The most improved player debate

Apologies for not posting consistently for a while. I've just finished my wave of finals and what not. Hopefully I will be able to post a lot more consistently than I have been in the coming months.

The MVP debate has not really heated up yet. It is still too close to call. The two most lively debates are the Most Improved Player award and the Rookie of the Year award. On a side note, Lou Williams might be able to challenge Ginobli for the 6th Man award, but he has to play at his current level for the rest of the season which is a long shot. For now, we'll focus on the 3 most improved players in the NBA.

Rajon Rondo: It is not longer the Big 3 in Boston. Rondo has clearly established himself as one of the premier point guards in the league. He is putting up amazing numbers and many won't deny that the reason the Celtics are playing at the level they are at is due in large part to Rondo's play. He has had some amazing games this season that were well publicized, and is averaging 11 ppg and 7.3 assists and shooting an amazing 51% from the field. He is reliable and delivers pretty night after night. We need to remember that Rondo is only 22 years old right now. He is a supreme athlete with long arms who can cut defenses apart, and has incredibly decision making skills. Doc Rivers does not need to worry when the ball is in his hands because he only averages 2.3 turnovers a game. Rondo had his coming out party in the finals last year when he outplayed Derek Fisher in virtually every aspect of the game. He has used that momentum to show that he can help lead this team. There is no question that Rondo is the difference in the Celtics this season, and has helped fill James Posey's shoes.

Brandon Roy: I'm sure you all have heard that Roy dropped 55 last night against the Suns. He has emerged as one of the premier players in the league. Roy is an awesome player to watch. He is one of those players who can do it all, and he is also a player who comes through in the clutch. Roy can play in the post, face up, shoot, pass, and everything in between. He is also a great athlete who has enough strength to create his own shots off the dribble. Roy has helped the Blazers become a legitimate playoff contender. Not only will the Blazers make the playoffs this year, they will be in the middle of the pack which is a big change from the past few seasons where they have struggled to find the 8th seed. Roy is averaging 23.4 ppg and 5.2 assists to help the Blazers to 3rd place in the Western Conference and only a half game behind their division rivals, the Nuggets. There is no doubt that this drastic improvement in performance is a direct effect of Roy's elevated performance. As of now, Roy is my favorite to win the award. I would even go as far to say he is a MVP candidate.

Lou Williams: It might be a little early to consider him for this category, but with Brand going down, he has a chance to prove he belongs. He will be a candidate for 6th man and this category because of the explosive nature of his stats in the past few weeks. He just had a career high tonight against the Wizards with 26 points. Williams was not performing up to expectations earlier this season, but in the recent weeks has turned his game around. Maurice Cheeks will look to him to be their primary scorer off the bench, and in the weeks without Brand, they will look to Williams to be one of their primary scorers in general in Brand's absence. Williams is averaging 10.9 ppg and 2.2 assts, but expect those to dramatically increase in the coming weeks. If Williams and the rest of the 6ers can produce at a high level, it will allow Brand the time he needs to rest, and won't have to rush back to action. Expect Williams to be averaging north of 15ppg in Brand's absence.

Al Harrington: I know no one would even consider him, but doesn't his amazing improvement post-being traded warrant some kind of consideration? The voters should be able to interpret the phrase 'Most Improved Player of the Year" however they wish. He did improve a lot since he has been traded, and has played a key role in making the Knicks competitive. Just a thought.

I do think Danny Granger and Devin Harris are candidates for this award also, but I wrote about them in my top 5 most overachieving players so I didn't want to bore you all with repetitive details.


Analysis on the Jason Richardson and Boris Diaw/Raja Bell trade

There were two trades that went down in the NBA today. The Hornets, Wizards, and Grizzlies were involved in a trade. The impact of that trade is relatively minor so I will focus on the big trade that went down today. The trade was Jason Richardson, Jared Dudley, and a 2nd round pick from Charlotte to Phoenix for Boris Diaw, Raja Bell, and Sean Singletary.

Lets start off with Charlotte. I have no idea what they are doing with this trade. They give up their top scorer for two mediocre scorers in Diaw and Bell. Diaw is signed until the summer of 2011 and has an option for the 2011 and 2012 season. Bell is signed until the summer of 2010. So cap space was not the motivation. They couldn't even fake like they were going for Lebron because Diaw's 9 million is still on the books during the summer of 2010. The rotation of Richardson, Augustin, and Felton was working out really well for Larry Brown. It is a little surprising that they broke that rotation up. I expect the Bobcats to make Bell part of that 3-man rotation, but it will be with Bell playing a much smaller role than in Phoenix. The acquisition of Diaw makes a little more sense, and he will be the backup for Okafur. It bolster's Charlotte's size, but I can't justify giving up my top scorer for two role players that would fit in well with a championship calibur team. Clearly, Charlotte is nowhere near a championship, but they still took these two players on. It is at best, and I stress the word 'best', a linear move for the Bobcats.

For the Suns, this has continued the trend of good players moving West. Jason Richardson gives the Suns a chance to compete with the best teams in the West. The West is so good on paper, if you were to try and rank the teams without seeing them play, you could legitimately make a case for the top 6 teams in the West to be in multiple positions in the West. Jason Richardson averages 18.7 ppg and 4.1 rebs a game and has about 2 3-pointers a game. He is also a decent defender who will cause a lot of matchup problems for teams. He will be able to body up the the SG or SF on any team they play. That includes the Kobe's and Odom's, the T-Mac's and Artest's, and the Roy's and Outlaw's of the West. Not to mention the East's SG's and SF's. Shaq and Amare will provide good interior defense, and being able to have a 3-man rotation of Hill, Barnes, and Richardson provides a strong combination of defense and offense whenever any of the 3 are on the floor. It also gives them a tremendous amount of versatility in their offense. They have a strong inside presence in Shaq which allows Stoudamire more freedom, and putting gunners like Grant Hill, Richardson, and Barnes on the perimeter will stretch defenses thin. Throw in a penetrating pass-first point guard in Nash, and the Suns looks like a pretty good team.

Nash said that he was sad to see Raja Bell leave because Bell was Nash's best friend, but I don't think Nash will be disappointed with the player he is getting in return. The Suns are not in the cellar of the West anymore. The West has become ultra competitive. I am too young to make a claim that this is the strongest a conference has been, but I can't imagine that a conference in the past has surpassed the current Western Conference in talent by much. There is no doubt that as an NBA fan this has been one of the most exciting time periods to follow the league. The competition between the teams will ensure that teams will be fighting all season long for playoff seeding. This mitigates some arguments people make about the NBA season being too long, and the teams not caring. I think we can be safe in assuming teams will be fighting until June.



Top 5 underachieving players

Fans and teams have huge expectations of certain players. Just like the surprise players every year, there are also disappointments. Here are the top 5 disappointments thus far.

Elton Brand: He left the Clippers hanging even though they made the move for Baron Davis, but the expectations for the Sixers were through the roof, and now they are back where they have always been. The Sixers are desperate for success. They gave up AI with the expectation that they could rebuild. The team has failed to perform up to par, and Elton Brand is not helping change that notion. The only reason I didn't put Iguodala on this list is because I have always thought he was overrated and not equipped to fill the role of Iverson. The acquisition of Brand was suppose to shoot the Sixers into Eastern Conference title contention. Instead, they are 9-11 behind the Celtics and Nets. Brand is averaging 16.7 ppg and 10 rebs. You may say that isn't so bad, but that is the lowest ppg he has had since he has been in the league. His 10 rebs are about his average. Remember, the Clippers were about to pay him around $100 million until he left to Philly for less money, but still due to make $13.7 million this season. One could also make the argument that Andre Miller and Andre Iguodala are taking away from his production, but Andre is only averaging 15.5 points (1.1 point higher than his career average), and Iguodala is averaging the lowest ppg since his sophomore season at 13.9 ppg. There is enough to go around, Brand just isn't getting it done. The Sixers record combined, expectation, salary and Brand's career low in points makes him the clear pick for the most underachieving player.

