Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Jeff: Chilly Needs One More Year

At a lovely meal at Buca's downtown for the equally lovely Mrs. Jer's birthday dinner, I was discussing the Vikes with Nato, a friend of the site. The two biggest topics that came up were firing head coach Brad Childress, and cutting WR Troy Williamson. Nato believes strongly that Chilly should have been fired yesterday, but that Williamson deserves one more year. I believe the opposite. As the talks unfolded, I realized that the same rationale I had for keeping Childress was the same he had for keeping Williamson. That's the kind of season it's been for The Purple, and this is what it's doing to its fans.

My argument for keeping Chilly is that he needs the chance to prove he can adapt. I have not been impressed with Chilly whatsoever thus far, and can see Nato's point about there having been few if any signs of hope or progress in year 1 of the Chilly Regime. His "kick-ass" scheme, as he so eloquently called it a couple of days ago, has been anything but. Strib beat writer Kevin Seifert pondered a few days ago whether it's the players' fault for running and throwing short routes on 3rd down that don't produce 1st downs, or if it's "the scheme" that is telling them to do it (as he notes, 43 times this year, or 40% of 3rd downs, the Vikes have completed passes that have come up short of a 1st down)? After watching Jackson on Thursday night, I wonder if it's not the scheme after all. A kid with a CANNON and great mobility sat in the pocket all night doing his best Brad Johnson impression (the first long ball that Williamsons dropped not withstanding. What a throw!) by throwing short and playing it safe. It seems that Chilly's philosophy is to live another day by not taking many chances, yet that strategy has failed despite a very good defense.

These coaches, just like the players, have gigantic egos, so big it's a wonder they can fit them under their headsets. They believe supremely in their "system" or "scheme" or whatever it is, and they want to do things their way to prove just how great a coach they are. Well if you know anything about football, you know the best coaches and players are the ones who make adjustments on the fly. No matter how good your scheme is, other teams will make the proper adjustments to stop it. It appears that other teams early on realized that if you stop Chester Taylor and the Vikes running game, you stop the offense, and that's essentially what's happened.

Nato doesn't buy the idea that Childress can change because he hasn't bothered to change all year. Although I wouldn't disagree, I'd still like to see him run this thing with a competant QB AND/or some receivers who can catch. You get away with a mediocre QB or bad receivers in the NFL, but not both. THe O-line is also adjusting to a new way of blocking (I know zone blocking is different than regular blocking, but couldn't even begin to tell you how. I just know it is), and so I'd like to see them get a full year and another offseason learning how to run it. There's some player big decisions to be made for next season, like quarterback (is Jackson ready to start?), and wide receiver (draft a couple? sign a couple of more?), as well as cornerback on defense (Fred Smoot is as good as gone). Give Childress some upgrades at these positions, and then let's see how he does. If the only ass his offense is kicking is his own, then it's time to find somebody else.

I also worry about firing a coach after only a year because of what's happened in Washington. The Redskins went through like 19 coaches and were overhauling the roster every year. Result? Nothing very positive in that time. A coach in the NFL needs 2 years to get a full group of "his guys" in there to try and do what he wants. Again this is not an endorsement for Childress, because he's been disappointing at best this year, but he should get one more season to prove he can coach.

As for Troy Williamson, another year's not going to do him any good. 10 more years won't do him any good! Williamson wasn't thrown to much at South Carolina, and now we see why. As he showed on that first deep ball on Thursday night, it doesn't matter how fast he can run if he can't make the proper adjustments and catch the damn ball when it comes to him. You can teach a receiver things like how to run routes, how to read a zone and where to settle in, as well learning to catch the ball with your hands instead of trapping it against your body. But what Williamson can't do, which is find the ball and adjust to it and then catch it when it comes to you, can't be taught. You can either do it or you can't. Cut your losses and move on, because there's slower guys who be much more productive with the playing time he's been given...not necessarily on this year's squad, but hopefully there will be next year.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Jeff: My Christmas Wish List

Well I can already tell you that Santa granted my biggest wish last night: an end to the Vikings season. With a loss that was as easy on the eyes as Brad Childress in a speedo, the Vikings are finally mathematically eliminated from the NFC playoff race, and we'll only have to endure one more regular season game. Is it possible that the Vikings can have a stifling offense as well as defense? When you have negative net yards offense in the first half, well, you don't deserve to be in the playoffs no matter how bad your conference is. So since my biggest Christmas has been answered, being the kind-hearted guy I am, here's what I hope Santa leaves under the tree for others:

Brad Childress: a new offensive scheme for 2007 that involves scoring points, converting 3rd downs, and completing passes more than 5 yards downfield. I also hope it involves this discipline he speaks of, since the Vikes had another 10 penalities last night and continue to lead the league in that category.
Tavaris Jackson: some receivers that can actually catch.
Brett Favre: a speedy decision on whether he's coming back or not. This has no chance of happening since I'm sure Santa has a man-crush on him too, and just loves how much "fun" Brett has out there. "Look at him! Look at how much fun he's having! Look at the terrible throw! Look at that interception! He's just having so much dog-on fun out there! He just loves football! And I love Brett!!" Sorry, broke out into Favre-arian there. So yes we can expect him to drag the thing out all winter, spring, and summer to receive massive amounts of media adoration that he claims he doesn't care about, and then announce he's coming back. There are now officially two seasons in Packerland: football season and "Is Favre coming back?!?!?" season.
Packer Fans: A case of old mil and a vat of nacho cheese to get them through the roller coaster ride of the "Is Favre coming back?!?" season.
LaDanian Tomlinson: A Super Bowl, or at least a chance to play for one. I don't want to see a guy this good have a Barry Sanders-like career.
Terrell Owens: to lead the league in dropped passes and not even be the best receiver on his own team so that he won't be able to talk about how great he is. What's that? He DID lead the league in drops? And Terry Glenn's a better receiver? And he's STILL mentioned at least 700 times a night on Sportscenter?
Timberwolves Owner Glen Taylor: get the dirty pictures or incriminating evidence of himself back from Kevin McHale so he can fire the Big Ostrich, and get a guy to run the Wolves that actually knows what he's doing. And somebody who doesn't mind putting in a 40 hour work week. Of course he'd actually have to be able to find McHale to fire him. McHale sees his office at Target Center about as often as Rueben Studdard sees his feet.
Kevin McHale: Since killing someone is still considered morally wrong, even if they've caused as much pain and anguish over the last decade as McHale has for Wolves fans, then I won't wish for that. Just a new non-basketball related job for McHale in 2007, like GM of the Minnesota Lynx.
Isiah Thomas: 10 more years running the Knicks. Please.
Francisco Liriano: a healthy left elbow.
Joe Mauer: for rudolf and the other reindeer to pin him down while Santa shaves off those $^%&*ing sideburns!!! Joe it's 2006! You're one of the best players in baseball and you look like an idiot! Sideburns went out with Dylan McKay in like 1996!
Joel Maturi: a letter of resignation.
Glen Mason: ditto.
Rick Majerus: job as new basketball coach at the U.
Lou Nanne: to take Maturi's spot as AD (seriously have you heard that guy lately on Barriero's show talking about the Gopher hoops coaching search? Who knew hockey players knew about other things besides hockey?!? Put Louie in charge! The man will get things done!).

