florida. Al Horford came to Gainesville with a NBA body just needing to work on his skills. On draft night, Memphis will get a 18 and 10 guy who'll do many positive things that won't end in a stat sheet.
  5. Boston. Yi Jianlian, PF, Guangdong Tigers (China). Albeit there are rumors about his age being 22 and not 19 as advertised, Yi is the real deal. He's not Yao though. Yi is a good ball handler, a very good shooter, and an awesome passer, and excels in the open court. He'll need to work on his defense before he gets legitimate All-Star consideration.
  6. Milwaukee. Brandan Wright, PF, North Carolina. Wright's game inside 8 feet is lethal, but he'll need to improve his overall shooting game. He carries the strongest upside of any player not named Oden or Durant.
  7. Minnesota. Julian Wright, SF, Kansas. The T-Wolves have major needs at center and swingman. This would probably be where I have Roy Hibbert going, but the center withdrew his name from draft consideration. Instead, they get Julian Wright, who has all the tools to succeed immediately. His inside/outside game is reminiscent of Luol Deng and he's probably a better defender at this point in their careers.
  8. Charlotte. Jeff Green, SF, Georgetown. Plenty hinges on Gerald Wallace remaining with the team. If he goes elsewhere, you can see Corey Brewer drafted in this spot. If not, Green is another key cog that will be added to the nucleus of Okafor, Felton, Wallace and Morrison. Green will contribute to the Bobcats in unconventional ways that will result in more victories.
  9. Chicago (from New York). Spencer Hawes, C, Washington. Hawes is another case of need exceeding want. The pure 7-footer can score in the post, something the Bulls badly need as evidenced by the NBA playoffs the last two seasons. Besides being able to score in the post, Hawes has a jumpshot and can pass out of double teams. Nevertheless, Hawes will be exposed at the NBA level if he doesn't improve mightily on defense.
  10. Sacramento. Corey Brewer, SG/SF, Florida. Brewer adds defense to a team who so clearly lacked it. When Ron Artest didn't play, the smart money was on the opposition scoring 110. With Artest on the block and out of contract next summer along with Kevin Martin, the Kings may be barren at the 2 and 3 positions. Brewer's versatility will allow the Kings to go small when needed. He still needs to brush up on his shooting though.
  11. Atlanta (from Indiana). Tiago Splitter, PF/C, Tau Ceramica (Spain). The Brazilian big man can run the floor and he proved it for one of Europe's best clubs. Although he may not play for a year due to his contract situation, Splitter is ready to play in this league and compete for a starting position. Questions do remain however about his ability to assert himself on the offensive end. Atlanta may also consider Joakim Noah in this spot.
  12. Philadelphia. Al Thornton, PF, Florida State. Undersized yet aggressive, Thornton has the largest motor of any player at his position save Kevin Durant. Thornton has also never had a problem mixing up with the bigs and his rebounding numbers speak to that. Thornton can still improve in terms of his ability to score on the perimeter.
  13. New Orleans. Thaddeus Young, SF, Georgia Tech. Although Young had a disappointing freshman year, his upside cannot be forgotten. He can shoot from the outside, drive to the hoop, and score at will. However, he is still very raw and will need to add muscle in order to take the bumps and bruises of a 82-game NBA season.
  14. LA Clippers. Joakim Noah, PF, Florida. I’ll be honest. I don’t like this pick at all. Last year, the Clippers were 1 game away from the Western Conference finals with the future ahead of them. Now, Corey Maggette wants out, Shawn Livingston is ruled out for next season, and Elton Brand can opt for free agency next summer. Joakim Noah can play the 4 and 5 and D up on the perimeter but needs to gain weight. He'll also need to work on his offensive game and overall footwork to be an impact player at the next level.
  15. Detroit (from Orlando). Acie Law IV, PG, Texas A&M. Unselfish and clutch. These are the two adjectives you want most in your point guard and Law embodies them better than any other point guard in the draft. Who cares if he's not a natural point if he has the qualities and intangibles down pat? I sure don't and neither should Flip Saunders.
  16. Washington. Jason Smith, PF, Colorado State. The Wizards sorely need a big that can score and Smith fulfills that need. Smith, who's a better-than-average rebounder can help address another key Wizards problem. His ability to shoot well fits the style of the Wizards, but back-to-the basket game remains a major doubt.
  17. New Jersey. Josh McRoberts, PF, Duke. This is no guarantee, but McRoberts may be their starting power forward for the next 10 years. He may also continue his two-year spiral since he left high school as the #1 overall recruit. McRoberts provides an active body at both ends of the court, who is a defensive specialist. Not to mention, McRoberts raw skills would flourish in an open court system with Jason Kidd at the point (well, at least for a year).