2. The Raptors: I can't pin point one player on the Raptors who is underachieving. Did we really expect Jermaine O'Neal not to get injured? They fired their coach Sam Mitchell which was a scapegoat move for their abysmal performance this season. Chris Bosh has done his part by scoring 26.1ppg and 10.3 rebs. The next highest scorer is Jose Calderon at 12.7 ppg and then Jermaine O'Neal at 12.6ppg. Having a 14 point difference between your #1 and #2 scorers is not going to get it done. The Raptors are also waiting on their project Andrea Bargnani to start producing. Currently Bargnani is averaging 11.16 ppg and 5.1 rebs which is solid, but they need more from him. The Raptors also have some pretty good role players in Jason Kapono, Anthony Parker, and Jamario Moon, but still not enough to get them to a winning level. On paper, this is a team that could be top 3 in the Eastern Conference. They have the pieces there, they might be a little undersized, but it is not looking good for them right now.

3. Brad Miller: This guy has been on the decline for a while. He is a two-time former All-Star, but has failed to live up to that standard since he made the All-Star team in 04. He got a huge paycheck when he left Indiana and joined the Kings. He is due to make $11.3 million this season. However, he is just averaging 11.9 ppg this season and 7.9 rebs. He averaged 13.4 ppg and 9.4 rebs last season. The reason Miller makes this list is due to how much he will constrain the Kings until the summer of 2010. Judging by Miller's play, he won't be getting paid anywhere close to the contract he has right now. What is frustrating is that he has proven he can compete at the 5 position, but has been inconsistent in producing that. Night after night Miller continues to get beat up by the Western Conference's size. He is also an injury prone player that has not been able to get the job done against the bigmen in the West, and I'm sure the Maloof brothers are regretting the decision to give him such a huge contract. The Kings will be stuck at the bottom of the Western Conference for a few more years.

Allen Iverson: It is tough to make the transition to a new team suddenly after you have been preparing to be with one team for the whole seasson, but Iverson is a superstar. He is not suppose to have decreases in production when he is traded. He averaged 26.4ppg and 7.1 assists last season for the Nuggets. For Detroit, Iverson is averaging 17.8 ppg and 5.5 assists. He is averaging about 10 points lower than his career average of 27.5 ppg. Dumars made the trade for AI with the expectation that AI was going to continue to produce at the level he needed to. Detroit managed to hand the Lakers their first loss of the season, but outside of that, they have been very inconsistent. Out of their 8 losses, 4 have come from Minnesota, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York. Those 4 teams are all worse than Detroit. They should have been easy wins for the Pistons. Their struggles in their 8 losses can be attributed to AI's decline in play. The Pistons are 7-8 with Iverson so far. He makes $20 million, but is not playing like the superstar we have known him to be. AI better turn this around fast or he will find himself with less than impressive contract offers this summer that will take him to the last years of his career.

Shawn Marion: It is tough to put Marion on this list because of the major turnaround the Heat have had this year. They are 11-9, and showing no signs of slowing down. Wade leads the league in scoring, but Marion has seen a major decline in production. Marion only averages 12.6 ppg behind Beasley's 14.1 ppg. Marion's is also averaging 9.4 rebs and 1.5 blocks which are in the ballpark of his career averages. The drastic drop in points is surprising. Marion is constantly around the basket and is known to get a lot of hustle points. That has seemed to take a hit this season as Beasley is grabbing a lot of rebounds and Chalmers is another credible scorer the Heat have this year. Imagine if Marion came up to the levels that he has played his whole career. The Heat would be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Marion is also the highest paid player on the team, and wants a big extension from the Heat or a new team. Marion has not helped his case thus far.



Top 5 overachieving players and the Top 5 underacheiving players

Every NBA season brings us a new list of players who have a breakout season. With these breakout seasons also come players who don't live up to expectations. This is part 1 of 2 of the Top 5 overachieving players and the Top 5 underachieving players. Here is my list for the Top 5 overachievers.

1. Devin Harris: He might not be the best player to put at the top of this list just because New Jersey had high expectations of him. When the Jason Kidd trade went down that sent Harris to New Jersey, Harris was labeled by that vague term, 'prospect'. Usually players labeled by that term take a few years to develop, if ever. We all know that Harris was a college standout at Wisconsin and he won Big 10 player of the year honors, but his start in the NBA was a little rough. The expectation from Harris was always absurdly high being the 5th pick in the draft. His first season in 04-05 he averaged 5.7 ppg and 2.2 assists. He increased that average every year up until midway through the 07-08 season to 14.4 pts and 5.3 assists when he got traded. The second half of that season playing for the Nets, he saw a 1 point increase in his point total to 15.4 and increased his assists to 6.5.
This season, Harris is averaging an astonishing 24.8 points and 6.1 assists and is the 6th leading scorer in the league right now, and is shooting a solid 48% from the field. That is about an 11 ppg jump from his average in the 07-08 season. His play has elevated his team all around him, and the Nets are enjoying a 9-8 record and 2nd in the Atlantic division, only behind Boston, and 4th place in the Eastern Conference. I don't think anyone had New Jersey higher than 7th place this season, and that was even a stretch. They have been the surprise team, and it is all due to Devin Harris. We'll see if they can keep this up.

2. Danny Granger: Another player who broke onto the scene last season. Granger probably isn't known outside of Indiana and to the casual basketball fan. He was not highly regarded out of college because he played in a small conference for the up and down New Mexico program. Granger is the 7th leading scorer in the league who is also hitting 2.8 3's a game. He is a combo player who can play virtually anywhere on the floor, and has such a wide range of skills, he is a matchup nightmare for other teams. Granger's play has led the Pacers over the wins over the Lakers and the Celtics this season. The Pacers have been playing up to their competition this year, and have shown they can win. I expect that Granger will keep this level of play up for the rest of the season, but I don't expect the Pacers to do much more than they have been doing. I expect them not to make the playoffs and finish last in the Central Division. They do have great pieces in Granger, Daniels, and if Dunleavy can come back healthy, Larry Bird might have a strong squad up there.

OJ Mayo: He might be playing on one of the worst teams in the league (4-14), but Mayo is playing out of his mind. He has shown an incredibly maturity coming into the NBA and putting him alongside Rudy Gay has only helped him. The scary thing about Mayo is that he is only a rookie, and will only get better. From what I've heard, this guy is a work horse. He is a gym rat, and obsessed with his game. I've heard scouts say he has the 'it' factor that MJ, Kobe, and Lebron posess. Marc Gasol is still a little raw at this point, but when Marc Gasol gets better, we could be looking at a very respectable team with Gasol, Gay, and Mayo. Mayo has averaged 21.3ppg this season, 13th best in the league, and only .2 away from #12 Dwight Howard. The reason Mayo makes this list is due to the difficulty guards have adjusting to the NBA game. He gets a steal or two a game and dishes out a few assists every game and his one or two 3's every game. He can get to the basket, create his own shot, pass, and is a superior athlete. He has shown maturity in the game ahead of his years. We could be looking at the rise of one of the best guards in the league.

Nene: His emotional comeback from winning his battle with cancer might have inspired his play this year. He is a huge part of the Nuggets success and a clear third option for the team. Nene is averaging 15 pts, 7.3 rebs and 1.6 blocks, all of those are his best career averages. Oh yeah, he also has the highest field goal percentage in the league shooting a staggering 63.2%. When people talk about the elite Centers in the league, people seldom mention Nene. He has come onto the scene this year, and this is a pleasant surprise for George Karl because this could help the Nuggets get past the first round, and be exactly what they need to get further in the playoffs. The Nuggets are looking like a more mature team overall this year, and that is due, in part, to Nene's play.

Ramon Sessions: I would expect that hardcore NBA fans have been following Sessions for a while. For those of you who don't know, he is a D-League call-up, and he has played sensational for the Bucks. He played about 17 games last season for the Bucks, and averaged a little over 11 assists per game in that time. He is going to stick around in the big leagues for a while. He is averaging 14.9 pts and 6 assists this season. He is coming up huge for the Bucks, and they have to like their investment. Sessions is also a great value for them because he is a solid backup for Luke Ridnour, I use the term 'backup' loosely here because he plays 32.9 minutes a game, and started when Ridnour was out. He is also great value for the Bucks in terms of salary. He is the lowest paid player on the Bucks at $722,517, and is the 3rd highest scorer on the team, and plays more minutes than the $70 million dollar Center, Andrew Bogut. He is worth much more than he gets paid, and the Bucks better use him to his full extent before he becomes a free agent because there will not be a shortage of potential teams looking to invest in Sessions.

Top 5 underachievers soon to come...