My final wish is for you and yours to have a very Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Jeremy: Packer Week

Some thoughts about being a Vikings fan in a world of sports mediocrity:

*There is literally no good natured banter in the office today about tonight's Viking/Packer tilt. Nobody is excited about this game like most years, or even as excited about the first match-up earlier this year. You've got two teams who have performed poorly all year, playing for a the glimmer of hope that a playoff spot might fall into their laps and bragging rights. It's hard to be excited. Actually, it's hard to be excited about much of anything sports-related in this town right now. Every team we claim is either mediocre, or full-on terrible.

*It's always fun to see how Sid is going to react when a local sports figure has been bad-mouthed in this town. Look, I don't think that Brad Johnson deserved to be booed on Sunday. He did not play poorly, but don't get me wrong, he certainly did not play well enough to win. Sid takes things a bit far in his defense of Johnson today.
"Johnson owns a Super Bowl ring, and when he retires he will go down in history as being one of the better quarterbacks to ever play in the league."
Two problems with that statement.
#1, what constitutes calling Johnson "one of the better quarterback to ever play in the league"? Better than what? And what makes him better? The fact that he's been a starter?
#2, the fact that Johnson has a Super Bowl ring does not make him immune to booing.

*I'm with Jeff, the Tarvaris Jackson era needed to start. I think everyone was ready to have the Brad Johnson experiment come to an end. At this point Brad Johnson is like an old, lucky pair of boxers: they're beat-up, there's a hole here and there, they've lost some elasticity, but you just can't bring yourself to let go of them. But one day you realize a new hole, one that might cause you to get your wedding-tackle caught in the zipper. Thankful that you haven't already lost your facilities, and certain that it's time to part with your old friend, you move on. Hopefully Tarvaris doesn't end up being like boxer-briefs.

*I was a little surprised last night when I heard Joe "Mr. Fun" Anderson talking on KFAN last night and saying that he believes that if Brad Childress' job isn't in jeopardy heading into the final two games, he believes it should be. I don't understand this. Mike Tice fell into a 9-7 record last year by beating a host of bad teams. The fact that Brad Childress is going to finish with a record below Tice's means nothing. He's a first year head coach whose quarterback is unable to create anything on his own in the way of offense. Chilly deserves at least another year to show that he is able to build upon what he has started.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Jeff: AI Traded- KG Next?

As you've no doubt heard by now, the Philadelphia 76ers have dealt disgruntled star guard Allen Iverson- and it wasn't to Minnesota. The Denver Nuggets were the big winners of the AI sweepstakes, obtaining Iverson and something called Ivan McFarlin for point guard Andre Miller, Glen Taylor & Kevin McHale's love child Joe Smith (or more accurately Joe Smith's expiring $7 million contract), and 2 1st round picks, those of Denver and Dallas. I liked this trade for Philly because although they didn't get either of the young guys they really coveted (Minny's Randy Foye or the Clips Shaun "Dr Livingston, I presume") they still got a good team-first guard in Miller, an expiring contract that will start to relieve them of the league's 3rd highest payroll, and 2 more first round picks in what should be the deepest draft in years. It's not great, but considering the circumstances, and how poor GM Billy King's track record has been with trading, drafts, or, well basically being a GM, they did as well as they could.

I didn't like this deal for Denver, because I wondered how AI and Carmello could co-exist, and how there'd be enough shots for both, and with Miller gone, who would be getting these guys the ball? Then I read The Professor John Hollinger's Insider column on it (it's on ESPN.com but there's no point linking to it because if you don't have Insider you can't read it). Hollinger, with humor, insight, and other-worldly statistical analysis, has fast become my favorite NBA scribe, and he didn't let me down. In a nut-shell (insert Austin Powers joke here), here's why this should be a great trade for the Nuggets:
  • They play at one of the fastest paces in the league (Phoenix, obviously, being the other), and other than Steve Nash, nobody likes to push the pace more than Iverson. He's a great fit for that system.
  • Melo's leading the league in scoring, but it's not like he's taking every shot. Sure AI will take a few shots away from Melo, but he'll be taking most of the shots away from the departed Miller, and the might-as-well-be-gone 5'5 Earl Boykins, who's currently shooting 37% from the field. That's a big-time improvement for Denver.
  • Denver's lowpost guys, Marcus Camby, Reggie Evans, and Nene, are all good defenders and rebounders, and, most importantly, don't need a lot of shots.
  • Finally, coach George Karl is used to dealing with, um, head strong guards, like Gary Payton in Seattle or Sam Cassell in Milwaukee. Karl should figure out a way to keep everybody happy

Hollinger thinks the Nuggets are now a legit title contender. I scoffed at that too, but think about it: sure the Nuge will have problems containing Duncan, Stoudamire, or Dirk. But who the hell is going to guard Melo AND AI? The Nuggets now have 2 guys who are completely unguardable 1-on-1. If Carmelo and Iverson can put aside their egos a bit, this could work very, very well.