  18. Golden State. Nick Young, SG, Southern Cal. At pick 18 and without a clear guy to select at the power forward position who'd fit their system, the Warriors go with the best player available. Young is a a sharp shooter with a knack for the mid-range game. Not your normal spot-up shooter, Young is not afraid to take difficult shots. Although he improved his defense under the tutelage of Tim Floyd, Young has plenty of room for improvement.
  19. LA Lakers. Derrick Byars, SG/SF, Vanderbilt. Byars is an athletic scorer with a complete game. Let's just say that Kobe Bryant should try trusting this guy because he can help the Lakers reach the next level. At 6'7" 225, he can take his fair share of lumps and isn't afraid to mix it up with the bigs. At the next level, Byars will need better shot selection and improve his ball handling, but these are highly achievable given what he has already accomplished.
  20. Miami. Javaris Crittenton, PG, Georgia Tech. The Heat need to get young and they need to do it quickly. Crittenton is a great penetrator with tremendous quickness and athleticism. At 6'5" 195, he can already challenge NBA point guards, but remains very raw. On too many occasions, Crittenton picked up cheap fouls and he will need more discipline. He will also need to improve his outside shot.
  21. Philadelphia (from Denver). Rudy Fernandez, PG/SG, Joventut Badalona (Spain). As Clement said, he's considered the Spanish Ginobili. Fernandez is an excellent spot-up shooter can also take his man off the dribble. His high basketball IQ and unselfish will drive opponents crazy. At this point, Fernandez will need weight to his small frame in order to absorb the NBA rigors.
  22. Charlotte (from Toronto via Cleveland). Rodney Stuckey, SG, Eastern Washington. Stuckey is an excellent scorer who can be the guard who benefits from Felton's penetration abilities. Even if Felton has an off-night, Stuckey can create for himself. Additionally, he can play exceptional defense, but his competition in the NBA might be slightly better than that of the Big Sky Conference.
  23. New York (from Chicago). Sean Williams, PF, Boston College. It wouldn't be a shock to see the Knicks trade out of this pick as they signed former Kentucky center Randolph Morris in March. If they do not, Williams is a defensive-minded forward who can alter shots and rebound very well. Of course, Williams brings profound character issues with him to MSG and this presents a major risk to Isaiah Thomas’s already questionable job security.
  24. Phoenix (from Boston via Cleveland). Marcus Williams, SG, Arizona. Williams is the type of player who can contribute early and often. He excelled in an open court system and has a steady mid-range game that can expand to beyond the 3-point line. Williams' major weaknesses: his defense and strength.
  25. Utah. Morris Almond, SG, Rice. A prototypical 2 guard, Almond was the only option at Rice. His range will expand the court and allow Deron Williams to run the floor more effectively. Conversely, Almond fails to bring the same intensity to the defensive side of the ball. Jerry Sloan will make sure that changes ... quickly.
  26. Houston. Marco Belinelli, SG, Climamio Bologna (Italy). Before the playoffs, Houston needed a power forward or a backup center. Now, we know they need an offensive playmaker, so they will look no further than Marco Belinelli. The athletic shooting guard has a quick release and is not deterred by physical defenders. On the defensive side, Belinelli struggles with lateral quickness.
  27. Detroit. Ante Tomic, C, KK Zagreb (Croatia). At age 20, Tomic is a work in progress and will not see the NBA hardwood for a couple of years. Though the Pistons may lose both Antonio McDyess and Chris Webber in the offseason, they have Jason Maxiell and Amir Johnson waiting in the wings. Tomic will fit the defensive style of the Pistons, but will need to add weight to his frame.
  28. San Antonio. Arron Afflalo, SG, UCLA. With Michael Finley's contract expiring this summer, the Spurs need a shooting guard who can shoot and play sound defense. Afflalo fits that bill.
  29. Phoenix. Nick Fazekas, PF, Nevada. Fazekas is the type of athlete that is not overwhelming but can make the necessary impact at both sides of the court for Phoenix. His shooting and size make him a great asset. However, his defense at times make him a liability.
  30. Philadelphia (from Dallas via Dallas and Golden State). Marc Gasol, C, Akasvayu Girona (Spain). Though Gasol's athleticism (none) is not ideal, he has soft hands and a nice jumpshot. While his post defense has improved, he shoud never be confused for his brother Pau. At 270 pounds, Gasol needs to shed some weight to become more mobile.