New Banner

So as you can see, the new banner is up. It was done by my friend Ray Kay. He is a business major here at Wake, and hopes to go into a career in marketing one day. As you can see, he isn't too bad at this whole marketing thing. I'm sure this banner will be an attractive aspect of the site, and I hope you all enjoy it. I can't take credit for the design, but I will enjoy it like the rest of you. If you all want to find out more about Ray Kay and what he is about, visit his site: raykay.wordpress.com. He has a new site going up on blogspot, but that is still under construction.

More basketball related posts later this week.

Hope you all had an enjoyable vacation.



What I'm thankful for

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I do have a lot to be thankful for in my life, but we won't go into that. We, as NBA fans, also have a lot to be thankful for in our basketball lives. Here is what I'm thankful for this NBA season.

The Knicks: Finally, one of the most storied franchises in sports is revived. It has been a tough few years for Knicks fans. As we all know, they have made some big moves in the past few years to compete this year and the next, and to set themselves up for the 2010 free agency period. This has to be encouraging for Knicks fans. Finally, some sense behind the moves of the Knicks front office. Good job Donnie Walsh.

The rookie class: This has been an amazing rookie class. Derrick Rose, OJ Mayo, and Michael Beasley are living up to the hype. After that, they have also been pretty solid. Russell Westbrook isn't playing as bad as the Thunder's record would suggest. He has been a steady contributor, and the rookie dubbed as 'most likely to bust' by myself and Greg Johnson, is proving us wrong. Unexpected rookies making an impact right now are DJ Augustin and Jason Thompson. Augustin dropped 25 and 11 assists and 5 rebounds in Jason Richardson's absense. The Kings also have to be happy with Jason Thompson's surprising development by averaging 11.4 pts and 7 rebs. Virtually unknown coming out of Rider, Thompson has potential to be a great player in this league who can be a legitimate 2nd option for a lot of teams, and also to be a very good defender. Golden State also got two great players who were undrafted in DeMarcus Nelson and Anthony Morrow. As a Wake fan, I was obviously bias against Nelson, but he has been a surprise for not even being drafted. I was also bias against the Georgia Tech star, Morrow, but I have always respected his game. Morrow has a very bright future in this league, and the Warriors proved the 'huge upside' phrase that gets thrown around way too much. Rounding out the great rookie class surprises are Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and Mario Chalmers. All of which are making big impacts for their teams right now. Also, dont forget the Lopez twins who have been contributing some solid numbers recently.

The closing gap between East and West: For the last few years, the West has dominated the NBA landscape. It is great to finally see the gap closing in the league so we can stop the talk about re-doing the conferences and what not. It makes for great basketball, and it makes it fun to be a fan. It reinforces two levels of fanhood. The first is of your team, and the second, is of your conference. A fan can always stick to the side that "my conference has x,y,z teams" which always make for good NBA debates.

The Boston/LA rivalry: We got enough of this during the Finals, but it seems like we will be able to see this historic rivalry relived. As a Laker fan, I'm thankful for my teams success and I acknowledge that both Celtic and Laker fans are outrageously priviledged. Nonetheless, as a young basketball fan, it is great to be a part of such a historic rivlary revived. Many fans only get to read about the historic rivalries related to their franchises, and even fewer fans get to re-live the rivalry again. We could be on the fringes of that rivalry being re-started if both teams can keep this level of play for the next 5 or 6 years even if different players are apart of the rivalry.

The Donaghy scandal being left behind: When the scandal broke, it was a hit to everyone involved in the NBA, including the fans. It is now safe to say that the fallout from the scandal was less than expected. After the Pedowitz report and fast action from the league office, we have been lucky that it did not affect the sport more than it did. We can now rest and be reassured that it was just an isolated incident. We all know that it could have been much worse than it turned out to be. The basketball nation can now start a new chapter in the sport's history, and putting behind one of the darkest moments in sports history behind us.



Al Harrington and Jamal Crawford trade analysis

It has been reported that the Warriors and Knicks have reached a deal in principle that will send the disgruntled Warriors forward Al Harrington to New York in exchange for guard Jamal Crawford.

This deal could not be any better for Al Harrington. He goes from the up-tempo pickup style offense of Don Nelson to the slightly more structured "Run-N-Gun" offense of Mike D'Antoni. Al Harrington will bring a new level of versatility to the Knicks. It is no secret that the Knicks want to trade Zach Randolph, Stephon Marbury, and Eddy Curry. There is serious interest in Zach Randolph by the Clippers and little to no interest in Marbury and Curry. In the mean time, having Harrington and Randolph up front in a speedy offense is D'Antoni's dream come true. Harrington's deadly three point shot will spread the floor and stretch defenses. Harrington does shoot an abysmal 39.2% from the field, but that number could go a bit higher if he starts to play with more passion than he did with the Warriors. Playing in New York will likely be a motivating factor.

Harrington has had 0 blocks this season which shows his lack of defensive effort, but did have a bit above a steal a game in this young season. Watching Harrington's play and body language this season made it clear that he did not want to be a part of the Warriors anymore, and this trade could not have come any sooner. The Knicks will be an excellent fit for him, and sets the Knicks up for the Lebron sweepstakes in 2010 (more on Lebron in a bit). Harrington has a year on his contract after this season so it could be used as another incentive to attract Lebron by having a jumpshooter at the 4 who will lessen congestion in the lane, and if it doesn't work out, Donnie Walsh can always tell Lebron that Harrington's $9.2 million comes off the books in the summer of 2011 and they can look for another wingman.

The problem for the Knicks in this trade will be how D'Antoni shares minutes in the front court. They have already benched Curry, and have no intentions of playing him. They have Zach Randolph, and young prospects, David Lee and Wilson Chandler. With 4 big men fighting for minutes one of them has to go. To be more competitive in the Lebron sweepstakes they need to get rid of Randolph. The Knicks are not looking at this season to make an impact in the league, they are looking to 2010, and getting rid of Zach Randolph's $14.6 million will go a long way in getting Lebron. Trading Randolph might not be as hard as it sounds. It has been reported while this post was being written that Donnie Walsh is ready to give up Randolph to the Clippers, and is just waiting on confirmation from the Clippers. This news should not be a surprise considering the Clippers have been looking to find a replacement for Elton Brand. Randolph's stock is very high at the moment due to his average of 20.5ppg and 12.5 rebs. If all goes as planned and they strike a deal with the Clippers who are willing to give $14.6 million in expiring salaries in exchange for Zach Randolph, the Knicks will be in the position they want to be in. Things are finally looking up in New York.

For the Warriors, Jamal Crawford is immediate help. When Monta Ellis comes back and can be put alongside Jamal Crawford, the Warriors could have a lineup with Biedrins at the 5, Stephen Jackson at the 4, Maggette at the 3, and Crawford and Ellis in the back court with Morrow, Azubuike, and the surprising DeMarcus Nelson backing them up. In the front, they would have a solid young core of Turiaf, Brandon Wright, and Anthony Randolph coming off the bench. Not exactly a dream team, but neither was the 2006 team that upset the #1 Mavericks. Point being, Don Nelson can get it done with a crew that you least expect. Crawford is a player who can hit big shots and create for himself. Both of those talents are very valuable attributes in the perimeter offense of Don Nelson. Crawford brings 19.4ppg and 4.4 assists to the Warriors, and will have no trouble making the transition from D'Antoni's offense to Nelson's offense due to their similarities.

All in all, this was a great trade for both teams. The Warriors have a team that will be able to compete in the West for that 7th and 8th spot in the playoffs, and the Knicks have a chance to make the playoffs while making dramatic moves to cut salary in order to go after Lebron. No one is talking championship for either of these teams, but in the NBA and professional sports in general, we all know that a team is only a few moves away from being contenders, and that is what we could be seeing right now.



Suns-Rockets suspensions

The league handed down suspensions and fines to Matt Barnes (2 games), Rafer Alston (2 games), Nash (1 game), and just fines to Shaq and T-mac.

This is an unfair penalty. If you look at the replay, Shaq pushes 3 people over, and somehow Nash grabs Alston's jersey and gets 1 game. The league stated that Nash "escalated" the situation. I don't think that Nash grabbing a jersey escalated the situation anymore than a 325lb Center in Shaq, pushing over the entire crowd didn't escalate the situation. Clearly, suspending Shaq or Nash would hurt the team, but if Suns fans had to choose, they would definitely choose Nash.

The Rockets weren't hurt that bad by the suspensions. All was fair for the Rockets. T-mac did not get too involved in the situation, and losing Alston is barely a loss. They have a great guard in Aaron Brooks who will be able to take the reigns for the two games Alston is out.