So what does this mean for the Wolves? Well for the front-office, it's probably time for them to put their heads back in the sand and keep believing that this is still a playoff team and they don't have to blow it up and start over. That's assinine, of course, because as Jer and I have been saying for well over a year now, this team's salary structure is so awful for the remainder of Garnett's contract, there's no way to add a good player through free agency. It's also going to be difficult through the draft when you're going to lose at least 1 #1 to the Clippers, and possibly also the one owed to the Celtics before Garnett's deal is up. And we just saw why it's going to be near impossible to improve the team through trades. The Wolves had the one guy in Randy Foye that Philly wanted most, but because of all the horrible contracts and lack of #1 picks, they couldn't get it done (Or as Steve Aschburner explains, it was because McHale thought Foye was too valuable to give up). Any way you slice it, this is the Wolves team you'll be looking at for the next 2 plus years, which means at best they're a 7 or 8 seed (which looks exceedingly doubtful now that the Wolves biggest division rival just got a helluva lot better), or at worse one of the 7 or 8 worst teams in the league.

Not getting Iverson means keeping KG is completely worthless, as well as senseless. They are NOT and will NOT be a championship contender as long as Garnett stays. That's the facts. If the front office continues to believe otherwise, they're only fooling themselves, and trying to fool the fans. I know nobody wants to see Garnett goes, but him staying means you're going to watch a mediocre-at-best team, and I would hope nobody wants to see that. I unfortunately believe Taylor and McHale are too gutless to pull the trigger on a KG deal at the deadline, so the only hope now is KG finally realizes that the goodship Timberwolf is sinking like the Titanic, and if he wants off before it goes completely under, it's up to him to demand a trade and get out. AI was the one shot the Wolves had at salvaging this, but now it's either deal The Franchise, or continue the long, slow, inevitable desent towards the bottom of the league.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Jeff: Monday Musings

  • If I could have but one Christmas wish, I'd hope that Santa would beat BRad Childress over the head with his bag of toys, and have Rudolph repeatedly kick him in the jingle bells until he agrees that the Brad Johnson Era is officially over and the Tavaris Jackson Era has started. As the Strib reports, Chilly hasn't named a starter for Thursday's tilt with the Pack yet, but the fans choice, as well as the only logical one, would be for Jackson to make his first career start. Yes on the surface Johnson's numbers were decent yesterday, with a QB rating of 94.1, but anyone who watched the game knows how hollow those numbers are. Other than a great throw to Travis Taylor for the the Vikes opening TD, the offense was stagnant under Johnson all afternoon, and posed no serious threat. Is Jackson a better QB than Johnson right now? Probably not, but he can't be much worse. The other guys on offense certainly aren't responding much to Johnson's and Chilly's penchant for playing it safe and dumping it off time after time. I haven't seen a stat for "most 3rd down completions that come up well short of a first down" but if there were, Johnson would be leading the league. Souhan's column today was snarky and sarcastic, but I think he makes a good point near the end when he wonders if Jackson's going to be forced to make the same reads Johnson did and continue playing it safe. I don't condone throwing deep downfield every play, but it'd be nice to see the Vikes actually attempt to convert a 3rd down every now and then, you know, like the Jets did, where they throw the ball to a receiver who's beyond the 1st down marker instead of one who's 5 yards short of it. Jackson's not going to make this team a whole lot better, but he won't make them worse, and they need to figure out what kind of learning curve the kid's going to have heading into next year.
  • If it's possible in today's world of 24 hour sports networks and the internet and blogosphere where EVERYTHING is overhyped and one good quarter from a guy warrants him being called "The Greatest" LaDanian Tomlinson is underappreciated. After 6 amazing years, I'm still not ready to talk about him as one of the greatest of all-time, but a few more years like this and he's definitely there. I can say, in watching him shred the Chiefs, that the guy makes moves and sees running lanes develop that nobody else sees, let alone gets to. He runs over people or around them, and is the best receiving back in the league, and is hands down the best player in the league. And yet his exposure is dwarfed by that of Terrell Owen's because Tomlinson is a good guy with a quiet demeanor who hands the ball to the ref after each of his 28 TD's this year. Tomlinson's a class act, and you can't possibly overhype that.
  • STILL no AI trade, but it looks like the Wolves are still in the running as they possess the guy Philly wants most out of this, Villanova alum Randy Foye. AI coming to Minnesota would be the best thing to happen to the Wolves since KG was drafted, but I'm still doubtful McHale has the cahones to pull the trigger. Depending on who you want to believe, the Nuggets, Celtics, or Clippers are in the lead at any given moment.
  • Brad Radke will officially retire tomorrow. In Twins history, he finishes 3rd all time in wins (148), 2nd in career starts (377), 3rd in strikeouts (1467), and in typical Radke fashion, first in home runs given up (326).
  • Looks like the Little Engine That Could will try and find Radke's replacement in the rotation from in-house candidates, and the way the offseason has unfolded, I don't think you can blame them. The price for a free agent starting pitcher is ridiculous, and because of that, teams are asking for the moon if you want to trade for a pitcher. Looks like the LETC will slot Santana as the opening day starter (duh), with Carlos "Hi Ho" Silva, Boof Bonser, and Matt Garza filling the next 4 spots, leaving Scott Baker and Gopher alum Glen Perkins to fight for the 5th spot. There's definitely some question marks there but also some young talent, and with the strength of the Twins bullpen they should be able to get at least 4 reliable starts out of the 5 days.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Jeremy: Yeah, it's time...

It's really of no consequence at this point, but just for the record, I have taken the time to write a post 3 times in the last 6 weeks, and every single time the post has somehow been lost. The really frustrating part is that all 3 of these have been posts that I've worked on throughout the day while I was at work, so when they get lost, I'm really not in the mood to try to recreate. But we are upgraded on our blog platform now, so hopefully this won't happen anymore.