2nd Round

  1. Seattle (from Memphis). Gabe Pruitt, PG, Southern Cal.
  2. Boston. Aaron Gray, C, Pittsburgh.
  3. San Antonio (from Milwaukee). Kyle Visser, PF/C, Wake Forest.
  4. Dallas (from Atlanta). Daequan Cook, SG, Ohio State.
  5. Seattle. Herbert Hill, PF, Providence.
  6. Golden State (from Minnesota). Dominic McGuire, SF, Fresno State.
  7. Portland. Alando Tucker, SF, Wisconsin.
  8. Philadelphia (from New York via Chicago). Jermareo Davidson, PF, Alabama.
  9. Orlando (from Sacramento via Utah). Carl Landry, PF, Purdue.
  10. LA Lakers (from Charlotte). Jared Dudley, SF, Boston College.
  11. Minnesota (from Philadelphia). Stanko Barac, C, Siroka Prima (Bosnia & Herzegovina.)
  12. Portland (from Indiana). Mirza Begic, C, KK Geoplin Slovan (Bosnia & Herzegovina).
  13. New Orleans. Marko Tomas, SG, Real Madrid (Spain).
  14. Orlando. Aaron Brooks, PG, Oregon.
  15. LA Clippers. Ramon Sessions, PG, Nevada.
  16. Golden State (from New Jersey). Glen Davis, PF, Louisiana State.
  17. Washington. Petteri Koponen, PG, Espoon Honka (Finland).
  18. LA Lakers. Avis Wyatt, PF, Virginia State.
  19. Chicago (from Golden State via Denver, Boston, and Phoenix). Stephane Lasme, PF, Massachusetts.
  20. Dallas (from Miami via LA Lakers). James Hughes, C, Northern Illinois.
  21. Chicago (from Denver). Wilson Chandler, SF, DePaul.
  22. Portland (from Toronto). Demetris Nichols, SG/SF, Syracuse.
  23. Portland (from Chicago). Dominic James, PG, Marquette.
  24. Orlando (from Cleveland). Reyshawn Terry, SF, North Carolina.
  25. Utah. Shagari Alleyne, C, Manhattan.
  26. Milwaukee (from Houston). Taurean Green, PG, Florida.
  27. Detroit. Ryvon Covile, PF, Detroit.
  28. San Antonio. DeVon Hardin, PF, California.
  29. Phoenix. Artem Zabelin, SF/PF, Dynamo SP (Russia).
  30. Dallas. Quinton Hosley, SF, Fresno State.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Under the Radar: NBA Draft Prospects

Don’t get fooled into thinking this NBA Draft is just about Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. There’s a lot more to be offered. In fact, this may end up being one of the better drafts in recent memory (especially since last year’s selection show was so dry and dull).

While most prognosticators and TV analysts would have you believe that its guys like Corey Brewer, Al Thornton, and Thaddeus Young who are the relatively unknown gems of this draft, truth is: they aren’t fishing very deep.

Instead of settling on easy predictions, let’s take the briefest of looks into a pick-six collection of talent, ranging from as high as mid-1st round to that of undrafted-status, that could make a rather sizable impact, perhaps even if we have to wait a few years, for their future NBA teams.

1) Morris Almond [SG, Rice]
-Recently getting plenty of pub, especially from just about every Knicks-beat writer, Almond is a legit scoring-talent, in a draft lacking pure shooters from outside of the paint. While his ball-handling has come into question, he clearly fits well into the 2-spot. Often forced to carry a skilled-deficient roster, Almond could benefit sitting a year or two before stepping in as a shoot-first 2-guard. While comparisons to Michael Redd or even Ray Allen seem a little over-the-top, he’d be the perfect compliment for say a LeBron James-type team searching for a clutch shooter.

2) Ante Tomic [PF/C, Croatia]
-Rising up draft boards recently, the KK Zagreb recruit may not see NBA hardwood for another year or two. Yet, especially for an aging contender, Tomic could one day rival the likes of
Golden State’s Andres Biedrins. While still a little stiff and underdeveloped, his size and strength soon may make him a scary matchup off the bench at the 4 position.

3) Derrick Byars [SG/SF, Vanderbilt]
-Much like Danny Granger a few years before, Byars enters the draft as a touted senior in a sea of underclass prospects. While many see him as only a collegiate standout, he may be the safest bet in the mid-1st round that this draft has to offer. What’s most impressive about Byars is a much-needed duo, especially from a younger talent: he plays tough defense and plays with a unique blend of poise and stoutness. Byars is both intelligent and able to switch from the 2 to 3 spots, due to his size and strength. While he may never be an All-Star, Byars may turn out to be the type of #3 option that most teams crave come post-season time.

4) Herbert Hill [PF, Providence]
-Admittedly, I’ve been as speculative of Hill’s actual NBA-prospects as anyone. Yet, after a stirring senior-day performance against Syracuse this past season, Hill showed, even in a loss, that he could use his height and size (6’10, 245 lbs) to his advantage against steady frontline opponents. Likely to be passed over for international or underachieving talents, Hill may end up being the perfect bench big-man snapped up late in the 2nd round. Modeling a game much like
Detroit’s Jason Maxiell, Hill has the intelligence to know his limitations and get everything out of his abilities on the court.

5) Rudy Fernandez [PG, Spain]
-As big a Sergio Rodriguez fan as anyone (who is the perfect PG for Greg Oden now), Fernandez, often considered the Spanish Ginobli, to me, rates much higher than Italy’s Marco Belinelli at the 2-spot. Teams must be looking for a finesse player, but if they take a chance on Fernandez, will love his ability to force his way into the paint and work extremely well under the hoop. His balance reminds me of how guards Steve Nash and Tony Parker work the interior baseline. While he may get a little out of control at times, he could immediately become the Leandro Barbosa of several already established squads. That is tough to consider passing up.