The final note, the Suns have been the subject of many unfair suspensions (See 2007 playoffs). The problem with the league's policy is that the league won't listen to any appeal. Their decision is final. If Kobe is getting suspended for an elbow that comes up when he is fighting for position, and Amare is getting suspended for taking 3 steps up the court, and Nash gets one game for grabbing a jersey, the league needs to reevaluate their suspension policies. At this point, it seems arbitrary. It was also partially the refs fault for not stopping the hard screens being set on Nash earlier, and getting the game under control. It was good hard basketball. It wasnt another Palace Brawl, it was just athletes showing passion for their team and winning. Fans don't mind that. The league suspended a superstar in Nash. The league lives off the marketing of these superstars. Contradition?



It's a little too early to...

Call Greg Oden a bust: Hold on everyone. What is all this Sam Bowie and Bill Walton talk? The Blazers are cursed? Stop it. Yes, the guy had to have arthroscopic knee surgery before he played a single NBA game, and he rolled his ankle. Calm down. I'm not saying he isn't injury prone because he clearly is, but to start these comparisons and shoot him down before he has even really got up? That isn't fair. Let him come back healthy, and then we can talk about what he can do. An injury is one of the most frustrating things for a player to go through. When expectations are high, there is almost no doubt that the player won't meet those expectations. If he comes back and drops 20 and 10 a night, people will just ignore the Bowie and Walton comparisons and pretend like they never happened. Those people who lobbied for Kevin Durant back before the 2007 draft will become silent. There is no better remedy for criticism and negativity around a sports team than success. I'm not saying that Oden doesn't bust, and I'm also not saying that he will be the franchise center Kevin Pritchard thought he would be when he drafted him. All I'm saying is we need to reserve judgment, and get a better perspective on his play. If he continues to get injured for the next year or so, then we can talk.

Call Derrick Rose the Rookie of the Year: He has played fantastic. Incredibly underrated jump shot. The prototype NBA point guard. He has the complete package. With about a week and a half into the season he has put up 17.8 ppg, 4.2 assts, 3.6 rebs, a steal a game, and shooting 45% from the field. Incredible numbers for a point guard. There is no doubt that he is the future of the Bulls, but he only has 5 games under his belt. With those ROY-worthy numbers he still has 3 TOs a game and we haven't seen the full potential of other contenders like Beasley, Jason Thompson, Mario Chalmers, and OJ Mayo. Rose has gotten the most press because he is on a big market team on a historic franchise, but we can't forget about the other big name rookies coming into the draft. Mayo is competing with Rose in virtually every category except for assits. Mayo averages 16.8ppg, 1.6 steals a game, and 4 rebs. Mayo just dropped 28 against Sacramento last night, and had 6 3pointers. Didn't hear about it? Makes sense, it was Sacramento and Memphis. Beasley is averaging 17 ppg, 6.5 rebs, and 1 block a game. You can't count the other 2 top 3 picks out of the ROY race. Thompson was a shock in the draft out of Rider. Thompson is an amazing defender and has averaged 13.6 ppg and 6.8 rebs a game. He also does a lot of stuff that won't show up in the box score. Mario Chalmers has also been another shock, and could be a dark horse candidate for ROY. Miami thought they had no point guard, but Chalmers' solid play has earned him the starting job. Chalmers is averaging 8ppg, 6 assts, and 3.8 steals. He had 9 steals last night against Sacramento! The point is, don't assume anything at this point.
Rose had an incredible opportunity to play against the Redeem Team this summer, and tested his NBA talent. He was NBA ready long ago. He is clearly an amazing player, and will be one of the best point guards in the league in a couple of seasons, but we have to give credit to guys like Beasley, Mayo, and Thompson who have also had much bigger seasons than they were projected to have. Don't forget the other rookies who are having big impacts for their team. We'll talk again in two months.

Talk about a Lakers championship: Anyone who knows me, knows that my heart is Purple and Gold. Even the most prideful fan of the Lakers knows that we have to keep composed. The Lakers are 4-0. Not that impressive yet. Some of the Lakers have told confidants that the Lakers are trying to shoot for 70 wins according to ESPN. You have to love to see your team shoot high, but we have to be real here. The West is incredibly strong this year, and the East has closed that gap significantly. The league is filled with talent, and the level of play is higher than it has been in the past few seasons. Shooting for 70 is a great goal, but not going to happen, especially in the West. Furthermore, to talk championship right now? No chance. Laker fans more than anyone know how dangerous it is to talk championship before anything has even happened (As 2004 told us). The Lakers might be considered to be favorites, but if you ask any of the players, they are focused on home court advantage right now. The words 'championship' and 'Lakers' in the same sentence is a taboo subject in LA. For the rest of the basketball world, they may talk about a Lakers championship, but it will not be an easy road by any means.

Say the Spurs not contenders: Sure they started the season 0-3. They had to struggle last night to beat the Wolves in 2OT, and Tony Parker had to drop 55 and 10 assists to make it happen. We have seen this from the Spurs before. They take the regular season off for a bit, but turn it on when they need to. They are an aging team, and like to conserve energy. I'm not saying that is what they are doing right now, because they are undoubtedly playing with a sense of urgency. At this point, the Spurs are trying to stay around .500 until Ginobli comes back, and that is fine. They will still make the playoffs, and they will still make noise in the playoffs just like every other year. We don't count out a veteran team with that much championship experience 4 games into it, and without one of their Big 3.


Sports Illustrated put up a full copy of the Pedowitz Report. It is the investigation released by the private investigation the NBA hired to look into the Donaghy scandal. It exonerates former friend of Donaghy, Scott Foster, among other things. It is 133 pages, but worth a browse.


Waive Marbury!

Now that Obama is president we can get back to talking about basketball.

The Knicks have once again stated that they have no intention to waive or trade Stephon Marbury. I would like to know why. Here is a guy who is tied with Allen Iverson with the second highest salary in the NBA at $21,937,500. Here is a guy who is sitting on the sideline in street clothes with coach Mike D'Antoni having no intentions of changing that any time soon. Here is a guy who averaged 13.9ppg and 4.7 assts when he suited up last year.

Why is Marbury still on the roster? Why won't Dolan admit Isaiah Thomas' mistake and concede that the best way to go with all of this is to part ways. Every NBA fan, and even sports fan, knows that Stephon Marbury is the worst contract in sports. There is a reason for that. HE IS NOT PLAYING. Even when he was, he wasn't producing anywhere near his salary. The Knicks made a similar mistake with Alan Houston, but didn't learn. The funny thing about this whole thing is that the Knicks are the one franchise who laughs at the luxury tax. They are a franchise that will exceed the salary cap every year. They are due to pay $80 million in salary tax this year, and won't even think twice about it. Why do they care about holding onto Marbury? If they waive him, they have to incur his whole salary, but as I mentioned before, they don't care. It has become a child's game now. The Knicks are saying, "If you don't play for us, you don't play for anyone." Marbury is sitting on the sideline laughing and collecting his enormous paycheck.

Marbury won't accept a buyout of his contract. That is obvious. Would you? If you were the 2nd highest paid person in your profession, would you take significantly less so you could go work for another company for significantly less money? You can't blame Marbury. The only people you can blame are the Knick's front office officials. As fans, we just want to see players play. He is clearly good enough to be on a roster. With that said, at this point, as fans, we just need this whole thing to be cleared up. Fast.


Tim Duncan made his vote public. If you are curious, here is who he voted for.


The Allen Iverson/Chauncey Billups trade

Update: The Nuggets and Pistons have agreed to the trade. Allen Iverson will be traded to Detroit in return for Chauncey Billups, Antonio McDyess, and Cheikh Samb.

(Disclaimer: This post was written about 14 hours prior to the deal actually going through.)

The Nuggets have reportedly offered Allen Iverson to the Pistons in exchange for Chauncey Billups according to ESPN.

Both these clubs toyed with a trade this summer except Denver wanted to get rid of Carmelo Anthony. This time, the deal can't be better for both teams. For Denver, they are getting Chauncey Billups, an area they clearly need help at. Billups is a strong guard who can hang with the best of the Western Conference. He can defend the upper echelon of point guards like Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Baron Davis, and Steve Nash. A lot of people say that he is in the decline in his career, but he can't be anymore in a decline than Iverson is. He will bring defense, another thing the Nuggets lack, and a leader who can control the ball. He would also at minimum, maintain their playoff hopes, and at best increase those hopes. It also seems like a perfect fit for Carmelo. The offense will be able to run through Melo instead of having to share the ball with Iverson. Nuggets fans might be worried about scoring, because Billups has averaged about 6 points less than AI in this very young season. That discrepancy is nothing to worry about since Billups will probably be able to make up for that with defense and keeping the opposing point guard down. Billups does average about an assist more than AI, .5 steals more, 3 more rebs, and 1.3 less turnovers than AI. The averages may move up or down in either direction, but you can almost know that they will give you solid contributions every night. Billups also wouldn't mind going back to his home town of Denver.