*On AI:
Adding AI with Garnett, makes the Wolves an instant contender. Take a look at all of the teams around the league with two top 15 superstar players. Look at every single NBA Champion since 1990 and they all had two players that were within the top 15 or 20 players in the league that year. I'm serious look it up. Heat (Shaq & DWade), Lakers (Shaq & Kobe), Spurs (Duncan & Parker or Duncan & Robinson), Bulls (MJ & Scottie), Rockets (Hakeem & Clyde), Pistons (Thomas & Dumars/Chauncey & Wallace). I don't think it's out of line to go as far as to say that in the NBA, if you want a championship, you need to have two superstars.
The only other question is chemistry between AI & KG. You are talking about two guys in their early 30's, two guys who have been in the league over a decade, two guys who leave everything on the court every night, two guys who have neither won an NBA Championship, and two guys who want a ring more than anything. They've both had all of the individual recognition that they need, they are in the waning years of their careers and they want to end things on an upswing. KG has never had chemistry issues with anyone but Wally, and who wouldn't? As for AI, chemistry with his teammates has never been an issue; management maybe, but not with his teammates. In addition, AI would not be top of the totem pole in Minnesota, that's KG's spot. And that might just be enough for AI to keep his mouth shut, and show up for practice. "Practice? We talkin' 'bout practice? What are we talkin' 'bout? Practice? We talkin' 'bout practice." Yes, AI, I am talking about practice. Sorry, had to get that out of my system.

*On the Insight.com Bowl:
I'm curious if anyone knows what the over/under is for passing yards by the Red Raiders vs. the Gophers in the Insight Bowl? I would have to imagine it's somewhere in the 350 yard range. One of the best passing offenses in the nation against one of the worst passing defenses in the nation. Superb!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Jeff: The Monday Musings

* Despite their 30-20 victory over hapless Detwah, which brings your Minnesota Vikings to 6-7 and still very much in the hunt in the woeful NFC, I am not excited about the Vikes. I'm just not. They still have no passing game, and that means if they do make the playoffs, they're not going very far. I think they're better served to get Jackson some time under center to see what the kid can do.

* After last night's New Orleans routing of Dallas in Big D, it's apparent that there IS no "Best Team in the NFC", so can we please stop touting a different team every week? You know who'll be the NFC's best team? Whoever plays in the Super Bowl. Who's that going to be? I have no idea, and anyone who tells you they do is lying. The Bears are still in great position to win homefield advantage, but with the way QB Rex Grossman has played, they're just as likely to be one-and-done. Dallas showed last night they've got major holes, the Seahawks lost to an Arizona team just playing out the string, and despite how good New Orleans looked last night, do you REALLY trust them yet as a contender? Me neither, but don't get me wrong, the Saints would be a very fun team to watch in the Super Bowl.

* In the AFC the Chargers...well maybe we need the same rule here too. I want to crown the Chargers as the AFC's best, but the AFC's Best Team should handle Kansas City next Sunday night. If the Chargers stumble, then what? Baltimore? Cincinnati? It's certainly not Indianapolis or Denver or New England after watching all of them get rolled yesterday. It SHOULD be San Diego, and I can't tell you how much I would enjoy a San Diego/New Orleans Super Bowl, but there's just no way to tell with so much parity from week to week.

* I have no such problem telling you who the best player in football is. If LaDanian Tomlinson doesn't win the MVP this year, they should just stop handing it out. He is that much better than everybody else right now.

* Len Pasquarelli is one of the best pro football writers alive, and I read his work whenever I can. However, his column this morning says that Indy's D will keep Peyton Manning from winning a Super Bowl this year makes me wonder if Manning is taking Favre's place as the new guy people will not blame no matter how they pla. Is it true about the Colts D? Absolutely. After giving up an astounding 375 rushing yards at 8.9 yards per carry to Jacksonville yesterday, it's obvious that no matter how good Manning and the COlts offense is, they are definitely not winning a Super Bowl with that defense. Hell I don't think they're winning a playoff game with that defense. As the Sports Guy has pointed out numerous times, this is definitely Indy's worst team in the last 4 or 5 years, and after getting blown out 44-17 on Sunday, there's no longer any doubt. However, is Mr. Pasquarelli forgetting that the reason Peyton Manning didn't get to a Super Bowl in years past was because of none other than Peyton Manning? Has Mr. Pasquarelli forgotten that Manning is the NFL's best regular season quarterback EVERY YEAR before he has his playoff meltdown? All the defense will do for Manning this year is deflect the blame for the Colts playoff shortcomings for a season. As I said, when did Manning become BRett Favre? When did he start being able to do no wrong no matter how poorly he plays in big games?

* In NBA matters, there's still a YUGE buzz in this town about the possibility of Allen Iverson coming to Minnesota. Although the possibilites seem slimmer by the day, as noted by Strib beat writer Steve Aschburner, the Wolves still do look to be in the running (despite reports in the Pioneer Press Saturday which quoted Wolves owner Glen Taylor saying dealing for Iverson would be too expensive, he's thankfully backed off those claims. This isn't baseball, this is the NBA, where you have to match contracts, so Iverson wouldn't be anymore expensive for the next 3 years than keeping his current roster together), and I guess we can't rule anything out until he's dealt. ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan reports that a deal could happen as soon as today or tomorrow, which makes you wonder, as Marc Stein does, why the Sixers are in such a rush to get rid of him? As Stein notes, the Indiana Pacers were in a similar situation last year with Ron Artest, but they sat him, took their time, and ended up getting Peja Stojakovic for him, which at the time was a much better return than anyone thought they'd get. Sixers GM Billy King's track record has been, well, McHale-esque thus far, and rushing into a trade for Iverson could speed up King's exit out of town. And all Sixers fans pause from beating themselves to death with a blunt object to rejoice.

Boston definitely has the best package to offer, but you've got to think the Sixers don't want to trade Iverson to their biggest rival. The next couple of days promise to be interesting.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Jeff: Is AI the Wolves Answer? Ya You Betcha!!

If you haven't heard by now, Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson has requested to be traded, and the team he wants to be traded to is none other than your Minnesota Timberwolves. Great Oden's Raven! Could it happen? Should the Wolves pull the trigger on the extremely talented and enigmatic guard? For awhile now I've been saying the Wolves need to trade Kevin Garnett, hopefully to the Chicago Bulls, for draft picks and young players to start over. Now?

GO GET AI!!!!!