6) Avis Wyatt [SF, Virginia State]
-A native of
Petersburg, Wyatt served as perhaps the best unknown talent in the state of Virginia. While most people mention named like Singletary, Reynolds, or even Maynor, Wyatt may be the best prospect the state has to offer in recent memory. Even at 6’10, he plays the 3, 4, and 5 positions relatively seamlessly. Before you dismiss him due to his school, remember that a guy named Ben Wallace, often considered vastly undersized and playing against lesser-talent, can out of a very similar school (Virginia Union). Hopefully, he’ll ditch his three-point shot, ala Chris Bosh, and continue to develop a sweet bank-shot, ala Tim Duncan. While weighing in at a paltry 215 lbs, Wyatt could easily fit into the mold of an elongated 3-forward, switching from perimeter to near the basket, for a variety of teams, although preferably those on the West Coast who love to run’n’gun.

Until next time...

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Pop Culture & The Playoffs

The playoffs are officially white-hot, or so David Stern would like you to believe, averaging around 5 million cable viewers a night (even with games not at the half well past midnight on the east coast). Although the conference finals aren’t exactly the sexiest of matchups…at least most of regular network programming has seen its season finales come and go.

So all this hoopla got me thinking: which NBA Playoff teams, this year, - sixteen in all - would avoid cancellation from the television lineup (also a timely topic as numerous televisions shows are sweating it out as network’s announce next year’s lineups).

So I decided to take a hypothetical/metaphorical peak behind closed “network doors” and enjoy a little imaginative thought…

Eastern Conference: [ABC & NBC representing the weaker of the Big 4 networks, ala the Eastern Conference.]
Detroit Pistons - Law & Order [ABC] 8-million
-Steady, poised, well-developed and ALWAYS on in one form or another.

2) Cleveland Cavaliers - Grey’s Anatomy [ABC] 20-million
-The new hot-shot on the block who keeps lasting near the top longer than expected.

3) Toronto Raptors - Lost [ABC] 12-million
-A small, yet fiercely loyal audience is really starting to eat up this eccentric cast of extremely diverse characters.

4) Chicago Bulls - Heroes [NBC] 11-million
-Admit it, you doubted their youth until the rumors couldn’t be denied and you believed they had a real future…even if its next year.

5) Miami Heat - Desperate Housewives [ABC] 16-million
-They peaked a little too early after early dominance, but the best can always return. Mainly because they’ve been at the top before.

6) New Jersey Nets - ER [NBC] 11-million
-Yep, they’re still around.

7) Washington Wizards - Scrubs [NBC] 6-million
-Not for everyone, its cast of characters is never dull and often lovably quirky and quotable.

8) Orlando Magic - My Name is Earl [NBC] 7-million
-While it hasn’t caught on with mass audiences just yet, it might not be too far away (we think).

Western Conference: [CBS & FOX…the network behemoths.]
Dallas MavericksCSI [CBS] 20-million
-Consistent, well-received, and growing more distinguished over the years…so where are the awards and accolades?

2) Phoenix Suns – American Idol [FOX] 28-million
-Everyone wants to watch, if only because it’s a throwback to a more reckless spirit you wanted to once travel.

3) San Antonio Spurs – 60 Minutes [CBS] 9-million
-Savvy and seasoned…they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. Yet, something about their tactics bugs you. Almost as if they did everything a little unethically.

4) Houston Rockets – Two and a Half Man [CBS]
-If this one doesn’t explain itself, none of them will.

5) Utah Jazz – Survivor [CBS] 13-million
-Still going strong all these years, some better than others.

6) Denver NuggetsNCIS [CBS]
-More acclaimed that it should be, the results still aren’t as close to the top as you’d expect.

7) Los Angeles Lakers – The Simpsons [FOX] 7-million
-Re-runs are always more fun than the current episodes, star-power or not.

8) Golden State Warriors – Family Guy [FOX] 8-million
-It’s what everyone, especially the youngins, are saying you can’t afford to miss.

Ironically enough, none of the aforementioned shows are going to be cancelled before this upcoming season. Knowing the weaknesses of the NBA, the same is likely true for these playoffs teams next year too.

Any thoughts? Comparisons for the lottery teams? Better ideas? Banter? COMMENT! Show me what ya got.

Until next time…

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Spanning The Sports Globe

Here is a list of key sports items on today's docket ...

AC Milan overcame the haunting memories of Istanbul by defeating Liverpool 2-1 in Greece to win the UEFA Champions League trophy. Two goals from Pippo Inzaghi was the difference in a match dominated by Liverpool. Two years ago, the Reds came back from a three-goal deficit to score thrice in a six-minute span and then win in penalty kicks.

NBA Draft
Roy Hibbert is returning to school for his senior season. Citing that he does not want to sit on the bench, Hibbert has been the model for improvement since enrolling at Georgetown and will benefit from his senior year. Hibbert's removal ushers the way for center Spencer Hawes to move up considerably.

In other draft news, Teammate Jeff Green will remain in the draft and is slated to be drafted among the top 10 picks.