If you are Detroit, you get a player like Iverson. Known for being one of the league's most durable players. An MVP, multiple scoring titles, countless All-Star appearances, great marketing capacity, and the coveted expiring contract. AI is due to make $21.9 million this year. The salary cap is set at $58.6 million this year and the Pistons have $67.8 on their payroll this year. That translates into about $18 million in luxury tax. Allowing that $21.9 to come off their books plus Rasheed's $13.6 from free agency this summer, that will mean they will have $35 million coming off their payroll this summer. They would have about $26 million to spend under the salary cap for free agency (assuming they don't re-sign AI and Rasheed, of course). That is big time money. A big time way to get into the free agency market. The Pistons should be salivating at this deal. They would make tons of money off of ticket and merchandise sales because of the star power Iverson brings. They are a proven franchise that can win, which AI will love because of how competitive he is. The Pistons will still be able to compete in the Eastern Conference at the same level, maybe even higher because of everything he brings to the table. AI will also have an incentive to compete because as he enters the twilight of his career, he wants to play at a high level in this contract year so he can secure that last big contract before retirement. It works all the way around for both teams, so far.

The last piece is the matching salaries. AI is due to make $21.9 million and Billups is due to make $11 million. The NBA rules dictate that salaries in a trade must come within 125% of each other. So in this case, the Pistons would need to add another player to the deal. I thought about throwing Kwame Brown into the deal because of his $4million and a draft pick to make it work, but the Nuggets would not bite on that. Detroit may even be reluctant to offer that because apparently the Pistons organization is very fond of the way Kwame has been playing (who knew?). Even if they were willing to part, the Nuggets would most likely be very reluctant to accept Kwame's deal, and also be skeptical about his ability to play against Western Conference centers (they saw what happened with the Lakers). The other choice for the Pistons would be to add Tayshaun Prince into the deal. CLEARLY, this would never happen. The Pistons have every intention to build around Prince for the future, so that would be completely out of the question although that would add up almost exactly to AI's salary. Another option for the Pistons would be to add Antonio McDyess into that, but he makes a bit above $6million and is signed until the summer of 2010, a prospect that probably would not excite the Nuggets for the same reason putting Kwame into the mix. Joe Dumars probably would not do that out of fear of having to start Kwame Brown (they aren't THAT fond of him). So the Pistons are stuck in a tough spot. Who else can they throw into the mix that will make the salaries work? They need to figure out how they can put together a deal that the Nuggets will accept. This is in the best interest for both teams assuming Detroit puts together the right complement alongside of Billups. In a perfect world, a straight AI for Billups swap would leave both teams better off for the future. It can be assured that Joe Dumars and Mark Warkentien will be on the phone a lot in the coming days. Fans of both teams should keep their fingers crossed.



Me on ESPN U

If you have a chance. I filmed 3 segments for ESPN U on 3 different shows. The first segment aired last night on a show called "Inside the Polls" and will be rerunning throughout the next couple days, and the second one is airing right now on a show called "Coach's Spotlight", and the third one is airing on "SportsCenter U". I am the Asian guy for Wake Forest on the left. We were debating about topics for the Wake Forest and Duke football programs including our game this Saturday. If you don't get a chance to catch it. I'll be posting the videos on the site. Check it out of you can.

Catch me on ESPN U's "Inside the Polls" (10/27) at 11:00 and 12:30 (will replay 7 times in 3 days)

Also check me out 10/28 on "Coach's Spotlight" at 1pm and 10pm on ESPN U. (Will replay 2 times)

And, on SportsCenter U on ESPN on Thursday at 7:30pm and 11 and 11:30pm.



Western Conference Power Rankings

Season opens tonight. To get this out in time, the teams out of the playoffs are a bit shorter.

#1 Lakers: I may have an LA bias, but they seem to be the consensus #1 pick even among non-Laker fans. With a healthy Andrew Bynum, they have the potential to be virtually unstoppable. They have the most formidable frontcourt in the NBA. Any time an NBA team can toy with the idea of bringing Lamar Odom off the bench, there is no shortage of talent on that team, and if that is the team's biggest problem, it seems like they will be fine. They made it to the Finals without Bynum, and now the only question will be whether they can get back and get over the hump with Bynum. They have the league's MVP and best player in the world. They have a veteran point guard with the young point guard ready to inherit the reigns in Jordan Farmar. Every guard or SF on the Lakers can hit an open jump shot which is going to stretch the floor with Gasol and Bynum commanding so much attention down low. Also, with the addition of Bynum, it will allow Gasol to play his natural position at the 4 and play face up instead of have to bang down low. It was his clear flaw that was exposed in the Finals. If everything goes as planned, the Lakers should be hoisting the trophy in June.

#2. Hornets: With Chris Paul having another year of experience and making a deep run into the playoffs, you have to give them credit in the West. They have the pieces that any contender needs to have. They have a big defensive presence down low in Chandler, they have an all-star power forward in David West, a gunner in Peja to spread the floor, and of course, the superstar leader in Chris Paul. The Hornets did themselves a huge favor in picking up James Posey. He made his stock rise dramatically in the Finals last season when he proved that he brings hustle and big shots at a championship level. He will be making a big impact for the Hornets this season. The one problem I see for the Hornets is the thin bench. The biggest example of this is Mike James making $6.2 million sitting behing CP3, but not producing anywhere near that. With the exception of 3 and maybe the 4 spot, they don't have an impact player at the position. Julian Wright, the Kansas Jayhawks star, is a solid player with tons of talent, but it is yet to be seen whether he will be able to make an impact off the bench at the 4 spot backing up David West. Nonetheless, the Hornets have been able to make this roster work, and with Posey backing up the 3 spot there was an upgrade there, but they better hope that they don't have to pull other guys off the bench during the season. This team will be good for a long time.

#3 Rockets: The only reason they weren't at the # 2 spot on this list is because there are two question marks for this team. 1) Will Artest be able to find a role on this team and be consistent with it throughout the team? 2) Will this team stay healthy? If the answer to those two questions is a strong 'yes' then this team is a Western Conference contender. Yao has been the focal point of this team with Tracy McGrady as a wing man. They have been an unbelievablly good defensive team in the past years, and last season, they only allowed their opponents 92 points a game. With Artest, that average should be going down to 90 or sub-90 points allowed. That is a scary prospect for opposing teams. They have one of the best lock down defenders in Shane Battier and adding Artest is going to cause a lot of offensive clogs in opposing teams. Tracy McGrady is a scorer, but he continues to take bad shots. Look for him to feel less burdened this season and let the game come to him. He should have a solid season if he can stay healthy. As for Yao, he is coming off a stress fracture injury, but showed no signs of that in the Olympics this summer. He should be ready to go, but his soft presences around the rim needs to improve. People also criticize the Rockets by saying that Rafer Alston is not a real point guard in the NBA. Stop. Shed your notion of the "Skip to My Lou" Alston and think of the solid all around guard that is incredibly streaky scoring 13.1 points (3rd highest on the team last season), the good defender who leads the Rockets in steals with 1.32 a game, and he can also get some assists here and there. It is true that Alston needs to up that assist average if he is going to make a valuable impact on the team this year. Also, don't forget that Artest had the best season of his career under Rick Adelman. A very encouraging fact for Rockets fans. This will undoubtedly be the year T-Mac and the Rockets get past the first round.