Two reasons for my change of heart:
1) The Bulls can make the best offer for KG IF they were willing to include the Knicks #1 pick for the upcoming draft with Tyrus Thomas, Ben Gordon, and PJ Brown's expiring contract.
HOWEVER I have no idea if that trade has ever been offered, and more over, if that trade ever will be offered. I believe KG would be the perfect fit in Chicago to make them a championship contender, and the Bulls package of pick and players would best available. But there's no guarantee the Bulls are going to offer those players and that pick. None.

2) As the City Pages interview with Wolves owner Glen Taylor a couple of weeks ago made perfectly clear, the Wolves will not deal KG unless he asks them to. And he's not going to. And Taylor doesn't want to be known as the guy who traded The Franchise. And McHale doesn't have the cahones to do it either. So if they're not going to blow it up and start over, you HAVE to go for the gusto, take a gamble and go for it. I feel like I've said this a million times, but with the way the team is currently constructed (they have the league's 3rd worst cap situation behind the Knicks and Sixers), they're not going to be able to add much talent for the remainder of Garnett's contract terms. This team as currently constructed is not a playoff contender. So if you're not a playoff team with Garnett you either deal him and start over or take a chance on Iverson.


Does AI make the Wolves a title contender? Probably not. But they'd be a playoff team, and they'd be feisty. Very feisty. And maybe, just maybe, with AI AND KG on board, next summer you could talk a wiley veteran into signing a Gary Payton-type cheap contract to get a chance for a ring to bolster the roster.

Pull out all the stops, push all your chips to the middle of the table, and go get Iverson.

What can they offer? Anybody not named KG. Seriously. Foye's going to be a nice player, Mike James is a decent guard and...seriously everybody but Garnett should be offered. I would really like to see them keep Craig Smith because it's been so long since the Wolves have had a decent low-post presence. But if it takes including Smith, you do it.

Iverson makes about $18.3 million, so if my calculations are right, the Wolves would have to offer close to $17 million or so in returning salary to get a deal done. Here's an idea of what they could offer (salaries, as always, courtesy of hoopshype:

Foye ($2.5 million), Ricky Davis ($6.4 million & only 2 years left), Mike James ($6.1 with the 15% "trade kicker" if he's traded), and Eddie Griffin ($2.7 & only 2 years left) get you close. And then if they wanted McCants ($1.7 million) or Smith (barely $500k) included, that would get you up the salaries needed. Oh and draft picks. Throw one or two of those in there too- well of course not including the ones already owed to the Clippers and Celtics.

Are you morgaging the future? You betcha!! If you stand pat, they go out with a wimper. Trade for AI and give them anybody not KG, and suddenly the Wolves are interesting and relevant and are alive again. Bring on Allen Iverson!!!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Jeff: Morneausy Wins MVP

Minnesota Twins 1B Justin Ernest George Morneau has won the 2006 AL MVP Award. YEs the guy who I believe is not even the most valuable on his own team won the award for the whole damn league. Nevermind that slowly and quietly Canadians, not to mention BC Boys, are dominating American sports. Victoria, BC native Steve Nash is the reigning NBA 2-time MVP, and now to me, just as inexplicably, New Westminster, BC's own Morneau has won the AL MVP. As a fellow British Columbian living in the States, I'm ecstatic for Morneausy, and the incredible improvement he showed this year. He hit .321/.375/.559 with 34 HR's and was 2nd in the AL with 130 RBI, obliterating his previous career highs. Most Improved player in the American League? Without question. But just as Nash wasn't the league's best nor most valuable in either year he won it, Morneau was neither the Twins best or most important player.

Upon hearing the announcement, I emailed the following to Jer (yes he's still alive. Proof forthcoming):
Morneausy won the MVP. Wow. Just Wow. I love him and he's a Vancouver boy and all, but wasn't he the 3rd most important player on his own team? I'm counting Santana and Mauer ahead of him, and you could make an argument for Nathan and Liriano as well. Did I mention wow?

Jer's response was excellent as always, and it's this reasoning that won Morneau the MVP:
I see your point about Morneau, but I disagree in a sense. As far as leadership, he probably is the third most important person on his team, but you have to immediately rule Santana out because, whether you agree with it or not, he’s a pitcher and most writers aren’t going to vote for a pitcher. And as far as Mauer being more important than him, he is, in a sense, but Morneau played every single day (153 games) while Mauer played 120 games. In addition I think the non-tangible fact that by Morneusy being the power hitter that the Twins needed all along, this allowed the rest of the lineup to fall into place as it did (i.e. Torii being able to be a #6 hitter, Mauer being a #3 hitter), so the entire lineup was able to bat where it should and so to it’s greatest potential. There is no chance that Torii has the offensive year that he had if he isn’t batting in the 6th position. Plus, outside of batting average, his numbers are just better than Mauer.

I told you it was a good argument, yet I still disagree. For one thing Santana was this team's runaway MVP. He completed the pitcher's Triple Crown (Wins, ERA, K's) and was the unanimous selection as the Cy Young Award winner. Jer is absolutely right that "most writers aren’t going to vote for a pitcher" to which I think the writers are wrong. No matter how well Morneau or Mauer or the rest of the lineup hit, they weren't winning the AL Central without Santana's 19 wins, 2.77 ERA, and 247 strikeouts. They don't even get close. And if you're having a conversation about which player you'd want to start a franchise with, Santana's one of the first 3 names you'd come up with. So tell me again why he shouldn't be in the MVP conversation? (Jer wasn't arguing this point by the way, but I believe Santana's efforts works against Morneau's case).

As for Morneau being more important than Mauer, here I also disagree. Yes his numbers are better (except for average and OBP), but Mauer's a much better defensive player at the game's most grueling position, which even though it obviously doesn't, should count for something. Him getting on-base at a .429 clip also makes the jobs of the hitters behind him that much better. And although I totally agree that Torii Hunter had a career year because the Twins weren't counting on him in the middle of the order, you can attribute this just as much to Mauer and Cuddyer as you can to Morneau.

Beyond that, Mauer and Santana are the best players in the league at their position, and it's not even close right now. Morneau is certainly one of the better first basemen in the AL, but honestly, even factoring in their non-existent defense, HONESTLY- if you could have Travis Hafner (42HR, 118 RBI .297/.402/.583), David Ortiz (54 HR, 137 RBI .287/.413/.636) or Morneau, which one are you taking? You're kidding yourself if you don't say Morneausy is 3rd on that list.