According to a league official, Brian Hill is out (again) as the head coach of the Orlando Magic. In his second year with the team, Hill led the Magic to the playoffs with a 40-42 record before being ousted by Detroit in the first round. Hill came under scrutiny for starting Tony Battie over Darko Milicic and seating JJ Redick on the bench. Considering that both Milicic (traded) and Redick (drafted) were obtained in exchange for 1st-round selections, the critics seem fit in their assessments. With a talented young team and room under the salary cap, the Magic won't have to twist many arms to gain admirers.

In Minnesota, Randy Wittman has received a multi-year contract after finishing 12-30 as interim head coach. Notice the choice of words. You don't earn a contract by going 12 for 42 in any sport, except for maybe baseball. Though I did not mention them in the cast of teams throwing games, the Timberwolves could be found anywhere except for on the basketball court last season.

Finally, in the NFL, Keyshawn Johnson retired. Not much to say on this one because it made sense. Keyshawn overvalues his talents in comparison to the market value and he reportedly did a very good job working the draft for ESPN.

Can someone suspend Jason Giambi already? He obviously took steroids, and now, he reportedly failed an amphetamines test administered by Major League Baseball. The last time I got away with saying "sorry" more than once was in elementary school. If Major League Baseball wants to project that image and become "America's Afterthought", then it's taking all the right steps to make that happen.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Was the NBA Draft Lottery Drawing Rigged?

In a word, YES. When the drama unfolded and all the cards were shown, the teams who had been [most] accused of tanking games on purpose in order to improve draft position all finished three spots below what the percentages suggested. Memphis. Boston. Milwaukee. In a night, two of these teams' outlooks have changed.

First, let's take a look at Memphis. Yesterday, they dreamed of Gasol and Oden occupying the paint and imagined defense as a mandatory activity. Tonight, they get the 2nd pick among those not named Oden or Durant. At this point, they'd be happy to get their hands on the likes of Al Horford.

Second, there's Boston. I can't feel sorry for the Celtics. In early March, there was Celtics GM Danny Ainge breaking every tampering rule imaginable by talking it up with Kevin Durant's mother. Then, there was the actual Celtics, who not only shut Paul Pierce down at all the right times (all the times if you owned him in both of your fantasy leagues, but that's another story for another day), but also benched starters such as Ryan Gomes in the 4th quarter of a close game. They lost.

Third, there's Milwaukee. Now, Milwaukee could have been accused of tanking, but they had every fathomable injury occur to their best players. They were more of a mix of bad and unfortunate. In all reality, the third spot is not that much different than the sixth in this specific draft and when considering that it would be nearly impossible to trade into a top 2 position. In fact, the Bucks will save some coin in the process.

As for teams who gained the top 3 picks, they all tried to win games late in the season. The operative word is "tried".

Portland, who won the draft lottery, began placing firm building blocks for the future late this season as Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge (prior to his bout with dehydration and further issues), and Sergio Rodriguez all played well.

Seattle struggled with a full roster. They barely mustered up enough courage to take the court when Ray Allen was sidelined at season's end. In the games I watched, they didn't show signs of tanking. Conversely, they didn't have to show signs of throwing games to be awful. The likely selection of Kevin Durant will have an effect on Seattle's ownership having more pull within the city, as he becomes an instant draw in addition to Mr. Shuttlesworth.

I happened to watch as many Atlanta games as nauseatingly possible this season and while they were a very bad team, the team resembled a helpless child when Joe Johnson wasn't around and it's nearly impossible to feign that level of cluelessness. As much as Atlanta wanted to keep its pick, they badly wanted a top 2 pick. The third pick overall means plenty of research needs to be done by the Hawks brass and last year's research led to reaching for Shelden Williams with the 5th pick. They wanted the no-brainer pick and instead, they will have to act with a look forward to the future to determine which of its young core it wants to retain. The rookie contracts of Josh Smith, Josh Childress, and Salim Stoudamire come to an end in 2008, as do those of Anthony Johnson, Tyronn Lue, and Lorenzen Wright.

So there you have it. That's the lesson for the day. Don't sit your best players in the 4th quarter just to get a higher pick for the following year. The NBA (i.e. the karma police) will get even and make sure your fans think your organization is cursed.

The Morning Buzz

We are on the morning of the NBA Draft Lottery drawing, which I argue is the most important day on the NBA calendar for about one-third of its teams. These are the same teams who tanked it for two-thirds of the season and made basketball atrocious to watch for months on end.
Here are some key storylines heading into tonight's drawing.

Storyline #1: The #1 overall pick. Memphis has the best opportunity at 25.0%, but that is in no way a sure thing. If they get the #1 pick, can you imagine Pau Gasol with a dominant center (he's not dominant yet) patrolling the lane? He's never had one of those. Brandon Roy may have been rookie of the year, but Rudy Gay will have the top sophomore campaign with the supporting cast of Gasol, Greg Oden, and Mike Miller. He can score in bunches and contributes in other ways, so long as he is not the guy. It's a shame that they don't play in the East.