#4 Jazz: This team has a lot of weapons. They were a handfull for the Lakers last season in the Western Conference semi's. As an NBA fan, you can't help but admire Deron Williams' game. He is the prototype NBA point guard who can do it all. At 6'3 207lbs, he can play good defense, get to the basket, pass, and do everything in between. He averaged 18.8 ppg behind Boozer's 21.1 ppg, and Williams dropped 10.5 dimes a game. He is clearly one of the top 3 point guards in the league, and could soon move up to 1 or 2 when Steve Nash starts his decline. I strongly believe that Williams can keep this Jazz team, and any other team for that matter, competitive in the Conference when he is running the ball up the court. Boozer is clearly a force for the Jazz. He is the leading scorer and also grabs 10.4 boards a game. Solid numbers for an olympic player, but he was inconsistent in the playoffs last year. If Boozer steps up and plays to his regular season numbers, it will allow the Jazz to be a force in the West this year. Expect Ronnie Brewer to make a huge impact this season. He is often overlooked, but playing besides Williams he was still able to score 12 ppg, 4 assts, and lead the Jazz in steals at 1.7 in only 27.5 minutes of play. If he continues this production, I can't see how Jerry Sloan sits him for more than 10-15 minutes a game. Of course, you always have Mehmet Okur the Center who stretches the floor with his shooting range. As interesting as that may sound, I think it hurts the Jazz they don't have a post player who takes away attention from Boozer. If Okur brought his game to the basket all the time, defenses wouldn't just default to Boozer's side. It might be an area the Jazz need to address. Andrei Kirilenko is also a frustrating player. He was once considered an all-star callibur player and he even leads the team in blocks at 1.51 and picked 1.19 steals. Clearly, the lock down defender they throw on the opposing team's best player. His work on the defensive end might be translating into lack of energy on offense. A question the Jazz need to ask is if they are willing to make that tradeoff. They may not have any other choice. It has worked for the Spurs. We can expect to see the Jazz get back to the Western Conference semi's but, not able to get past it. Sorry Jazz fans.

#5 Spurs: As you can see, the gap might be closed for the Spurs. They fall lower and lower every year on the power rankings. You can never count them out though because of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. The thing that hurts them this season is Manu Ginobli's injury. If those three are healthy, they can make a big impact on the season. Without the Big 3's production, they will struggle. The roster is very injury prone as well as aging. Bruce Bowen is assigned to guard the team's best player every night and is undoubtedly taking a toll on his body. Outside of the Big 3, they get consistent production out of Michael Finley and Brent Barry. There aren't many other quality impact players on this team, and it could be time for the Spurs to rebuild around Tony Parker. It was a good run, but the time may be over. It is the reality of pro sports.

#6 Suns: No matter what people say, they still have the core of Steve Nash and Amare. I put them lower than the Spurs due only to the fact that Shaq hurts this team. Amare and Nash want to push the ball and run the floor, but with new coach Terry Porter, things are going to slow down a bit. Shaq is clearly not his former dominant self and is dragging this team down. Unless Shaq comes out this season and turns things around, the Suns are going to be stuck at the bottom echelon of the Western Conference. Boris Diaw, Leandro Barbosa, Raja Bell and Grant Hill make up the other part of this Suns team. Hill's aging body is not going to help this team, but he provides experience and leadership that will count for something as this team heads into the playoffs. The Suns toyed with the idea of trading Barbosa and even Diaw, but for now, they are Suns. A trade for these two players would likely bring in some good talent, and I'm sure the Suns will entertain that thought again towards the trade deadline. The Suns roster is surprisingly deep with these players on the team, but this is essentially the same roster as last season. This roster brought us one of the most exciting playoff games in NBA history in Game 1 against the Spurs, but outside of that, there wasn't much noise from this team. Look for this season to be much of the same and the Suns will hit the drawing board again in order to win that elusive NBA championship.

#7 Mavericks: I don't care how much Mark Cuban talks about championship. The reality is that this team doesn't have a chance. Much like the Suns, trading the young Devin Harris for the old Jason Kidd proved to be disastrous. They won't be able to get past the mental playoff block after they suffered the BIGGEST UPSET in sports history. Yes, an 8 seed over 1 seed in a 7 game series is by definition, the biggest upset in sports history, and will likely remain like that for a while. Cuban blamed it on Avery Johnson, and has now brought in Rick Carlisle. If this coaching change doesn't fix it, there might be some work to do for this roster. Dirk Nowitski will continue to be a superstar with his deadly jumpshot and aggressive style of basketball. Josh Howard and Jason Terry will be consistent scorers and also bring their solid all around games every night, but outside of that, the Mavericks are hurting. A core of Dirk, Kidd, Howard, and Terry will not get them far in the west. The reason is that Kidd doesn't score enough for them to have an impact. Kidd is a distributor. He needs two big time scorers (20-25+) to make a meaningful impact on the team. Dirk averages a bit over 23 ppg and Howard averages just under 20 a game. Not enough to make up for Kidd's lack of scoring. Don't expect this Mavs team to go far. The West is too deep for a roster with so many holes to make any meaningful runs in the season and playoffs. They will likely drop in the first round unless they can pull a Golden State Warriors and upset like they were 2 seasons ago.

#8 Blazers: They were in the playoff race until the last week of the season last year. They even lost Brandon Roy for a portion of the season, and were still a player in the 8th spot race. They got Greg Oden back making his debut tonight against the Lakers and he probably won't see a lot of minutes at the beginning of the season, but it will steadily increase as the season progresses. Brandon Roy also got a lot of attention last season as he lead the Blazers to their 17 game winning streak. With Roy healthy, this Blazers team could make a deep mark in the West this year. LaMarcus Aldridge has been working on his game a lot this summer and should have an improved jump shot this season which will help the Blazers a lot. He can also play down low which takes pressure off of Oden and Pryzbilla and will create opportunities for players like Steve Blake and their new gem, Rudy Fernandez. I also like the pick up of Jerryd Bayless. Bayless might not be able to make an impact this season as he is just a raw talent at this point, but he is a long term project that the Blazers are really fond of. This Blazers team has the potential to make the playoffs, but beyond the first round might be a stretch. This team will be a force in the coming years.

#9 Clippers: Baron Davis, Chris Kaman, and Marcus Camby usually would translate into automatic success. Don't see it happening with a core of those three players because they don't have much supporting help. They will undoubtedly be competitive, but they are injury prone as well as very thin. It might be another year or two until the Clippers can reach full potential.

#10 Nuggets: The Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony experiment hasn't worked. AI is aging and the Nuggets toyed with trading Melo to the Pistons. This team has tremendous talent, but has almost no defense. They let opponents score 107 ppg last season, and they lost their best defender in Camby. Things aren't looking up for the Nuggets, but J.R Smith has been getting a lot of press this offseason for being one of the only players on the Nuggets who showed up against the Lakers in the first round. It is time to push the 'rebuild button' in Denver.

#11 Kings: They have one year under Reggie Theus and have a chance to improve. They aren't thinking playoffs just yet. They are still a little underdeveloped. They have one of the best up and coming guards in Kevin Martin that they have put a lot of money into. They also have Francisco Garcia, a guy who is going to play a lot of positions for Theus this year. Brad Miller is aging, but still productive. This might not be Sacramento's year, but I think they improve from last year. It will be another year or two until they make significant movement on this list.

#12 Warriors: The controversy with Monta Ellis is not good for team chemistry. Ellis is out 30 games, that will definitely take its toll on this Warrior team. They lost the Elton Brand sweepstakes and also lost Baron Davis. Don Nelson's Warriors are in a tight position now. They have the ultra athletic Corey Maggette, but that won't be enough to do much in the Westen Conference. Stephen Jackson will get his 20points and a few boards and a steal or two a game and Al Harrington will still give 13ppg, but not play like a true power forward. Biedrins had the highest field goal percentage last season, but doesn't score enough to make a different. Bottom line is that without Ellis, this team doesn't have much else. Jackson, Harrington and Maggette can't do it themselves.

#13 Grizzlies: They don't seem that bad off from the Pau Gasol trade. They got Marc Gasol who played very well in the preseason. They also got the exciting and talented OJ Mayo. They throw him back there with Mike Conley, and the Grizzlies might have a respectable backcourt. They also got their #1 scorer in Rudy Gay who puts up 20ppg and grabs 6 rebs. This team is on its way up. Darko is not a force for this team, but Hakim Warrick could be. Warrick gets a shade above 11 ppg and needs to increase his rebounds from 4.7 a game for him to be truly effective. This team also has intriguing trade pieces at the point guard in Javaris Crittendon and Kyle Lowry. This team is definitely moving in the right direction, and if this continues could find themselves in the playoffs sooner than we realize.