Oh and one other thing: bottom of the 9th, 2 outs, with the winning run at second. Who would you want at the plate- Mauer or Morneau? You're kidding yourself if you pick Morneau there too.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Jeff: Ryan Will Be Earning Award this Offseason

As Strib beat writer Lavelle E Neal reports today, Minnesota Twins GM Terry Ryan has won the 2006 MLB Executive of the Year Award. The Twins of course won the Central Division on the last day of the season with a pitching staff decimated by injuries. Terry was indeed deserving for the moves he made last year on the usual shoe-string budget. But Ryan will really be earning that award this offseason if he can keep the "Little Engine That Could" in contention next year in what looks to be baseball's best division. The Twins needs for the offseason are the same as the seemingly are every year: a power bat and starting pitching. However, this offseason it will be tougher than ever to address those needs, especially with young ace Francisco Liriano out until 2008 with Tommy John surgery.

If you haven't heard by now, this year's free agent class is awful, lacking quality and depth in both starting pitching and power hitters- and pretty much everything else. Confounding matters for the Twins is that 1)it seems like EVERYBODY needs starting pitching and power and 2)it seems like every big market team with a big budget has money to spend. Just look at the Cubbies resigning 3rd baseman Aramis Ramirez (he of huge power and no D, as well as little leadership) for about $14.5 million per season, or the Red Sox reportedly paying about $42 million just to talk to Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who despite never throwing a major league inning, is being dubbed as the offseason's top available pitcher. These are just the first two examples of the massive overspending that will take place in the next month.

Not that billionaire owner Carl Pohlad (who, I will point out again for the umpteenth time is one of the richest men in baseball), would ever allow Terry Ryan to be involved in signing a big-name free agent, but this year it will be a blessing. Ryan will be left to try and fill voids at DH and in the rotation from a less-than-stellar bargain bin, or through trade. Of course the trade market will be especially tough now too, since anybody with a tradeable commodity will be asking more than ever for it because of the dearth of available free agent talent. The Tigers just gave up top pitching prospect Humberto Sanchez and two other young minor league arms to get 39-year-old Gary Sheffield from the Yankees. Sheff, who missed most of last season due to injury, is in the twilight of his career, and yet the Tiggers shelled out $28 million for a 2 year extension. IF he stays healthy, and IF he continues to hit as he has, Sheffield could be the big bat (and finally a patient hitter) that Detwah lacked last year, but they still paid a bundle for him. But in this "win-now-at-all-costs" baseball world, that could end up being one of the better deals we'll see this winter.

Division rival Cleveland, who could have baseball's best hitting lineup outside the Bronx, landed young 2B Josh Barfield from San Diego for some minor league guys, in what can only be described as a "Terry Ryan-esque" move for the Tribe. Barfield's not great at anything, but he's young, dirt cheap for the next 3 years, and is a pretty solid all-around hitter. Like Minnesota, Cleveland will have to get creative to address their needs, but theirs, defense up the middle (which the Barfield acquisition certainly did) and the bullpen, are much easier to get than power and starters.

And the White Sox? GM Kenny Williams is one of baseball's best and most aggressive guys, and being one of the few teams with money, power and starting pitching, he's guaranteed to make splash this offseason.

Is the current Twins team good enough to win next year? I don't think so, and I doubt Ryan does either, so improving them should prove very interesting. The Carlos Silva and Torii Hunter signings were both shrewd, and hopefully Mr Ryan has a few more aces up his sleeve to get another arm and hopefully another bat. I'd love to see the Twins go after Mike Piazza. An extra catcher to spell Mauer who can DH when he's not behind the plate. And yes I realize he's not the hitter he used to be and is below-average at best behind the dish, but he'd still be a better presence in the 4 spot than Rondell White or Jason Kubel.

I'm not sure what the options look like for the rotation, but how much do you like the looks of Santana, Silva, Garza, Boof and Scott Baker? Yeah I don't like it much either. That's why as a Twins fan you should be glad that Ryan's in charge of this, because if anybody can do it with smoke and mirros, Terry's the man.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Jeff: Glen Taylor Speaks...and You Should Listen

If you haven't heard, Citypages got a candid and indepth interview with Minnesota Timberwolves owner and Minneasota billionaire Glen Taylor. If you haven't read it, and you consider yourself a Wolves fan, take the time to read it. I don't know what I'm more amazed with: some of the things Taylor said, or just how bloody candid he was throughout the interview. You NEVER hear an owner or somebody in sports management be this blunt. I don't know how they did it, but it's a helluva read.

Here's a few highlights, mostly notably on our favorite player KG, and my least favorite VP of Basketball operations, Kevin McHale:

On McHale...
"I guess I would just say to the public, at the time last year, I didn't know of a person—and we have had different people that have asked for that job—I didn't see a person that I thought would do the job better than Kevin."

On the Marko Jaric trade...
"And I would just say that they sold me. I had seen him play before and I didn't see quite what they saw. But they were saying, "Gee, the guy is 6-7 and he can play all these positions, and boy, wait until the fans see him." Here's what I would say to our fans on that: Let us see what happens this year and judge that. Because whatever we did last year, we really messed up."

On getting rid of Wally...
"I'm just saying there was probably more to it that had to do with Wally that we have chosen not to talk about—that Kevin has never said and we have never said...But I would say some things came to a head that forced us to get into something we didn't necessarily want to do."

On former coach Flip Saunders...
"I can tell you that Chauncey [Billups] left not because of Kevin but because of Flip. Now, have we said that? We didn't want to say that about Flip because he was here at the time."

On getting Mike James...
"McHale had talked to Garnett and said, what do you really want? And Garnett said, I want an experienced guard. I have done the best when Sam was here, and with an experienced guard, I am a better player."

On trading KG...
"So I think there could be a scenario [where he leaves], but I don't think it will be because Kevin puts pressure on me or that I would blindside him. If it happens, it will be because we talk to each other and say, you know, it isn't going so good this year."