If Boston gets the pick, will Doc Rivers still use 100 different starting lineups over the course of a 82-game season next year? He will find a way and successfully drive Celtics fans insane. That's assuming they're not already insane.

Storyline #2: Atlanta's Top 3 Protected Pick. Right now, it belongs to Phoenix as they sit in the 4th position. If Phoenix holds onto the pick, they can draft from a number of talented forwards, including Yi Jianlian, Al Horford, and possibly Brandan Wright. This can allow the Suns to have a natural replacement for potentially outgoing forward Shawn Marion who can opt for free agency in the summer. This could also lead to a trade - although I doubt seeing it happen - between the Suns and the recipient of the first pick overall offering Shawn Marion and Phoenix's three first-round picks (4th, 24th, and 29th) for what will likely to be Greg Oden.

Should the Hawks be able to keep the pick for yet another year, they will have a second pick in the lottery and a pick in the top 3. Essentially, this would give head coach Mike Woodson less than a year to start winning or else he'll be shown the door.

Storyline #3: Larry Brown to Memphis? Rumors have flown for the last couple weeks and even earlier with regard to Larry Brown locking up the Grizzlies head coaching post if they can land the #1 pick tonight.

Storyline #4: Elgin Baylor. Will he represent the Clippers? He's been missed the last couple years and the lottery hasn't been the same without him.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Legends of the Fall [not the bad movie]

Both have been called the greatest to play their respective positions. Both have seen the promise land and won a championship. Both have felt the pain of falling short in the biggest game of their lives. Both are enigmas in their locker rooms, to their organizations, and their sports. Both are rumored to retire or return for another season (or more) seemingly daily. Both are salivated upon by the media, specifically ESPN, at a near nauseating frequency.

One is a pitcher named Roger Clemens.
One is a quarterback named Brett Favre.

That is where the comparisons seem to end. Forget the awards, the records, their contracts, or even the disparity in their supporting casts. Instead, try and decipher which athlete, detailed rather vividly in the mini-biography below, links to either Clemens or Favre. Then maybe you can decide whom you’d root for.

He’s extremely camera-friendly on and off the playing field. He makes an insane amount of cash, seemingly five-to-six months out of the year, working usually once a week. Not surprisingly, his work ethic and preparation are unparalleled. No mistake about it, he wants, no demands, the spotlight. He’s willing to take on everything that accompanies it too. You might say, he’d have it no other way. It’s why he can’t help but return when he’s needed the most. Whether it’s the first minute of the game or the closing seconds of a playoff chase, the light will always be shone directly on him. That’s how it is when winning is everything for you; yet, it’s a distant second to family.

After each and every game, part of you wonders if this is the last time you witnessed a legend that may never be followed. Just imagine how their hometown fans feel. After a negative performance, his detractors pine for his now-faded glory days…until they’re shortly reminded, during even the briefest moments or excellence, that his glory days, and overall legacy, will never be forgotten.

He may not be a true teacher of the game, but his peers would be fools not to soak up almost every tangible piece of knowledge he may lob your way, directly or not.

Fans, even those brandishing media badges, gawk over him like a six-year old with Spiderman. He has an intense flair for the dramatics. He isn’t afraid to fail. He annoys you to death sometimes…mainly because he’s still capable of being that good. You’ve rooted against him for years, only because he’s never been on your team. You’ll miss him, much more than you think or expect, when he’s gone.

Who is he?

By now you should’ve realized, he’s Brett Favre and Roger Clemens.

Funny how often that happens…

Until next time…

Friday, May 18, 2007

Four Burning Questions

If the Suns get eliminated tonight by the Spurs, does Phoenix's window to win the NBA Championship close?

NCAA Basketball
How many more articles can major sports columnists generate now that the last two major recruits, Patrick Patterson and Jai Lucas committed to Kentucky and Florida, respectively?

How useless are the Cubs and Yankees? Seriously, the Mets pretty much gave away the final game of the series by resting the likes of Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Paul LoDuca, yet Ryan Dumpster [sic] with a little help from Scott Eyre flushed the Cubs' chances of achieving a split against a very good team. As for the Yanks, how about getting a trainer who can keep your squad healthy? No doubt, I believe they'll eventually start winning games and take the AL Wild Card live due to the glut of good teams in the NL Central.

Does anyone believe Brett Favre's latest assertion that he didn't ask or demand for a trade from the Green Bay Packers? This is less likely to be true than his demand to be traded to the 1996 Packers?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Home Cookin': Ram-Style

Note: It's rare, even in brief passing, that VCU is in any sporting headlines (outside of Richmond). Combine that with my beloved Jets, and a personal pop is needed to spread some surprisingly refreshing news.

The New York Jets signed five free agents Tuesday, including former Virginia Commonwealth basketball star Jesse Pellot-Rosa.

Another Duke-beater just trying to make it in the world.