#14 Timberwolves: This team has a great prospect in Al Jefferson. They also made the trade to get Kevin Love to help complement Jefferson in the front court. Corey Brewer is still underdeveloped and inconsistent. Randy Foye and Rashard McCants aren't much to look at for playing alongside Jefferson. Telfair is also not producing up to any expectations that people had of him when he was drafted. This team is sort of stuck in a dead zone. Doesn't seem like they are going to be able to break out of it any time soon.

#15 Thunder: Not much here outside of Kevin Durant. They hope that Russell Westbrook will pan out. They just made a controversial and publicized move from Seattle. It is going to take a while for them to rebuild this team around Kevin Durant. Luckily, KD has a long time left in his career. Their success depends on what moves they make from this point on.

Enjoy the season.



Eastern Conference Power Rankings

Over the next few days we will put up Eastern and Western Conference power rankings. I decided to split the conferences up instead of coming up with one long list because I firmly believe that comparison between other teams in the conference is more important because it doesn't matter what the other conference is doing if you can't beat your own conference teams. The purpose of rankings is to predict which teams will come out on top in their conference to represent the conference in the NBA Finals. Here are my quick thoughts on which teams are in the upper and lower echelon of the Eastern Conference. Enjoy.

#1 Celtics: Clearly no one is going to pick against the defending champs. The only critical piece they lost was Posey, but it seems like they are deep and talented enough to work around that. They played inspired last season and virtually did not lose that momentum the entire season. The one downside for the Celtic faithful is their inconsistent play in the playoffs. Going to 7 with Atlanta? 7 with the Cavs? There is no doubt that they overlooked that competition and played down to their competition. One thing to watch for might be the play of Darius Miles, and Cassell's role on the team. There was talk about Cassell using the last year of his contract to become an assistant coach, but that is not in the cards for this up coming season. I expect Rondo to continue his improvement this season as well as Tony Allen and Leon Powe to be consistent solid contributors off the bench. It also does not hurt that they have KG, Piece, and Allen as a core either. They are my pick to come out of the East, again.

#2 Pistons: It seems like every year since 2004 they have been at the top of every power ranking, but never able to live up to potential. The Pistons will continue to be competitive in the East every year for a few reasons. They have one of the best backcourts in the NBA in Billups and Hamilton. They also have a strong front court in Prince and Rasheed. They are a solid team defensively which will always give them a chance to compete. The Pistons also have young guards waiting to take on a bigger role in Rodney Stuckey and Aaron Afflalo which should help the legs of Hamilton and Billups, and will undoubtedly pay dividends in the playoffs. The declining McDyess seems to be the glaring problem right now. The 5 position needs to be addressed in a better way than Kwame Brown. I do agree that Kwame is a legitimate backup Center in the NBA, but if you have a declining Center as a starter, throwing Kwame in there and hoping he picks it up is a little unrealistic. The Pistons have been using Amir Johnson, a player who is built to be a 3 or 4, as a Center. They have also put Jason Maxiell into the Center role which is not his natural position. That was Flip Saunders' way of putting a bandaid on the Center problem, but it does not get that much attention. Rasheed usually takes most of the Piston criticism, but looking at their team, it goes beyond Rasheed. Sheed will have a big season this year as he is playing for a contract, and maybe rookie coach Michael Curry will help the Pistons out more on the whole. As always, the Pistons are in the upper echelon, but may not have enough to get over the hurdle, and by hurdle I mean the Celtics.

#3 76ers: That's right. This may surprise some of you, maybe even anger you. I was even contemplating putting the old school sixers logo up because the Sixers will finally have success like they used to. After the World Series buzz fades out of Philly, the Sixers will be the center of attention. Unless of course, the Eagles climb out of last place in the NFC East, but probably not. The Sixers are a revitalized franchise. They have waited for Andre Iguodala to get into his prime, and he is there. They put a solid point guard next to him in Andre Miller. The one thing they were missing was a credible power foward who could give them a solid post presence to free up Miller and Iguodala on the perimeter, and to give them another scoring option. They have finally acquired that player in Elton Brand, and with his addition, Eastern Conference championship hopes are reborn in Philly. They also have several young prospects that are due for a breakout season this year in Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young. Barring any major injuries, the Conference championship is a real possibility this year. They gave the Pistons a tough series in last season's playoffs which was a good starting point. They got the help they need in Elton Brand. It will help them this season and in the years to come. The Sixers will be at the top of this list for many years to come.

#4 Cavs: This is where the Eastern Conference gets murky. The Cavs always have a chance with Lebron James. The addition of Mo Williams gives them a strong point guard who can shoot and pass. He is the clear cut second option on a team that previously did not have one. They have a deep bench at the point guard position which will help them. They have talent in every position, but the problem is that outside of Lebron, they don't excel in any one area. Without Lebron, the Cavs are headed to the lottery. With him, they have a chance to compete for a conference championship. It is clear that Lebron can single handedly carry a team on his back. Mo Williams might be the help that Lebron needs, but it is not the piece that will fire them into championship contention. The top team sin the West will have a player better than the Cavs in every position except the small forward position. Don't believe me? Think Lakers, Houston, San Antonio, Utah, New Orleans, and you can make a strong case for Dallas and Phoenix. Look at every team above them in this power ranking, and even 1 or 2 teams below them on this list. Do the Cavs have someone clearly better in the 1,2,4, and 5 spots? Probably not, that is why they will always hang around at the top, but never get there until they get some upgrades in those places.

#5 Magic: The Magic might have one of the most underrated front courts in the NBA. Of course, Dwight Howard gets all of the press, but people don't talk about Hedo Turkoglu or Rashard Lewis nearly as much as they deserve. Hedo had a break out season as he finished second in points, assists, and rebounds as well as averaging .9 steals which was third behind Jameer Nelson's .91 steals. The major problem with the Magic is clearly the weak backcourt. Nelson is a solid point guard, but has virtually no help at the 2. They let the defensive specialist Maurice Evans go and watched him sign with conference rivals, the Hawks. Keyon Dooling also could not find minutes in the backcourt with the Magic and has moved on which means that Jameer Nelson will see an increase in minutes and production. Mickael Pietrus is going to fill in the #2 spot this year for the Magic and their success will largely depend on his success. When he was not on Don Nelson's bench in Golden State he was pretty effective. He averaged 7.2 ppg while playing only a modest 19.2 minutes. JJ Reddick is backing Pietrus up, and we all know that JJ has not been the most popular player in Orlando. Expect Pietrus to log a lot of minutes and be one of the key players to the Magic's success.

#6 Toronto Raptors: One of the forgotten teams in the Eastern Conference. They are the Eastern Conference sleeper team, and have a legitimate case to be #4 or #5 on this list. With the Jermaine O'Neal acquisition this offseason the Raptors are legitimate contenders. The Eastern Conference is continuing to close the gap between the once unquestioned superior Western Conference. If O'Neal can stay healthy and Calderon can continue to be a solid 11ppg and 8 asst per game point guard they are going to be a force. Chris Bosh showed what he can do this summer in Beijing and I'm gonna predict he is gonna drop 25ppg and 10rebs this season. A lot of people are hesistant to say anything more about the Raptors because of how unpredictable Jermaine O'Neal is. He is a little soft around the basket, and has been reluctant to make hustle plays his entire career. Hopefully he will play an inspired season and amount to everything we have expected of him. The other soft spot for the Raptors is at the Center position. Andrea Bargnani is one of the most underperforming Centers in the league. He is 7'0 and averages 10.2 ppg and 3.7 rebs. The point production is not a concern, but the rebounds is. It shows Bargnani's reluctance to muscle down low and his complacency. There are times on the court where you forget he is even out there. The Raptors will need a lot more out of him if they want to get anywhere in the playoffs. Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon have been pleasant surprises for the Raptors. Expect both to play a big role this season in the Raptors' success. Jermaine O'Neal coming in will probably mean one of them is losing their starting job, but both Parker and Moon are a capable sixth man and, will definitely be major consistent contributors for the Raptors.

#7 Wizards: With Gilbert Arenas out until January it will be up to Antwan Jamison and Caron Butler to carry the load. They have proven they can be a solid team without Gilbert, but never good enough to be at the top of the East. Unfortunately, with the Big 3 in Washington taking up so much cap room, they won't have enough to spend to get that final piece. It is going to be tough for Washington to compete with the top teams in the East without a dominant big man down low. The Wizards are built very similar to the Run N' Gun Suns of the past few years. They don't play good enough defense to contain the top teams in the conference either as they allowed 99.2 ppg last year while scoring 98.8 ppg last season. If the Wizards are going to make an impact this year, they are going to have to wait until Gilbert comes back and see how he fits back into the team. The chemistry on the team is good, but I truly believe they still need one more impact player away from being in the top tier of the Eastern Conference at either the Center of SG position.