What Taylor would want in return for The Franchise
"...a couple of young players and a couple of draft picks, so we could build a team around [that trade]."

There's a ton more in here. The biggest surprise for me was Taylor laying the blame at Flip's feet for letting Chauncey go. I'm not saying he's wrong, I'm just surprised he said it. I know I have a biased opinion of Flip, and that it was McHale, and not the Nosis, who should have been canned a couple of years back, but after seeing the problems with players Flip's having in Detroit, perhaps there was more to this than first thought. Not that I'm taking the blame for this whole debacle off of McHale. What's baffling is that Taylor walks through most of the screwups McHale's made the past couple of years, admits they were screwups, but still comes back to "well I don't think anyone else could have done it any better." Looks like McHale's lifetime contract is safe.

Or is it? Midway through they talk about Fred Hoiberg, and it sounds like they're grooming him as McHale's replacement. For Timberwolves fans, that's great news. Let's just hope it happens sooner rather than later.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Jeff: The Monday Musings

San Francisco 9 Minnesota 3
I'm guessing you've already heard or read everything there is to say about this game, or thought it yourself, but let me add this thought:
Benching Brad Johnson is not the answer to the offensive woes. Yes he's turned the ball over 6 times in the last 2 games, and the team has scored a grand total of 7 offensive TD's (Johnson has thrown 4, Mewelde Moore and Ryan Longwell have each thrown one- I'm counting the Longwell TD as a special teams TD- and Chester Taylor has ran for 2 more scores) in 8 games. It's brutal, and I'm not sure with the '85 Bears defense that the Vikings would be a Super Bowl team. But pulling Brad Johnson means you're announcing to your fans and the league that the Vikings 2006 season is over. Period. It'd be one thing if the receiving core was making spectacular catches, or even routine catches, but they haven't. We saw again yesterday that even when Johnson makes the right read or throw, the receivers aren't coming through for him. Brooks Bollinger or Tavaris Jackson are not going to make this team better than Brad Johnson can, and with the Bears and Rams as the only winning teams left on the schedule, Johnson can keep you in the playoff hunt.

What I hope this season will do for coach Brad Childress is make him realize you need more than just his scheme to score points and win. Most coaches have that sense of arrogance that their scheme is the key, and that you can plug just about anybody into it and it'll be productive. Hey this idea works if you're New England with Tom Brady or Chili's former employer in Philly with Donovan McNabb, but you've got to have a good QB to make it happen. And you also need receivers that will catch the ball, and this year Minnesota has neither. You could get by with Johnson if the receivers were catching, but they're not and so the offense continually stalls in the red zone. I hope this makes Childress realize that he needs a good quarterback, and a couple of playmakers at wideout next year. If they get them, the Vikes are right there. For this season? We're probably in store for more ugly games like yesterday, but hopefully the Vikes will come out on the right end of it.

Indianapolis 27, New England 20
In his MMQB column, Peter King made some points I agree with about the Colts win over New England, and one big one I don't. Here's what I agreed with...
* That the Colts are clearly the best team in football right now (duh!)
* That the Colts won't go 16-0 (yes their sched is favorable, but as the Bears showed yesterday, anything's possible. THey'll lose at least once, and I think probably twice when they're resting their starters in week 17, before the playoffs)
* That Peyton Manning is the playing better than any QB in the league (a resounding yes to that one)

But what I disagreed with was this...
"But I would like to put that annoying he-can't-win-the-big-one story to bed."
Seriously I couldn't disagree more. Peyton has been the best REGULAR SEASON quarterback for at least the last 3 years. And yet every year his team loses in the playoffs. Last night's win over New England proved they were a better team than the Patriots right now- but I don't see how it proves he's ready to "win the Big One". Last year, with homefield throughout and the Patriots knocked out by Denver, was Indy's best chance for a Super Bowl, and they didn't even make it out of the conference. This certainly COULD be the year Peyton drops the "Alex Rodriguez of Football" tag, but no matter how well he plays in the regular season, we're not going to know the answer until February 4th in Miami for Super Bowl XLI. If the Colts make it there AND they win it, THEN and only the "annoying he-can't-win-the-big-one story to bed."

Miami 31, Chicago 13
This game shows the Bears are mortal, but the team's 6 turnovers shows that this could be more than just overlooking the Fish. We'll find out plenty about Da Bears in the next 3 weeks as they travel to the Meadowlands to play the Giants, and Jets, and then to Foxboro to play the Patriots. Contenders or pretenders? We'll know by Thanksgiving weekend. This loss also means we can start talking about the GIants, Philly, Carolina and a host of other NFC teams as having a legit Super Bowl aspirations. My pick, as it was to start the year, is still Carolina, but things as it stands now are pretty wide open.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Jeff: Brady, Manning...and everybody else

When Denver kicker Jason Elam booted a field goal to tie the game with 1:47 left in the 4th quarter, my roommate Kris and I looked at each other and said "Too much time." The cameras then panned to the sideline showing Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning standing with offensive coordinator Tom Moore. And honestly? They could have been two guys standing beside a grill in the tailgate lot or by the water cooler, or at their kids' baseball game. They were calm and cool and confident as could be. They were faced with one of the most difficult things to do in sports- the 2 minute drill- and they had no doubts they would get it done. None. It wasn't a question of WOULD they be able to get into field goal range, it was more deciding which way to do it this time? Something different to spice it up maybe? I could have sworn I saw Manning say "too much time!"

Giving Manning 1:47 to set up a game-winning field goal with all 3 timeouts? It just wasn't fair, and anybody watching knew it. SHouldn't there be a new rule (for regular season games only, of course) that Manning should only be given under a minute and 1 timeout, just to make it interesting? But the NFL allowed him to keep all that time and all those timeouts and Manning surgically ripped the heart out of the Broncos in one of the toughest venues to win in sports: Mile High at night. A dump pass here, and handoff there (a handoff!! See now that's just getting cocky), and then a couple of passes to Reggie Wayne (he of the 3 TD day who abused poor Bronch CB Derrant Williams all game) and they were in range. IT was bad enough that you knew Manning would get them in position, but to have the greatest clutch kicker in history jogging off the sidelines to seal it? And of course he did. Colts win again, and remain undefeated.