Pellot-Rosa, who tried out at wide receiver, helped lead the Rams to a Colonial Athletic Association title and a first-round upset of Duke in the NCAA tournament in March. He averaged 13.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and shot over 42 percent from 3-point range last season.

Pellot-Rosa last played organized football in high school. He was recruited by Tennessee, Alabama and Virginia to play football, but chose to play basketball at VCU, which doesn't have a football team.

"I love to play football just like I love to play basketball," Pellot-Rosa said during minicamp. "They are equal to me. I love to play both, and it's been like that since I was a kid -- you go out
on the playground and love to play. It didn't really matter whether it was basketball or football. I would play either one."

George Mason's Jai Lewis had a similar chance following his team's miracle run in 2006, but was not signed, with the New York Giants.

I'll be interested to see how long Jesse does or doesn't last. But for now, I bet he's smiling every minute of the way.

Until next time...

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Big Shot Rob…Strikes Again

Rather than by nailing a clutch 3-pointer to doom the fate of the Phoenix Suns in Game 4 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals, Robert Horry struck a potentially more damaging blow by elbowing Steve Nash into the scorer’s table with 18 seconds to go in Game 4. [A game in which
Phoenix withstood everything San Antonio had and secured a pivotal road victory evening up the series at 2-2.]

Just imagine the size of the suspension if one of the NBA bad boys had done this to Nash.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

It should’ve left all of us eager viewers with an already stellar series, chippy or not, with three drama-packed games remaining and plenty of drama in the tank.

Instead, Horry’s elbow left a much more ominous fallout.

Amare Stoudemire, despite irrational pleas that he was checking in (not a chance, bro), and key backup Boris Diaw were both suspended for Game 5 on Tuesday evening.

Horry got 2 games himself. One for the elbow to Nash and one to loudmouth Raja Bell in a mini-altercation. Swift justice from the NBA as usual.

Nevermind that Horry started the entire thing. Even an idiot can tell that without Horry’s cheap shot, which he loaded up before delivering, nothing happens and no suspensions are needed. Now of course, this doesn’t mean anything that happens after a first incident doesn’t matter. But we’re not arguing such a simplistic ideal. This isn’t the time for a philosophical debate.

Instead, we have real-life video and real-life assessments that need to be made.

Mere seconds after it occurred, just about anyone who knows a thing about the NBA realized that after Stoudemire and Diaw left the bench, entering no more than 24 inches onto the court itself, the two young Sun playmakers had all but instantly drawn automatic suspensions from NBA resident sheriff Stu Jackson. There’s precedent written all over the books for this exact scenario which Jackson can easily fall back on too (hello Knick-fans and Patrick Ewing…thanks PJ Brown, by the way).

Unfortunately for the Suns, this leaves them sans Stoudemire and Diaw for Game 5, in a series in which they are tied 2-2 with home court advantage. Sure the Spurs lose Horry for Games 5 and 6, but they’d make the trade any day of the week. Grabbing the Suns leading scorer, rebounder, and impact player is plenty. Throwing in Diaw, Stoudemire’s immediate replacement, and a key bench performing (on a scale higher than Horry’s no less) is a king’s ransom.

Now let’s get the obvious out of the way: Amare and Diaw shouldn’t have left the bench. Period.

However, this speaks to two incredibly important questions:
1st) Did Amare or Boris have any direct contact or even eye contact with Horry or a Spur following the play? The answer is a definitive NO. Video tape clearly shows them almost instantly retreating from on the court; instead, it is other Phoenix players, specifically Raja Bell (to nobody’s surprise) who defended Nash on the court against Horry.
2nd) What is the need for clinging to a precedent which automatically suspends and leave no real room for appropriate discretion? Horry’s actions were deemed worthy of a 2-game suspension. Nevermind his malicious attempt to hurt Nash. I suppose if Nash had been bloodied again or perhaps had seriously injured himself (laying it on thick, ala Tony Parker in Game 1), then more games might’ve been tacked on.

And for those who question Nash's flying into the side of the scorer's table, check the stat sheet. Nash is 6’3 and 195 lbs. while Horry clocks in at just under 6-10 and 240 lbs. If you’ddoubt such a distortion, especially when Nash is running up-court trying to avoid being fouled...I’d be glad to deliver a forearm-shiver from my 250 lbs. frame to anyone at anytime for demonstration.

Earlier this season, Carmelo Anthony punches a player, in the face, and gets fifteen games. Why is Horry’s forearm-shiver, purposely meant to hurt Nash (frustration or not, an action like that means nothing else) barely worth 1/8th of that penalty?

This reeks of the rather wimpy penalty dished out to Ben Wallace, who instigated the Malice at the Palace, which put Ron Artest onto the bad-boy map now and forever.

Jackson briefly commented that Horry’s additional elbow to Raja Bell warranted another game. Is this meaning that Horry’s first shot to Nash was worthy of 1 game? Only 1? So if he had stepped on Nash aftewards and elbowed D'Antoni before exiting, would it have been only 4? Stu?