#8 Hawks: They almost took out the Celtics last season in a very entertaining series. They haven't really changed much with the exception of Josh Childress. Despite what some people may think, losing Childress is a devastating blow to the Atlanta bench. The bright spot for Atlanta is their young talent. They will be able to compete for a playoff spot every year because of players like Al Horford, Josh Smith, and Joe Johnson. Marvin Williams is also an important player to keep in mind for the Hawks. He suffers from 'The Kwame Brown Effect' which is when a player is judged based on where he was drafted. Despite how high his expectations and draft position was, he plays a big role on this Hawks team at the 3 spot and have put the solid Maurice Evans behind him. The Hawks were lucky to keep Josh Smith after all of the speculation of him leaving for Philadelphia, but with Josh Smith staying in ATL for a while longer, the chemistry that almost pulled one of the biggest upsets in sports history off is still in tact. It is pretty obvious that this team has some great young talent and a veteran point guard in Mike Bibby to help guide them, but they won't be a force in the East, unless of course, they come out of nowhere to upset the defending champs from Boston.

#9 Heat: Well, the bright side is that they won't finish dead last again, but they won't finish in the playoffs this year. They have an athletic team, but they are still hurting at the point guard position. They got the upgrade they needed at the power forward position with Beasley and he will have a solid season. Mario Chalmers is also a good guard, but is not NBA ready yet. Having Dwyane Wade will always allow them to compete and having an athletic hustle player like Shawn Marion will always be a plus. The other huge hole the Heat have is at the center position. It is no secret that the Heat will be in a rebuilding process for the next couple of seaons, and their success depends on how fast Michael Beasley can develop. 2006 was great, wasn't it?

#10 Bucks: This team is not as bad as people think. Like the Raptors, they are often overlooked. The acquisition of Richard Jefferson was huge for this team. Jefferson is a solid all around player that can do virtually anything asked of him. They drafted the true sleeper of the draft in Joe Alexander. He may not be NBA ready right now, but that might change very quickly during the season as he might have to take on a greater role than he is ready for which will accelerate his development. Andrew Bogut just got a big extension which is indicative of him being in the Bucks long term plans. He gives them an inside presence and can score and rebound well enough, but can improve it a bit. Another positive is Michael Redd. We all saw his skill on the world stage and his deadly jump shot. He was injured a lot last season, but if he stays healthy, this Bucks club could surprise a lot of people. They also have a battle for the point guard spot. It is Luke Ridnour and Ramon Sessions fighting for the starting job, and Tyronn Lue is the backup. Sessions seems like he is going to win the starting spot right now, but having Lue and Ridnous as backups provides for a pretty deep bench at the 1 spot. A lot of people don't know about Ramon Sessions, but he was called up from the D-league last year and could have a truly breakout season. He only played 10 games last season and averaged over 38 minutes a game while scoring 8.1 ppg and dishing 7.5 assists. Not bad for a call up, right? Well, he is just one of the surprises that the Bucks might throw at us this season. Look for them to make some noise. If not this season, very soon.

#11 Bulls: They got their point guard in Derrick Rose, but is that going to solve their problems? My guess is that they will be getting rid of Kirk Hinrich before the trade deadline. Ben Gordon has insisted that he wants to play somewhere else, and they are still with the ball and chain that is Larry Hughes and his $12.8 million contract. The Bulls have a rookie coach in Vinny Del Negro. They lost a solid bench contibutor in Chris Duhon, and this season does not look too promising for the Bulls. Tyrus Thomas is also a constant question mark with his inconsistent play. If Thomas can be a consistent presence this season things will look up for Chicago. Also, Chicago fans have expectations to the sky for Rose, but remember that guards have a hard time with the transition to the pros. Rose has looked amazing in the preseason, but it will be a couple of years until we really see how good he can be. Of course, Luol Deng will be the focus of the offense if he can stay healthy, and Derrick Rose's development will facilitate that. Nevertheless, Chicago does not have the pieces to compete with the playoff ready teams, but the good news is that they have taken a step forward with Rose, and if they can trade Hinrich, they will be in an even better position.

#12 Bobcats: Charlotte fans shouldn't lose hope. Expansion teams take a while to get on their feet. With Michael Jordan in the front office and Larry Brown on the sideline, the Bobcats have some good people working for them. As far as players go, they still need a few upgrades. I love their D.J Augustin acquisition in the draft, and I believe it will pay huge dividends in a few years. What has really hurt the Bobcats is the mediocre play of Emeka Okafur, and him never living up to his potential. He grabs a bit over 10 boards a game and averages a shade under 14 ppg. Pretty low for a guy who was compared to Patrick Ewing. We know what Gerald Wallace can do. He brings athleticism and hustle to the floor and averages 19.4 ppg and 6 rebs. We know what Jason Richardson can do. He is a 3 point machine that is the Bobcats go-to guy who can put points on the board in a hurry. Raymond Felton is also showing he can run the show in the back court. If Felton has reached his potential, there is no way the Bobcats are going to be able to compete with the other solid backcourts at the top of the East. One storyline that will be interesting to watch play out will be Adam Morrison. He isn't only playing for a contract, he is playing for his NBA career. He is coming back from injury this season, and could make a significant impact or fade into the background. The Bobcats need a personel upgrade in a lot of positions for them to even think about being competitive.

#13 Pacers: Not much on this roster. Granger and Dunleavy had big seasons, but with an unhappy management and unhappy Jamal Tinsley, this team isn't going very far. The team has addressed the Tinsley problem for now by bringing in T.J Ford, but don't expect Ford to make a huge impact immediately. It will take him a while to get adjusted. The Pacers are in the rebuilding process right now, but don't expect that to last for long. This might be a team that gets better really quickly with Larry Bird behind it. They were a 36 win team last season, and I am astonished that they even managed to win that many games. I expect a sub-30 season from this team. They traded away Shawne Williams and Jermaine O'Neal, and got a retired Eddie Jones, T.J Ford and some cash. They also drafted Roy Hibbert who is a raw talent right now, but if he amounts to his potential he could be the cornerstone of the franchise. Not much for rebuilding in the short term. We all might just be ignorant to Larry Bird's bigger plan, but as of now, Pacer fans can reminisce about the old days in Conseco Field House with Reggie Miller and Rik Smits in the golden days.

#14 Nets: There is no defined leader on this team. Is it Devin Harris or Vince Carter? Yi is a superstar back home, but not in the States. Too many years on Carter's contract probably means that GM's will inquire, but probably not make a move. There just simply aren't enough pieces on this team to make anything work. I have liked Ryan Anderson for a while, but it is yet to be seen if he will make the team. Brooke Lopez will give them a defensive presences, but won't be that meaningful. Chris Douglas-Roberts is also a good prospect, and he is also fighting for a roster spot. Bottom line is that the Nets won't be able to make an impact this season, and probably won't be able to until they are in Brooklyn. That's ok with management though because they know they are eyeing Lebron in 2010.

#15 Knicks: Sorry Knicks fans. Not about to happen. They have a long way to go to make this team effective. This team definitely complements Mike D'Antoni's famous up-tempo style, but they don't have the players to do it. If people are not shocked by how big Eddy Curry showed up to training camp they better take a look at him. Zach Randolph has underperformed, and they still have the worst contract in sports in Stephon Marbury. One thing that people have not been talking a lot abot is Quentin Richardson and D'Antoni. How will they work together? Will D'Antoni take him off the bench and restore him back to the 14.9 points, 6.1 rebs, 1.2 steals, and 2.9 3pters a game? That could be something that is overlooked on this Knicks team. Of course, any Knicks fan will point to the promise of David Lee as a bright spot as well as their recent Danilo Gallinari pick. Jamal Crawford and Chris Duhon making up the backcourt isn't going to get anyone excited. However, finally bringing Nate Robinson off the bench will get people excited. All-in-all, there will be another bleak season for the Knicks, and they will continue to drop their tickets into the Lebron lottery.

The Eastern Conference is actually a lot deeper than people think. I used to be a big proponent of redoing conferences much like the NFL has split up their divisions. The recent acquisitions that the Eastern Conference has made has balanced out the power in the two divisions and has closed the gap a bit more. There is no doubt that we will be treated, finally, to a competitive Eastern Conference.