Honestly, I have to ask: how come Horry doesn’t, at the very least, receive a 3 game suspension? Even though one can only predict if the series will go 2 or 3 more games, why on earth should Horry be allowed to play another game in this series? Especially if it’s Game 7. While he didn’t force Stoudemire and Diaw off the bench directly, without his action…their reactions, tame if you ask most people, would've have even been fathomed.

That has to matter at least somewhat. Doesn’t it?

In fact, could you imagine the impact if he were to hit yet another memorable shot to doom another contender into pretender status? Anarchy and chaos would reign supreme in Phoenix.

In a side note: Steve Kerr, reporting on behalf of Yahoo! Sports, mentioned during an earlier incident in the game, that Spurs Tim Duncan and Bruce Bowen briefly “left the bench” much in the same manner that Amare and Boris did. While I didn’t see said play described in the article, it seems to be long fogotten by now. At least from any meaningful NBA executive offices.

While Stu Jackson could’ve easily slapped Amare and Boris with major fines, and potentially lessened Horry’s suspension to a single game in return for not suspending the Suns-duo, it’s obvious he followed precedent without considering the circumstances fully.

If I'm Phoenix management, I take a page from the Warriors and print out t-shirts for all the fans to wear. I can see it now. It's a black and silver shirt that says DIRTY. And it has Horry's forearm to Nash on the back. Why not paint your crowd with the rival colors to prove a point? Sure you'd be fined. But it'd be worth it.

So the now Spurs head to Phoenix, tied 2-2, and see an opponent missing its two legitimate post-options. Good luck to Kurt Thomas, who might need to somehow play 48-minutes on Wednesday night. Remembering to not get into any foul trouble either in what should be an incredibly tightly-called game no less. Ditto for the likes of…wait, who else do the Suns have on their roster who can even attempt to post up with 2-time MVP Tim Duncan? Hmmm. Ironically, it appears Jalen Rose or even, ugh, Pat Burke may see their first playoff minutes. Either that or Shawn Marion better gain 35 lbs. overnight.

This entire ordeal, which is now officially even more befuddling than an episode of Lost, has left me asking a completely different question as I type: how little will this incident tarnish the image of Robert Horry?

While countless other players are seemingly never forgiven for even a minor transgression, it is barely known that Big Shot Rob once threw a towel in the face of his then head coach, in Phoenix, Danny Ainge. During a game. His punishment then? A trade to the Lakers and the opportunity to win more rings. Now, it seems he may be even a step closer to his seventh ring. What a warm story.

In the end, Horry’s actions only validated what Amare Stoudemire illuminated, criticism suddenly silent against him, earlier in the week. It was another dirty play from a dirty team.

See if you can find a pattern here.
Whether it’s been Bowen kneeing Nash in the groin, Bowen faking an injury from a supposed elbow down the court, Bowen kicking the achilles of Amare, or Tim Duncan whining about each and every call throughout the game…the once classy Spurs have the Suns right where they want them.

Thanks Robert for another series-changing shot.

Yes, even you commit a foul or two Timmy.
Credit: Sports Opinions Blog

Monday, May 14, 2007

Credos for the NBA Draft

For the die-hard NBA Draft fanatics, you are likely to have a gist of many of the credos being mentioned. For the casual NBA Draft follower, these credos are a guiding light while you walk aimlessly through the muck of overdone coverage in the week leading up to the draft.

When something goes awry on draft night and makes no sense to the point of going beyond the counter-intuitive, look no further than the credos.

1. Upside, Upside, Upside. NBA teams do not draft on performance. They draft on potential. See Michael Olowakandi. See the entire Kwame Brown draft.

2. If at all possible, the Seattle Supersonics will draft a "project" center. Just ask Robert Swift, Johan Petro, and Saer Sene. We won't talk about the contracts doled out to the likes of Chris Wilcox, Danny Fortson, and Nick Collison. Come 2008, they will be itching to get their hands on the 7'3" project that is Hasheem Thabeet.

3. NBA teams reach for size. Three years from now, at least one big man will be selected in the first round of this year's draft, and someone will say, how did [insert team] pass up [insert player, likely a guard taken in the early- to mid-second round]? Even in this year's strong draft class, teams will reach and miss badly like the Hawks and Knicks did in the past with blunders such as Priest Lauderdale and Frederic Weis.

3a. The Franchise Big Man Corollary. A corollary to this credo posits that if you have a choice of taking a franchise-caliber center or a franchise-caliber player at any other position, you must select the center. Since Jordan, what is the commonality among almost all NBA championship teams? A dominating center. This is why we feel that Greg Oden is a no-brainer #1 selection over Kevin Durant.

4. The second round of the draft is all about the international players, many of whom are 23 and older, and thus, automatically eligible for the NBA Draft. In the 2006 draft, 10 international players were selected in the 2nd round.

5. The Tiago Splitter Effect. This is when international players who are 1st-round talents will take their name out of the draft when they fail to receive a promise from a team drafting among the top ten picks. By rule, international players can flirt with the draft until age 23 when they become automatically eligible.