Manning looked like the best QB who ever lived in that game, and yet last night proved for me yet again that Tom Brady is still the best. BRady did what he's rarely allowed to do in the Patriots team-first system, which was go out of the shotgun and pick teams apart. Last night it was a good Vikings D he carved up (at another time we'll delve into why Belichek IS the best coach in the game. With 2 good running backs he could have tried to pound the ball against a good run D. Instead? He airs it out all game long. Even up 24-7 in the 3rd, he continued to let Brady go shotgun, and Brady continued to complete passes. Anyway, another story for another time but just wanted to mention it). We're so quick these days to want to name everything the best or worst ever, to name instant greatness when one of the hallmarks of greatness is of course longevity and consistency, two measures that can't be judged or granted instantly. But we continue to make the ridiculous comparisons, like one of the guys in NBC's Sunday Night Broadcast saying with a straight face that new Cowboys QB Tony Romo reminded him so much of BRett Favre. And Joe Montana. Really? Why leave out Roger Staubach, Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas? Ridiculous.

But for all the overhype we have to endure, the Brady/Manning rivalry is every bit as good as Montana/Marino was. Manning with the gawdy stats and the playoff failures, and Brady with the 3 Super Bowl rings. These 2 teams play Sunday Night on NBC (thank god it's not on E!SPN) and you're going to get these 2 guys shoved down your throat for the next 5 days, but no matter how much they overhype it, these two are the real deal: and nobody else is even close. That more than anything is what I took away from their two impressive performances, that as bad and mediocre as NFL quarterbacks are these days, Brady and Manning are head and shoulders better than anybody else (sit down Mr. Favre. Sit down). I would still take Brady over Manning 7 days a week and twice on Sundays. I still need to see Manning get to the Super Bowl to put him ahead of Brady. I think Manning will take Marino's place as the greatest statistical quarterback in history, but like Marino I don't think he wins a Super Bowl. I'd like to be proven wrong because it would only enhance the rivalry, and let's be honest, after last year's gawd-awful Steelers/Seahawks Super Bowl, we NEED somebody like the Colts in there to give it some juice.

Manning does have more talent around him than Marino ever did (just the fact alone that he's had a running game around him), and I wonder if Manning's slowly learning from what happened to Marino and Montana, and now Brady. After his incredible record-setting 2004 season when his Colts still fell flat in the playoffs, I think the light went on for Peyton. Marino tried all those years to win it by himself and it never happened. But I think he looks at Montana and BRady, who are great when they need to be, but don't have to put up the gawdy stats, and is starting to take a page from them. Will he throw more than Brady will or Montana did? Absolutely, and with that arsenal of receivers, he should. But Manning's proved the last couple years that he's willing to put his ego and big passing numbers aside to win ugly if that's what it takes, because a win's a win no matter how you get it- especially in the playoffs. I think Manning's taking what the defenses give him more than ever, and like Brady, can turn it on and take over when need be. If he had Vinatieri kicking for him last year against the Steelers instead of "The Drunk Kicker" we be talking about him as a Super Bowl champ instead of doing another A-Rod impression. Look no further than the Broncos game for an example. He was 14-17 for just 132 yards and no TD's in the first half. The game was close and Manning was taking what he was given. IN the 2nd half he decided to make Derant Williams his personal biatch, throwing again and again to Reggie Wayne. It resulted in the Colts victory.

Am I openly cheering for Goliath, for Peyton, for the guy that's being shoved down our throats as the new Face of the NFL? I am. For the sake of good and watchable football in an age of inconsistency and mediocrity, I'm dying for a juggernaut and a dynasty and a rivalry. The folks at E!SPN and other outlets are doing everything possible to make us believe in contrived rivalries and "great" players, but there's nothing forced about the Pats and Colts. Contrasting styles meeting twice a year (hopefully anyways) to battle for football supremacy. Can Peyton shake the "A-Rod of football" tag? Can Brady continue to be the best quarterback on the planet? We'll get a glimpse of it this Sunday night, and I know I'll be watching, because in today's NFL, it's Brady, Manning...and everbody else.

Jeff: NBA Preview Part IV

8. Boston Celtics, Atlantic (33-49)
Over/Under 36.5 wins: OVER

The C's are young and they don't have a great coach, but Paul Pierce will be an allstar again, rookie PG Rajon Rondo has the makings of a star (as well as a new Boston cult hero), and this COULD be the year Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins finally put it all together. Or most of it. Or some of it. Hey come on, it's the East. They've got enough to get in. I'd say something nice about Wally Szczerbiak, but you know I'm not capable of it.

7. Detroit Pistons, Central (64-18)
Over/Under 50.5 wins: WAY UNDER

No I'm not kidding, no I'm not drinking as I type this, and yes this prediction would make me less popular in Detroit than Matt Millen (and yes this would be assuming anybody reads this hahaha). The Pistons lost Ben Wallace who was the one guy they couldn't afford to lose, and I can't believe more people aren't making a bigger deal of this. Let's see, the guy was your leader, your best defensive player, one of the league's best rebounders AND set the tone for everybody else by being tough and unselfish on a team that relied heavily on him to do all of those things. He was also the glue that kept Ra-weed Wallace in check, allowing him to free lance and play pressure-free (how do people forget what a complete and total space-cadet the guy was in Portland? That Ra-weed will resurface this season. I guarantee it). People also seem to forget that what made DEtroit great was their CHEMISTRY!! As individuals none of them were high draft picks or all-NBA type guys, but together they were truly one of the league's best teams. Now their heart and soul is gone, and I'm telling you, that's a REALLY BIG DEAL! Nazr Mohammed doesn't fit their style at all and does not provide a defensive presence in the middle (the guy couldn't beat out Rasho Nesterovic last year in San Antonio for pete's sake), so the team's best players are all guys who want to play on the perimeter and there's nobody left to rebound or do the dirty work on the inside.

Oh but that's not all. Big Ben ripped coach Flip Saunders apart on his way out of town, and there's a mutiny on the horizon here. These guys, who had won a title without Flipnosis, were quick to point the finger at him at the first signs of trouble last year. Why'd they not make it back to the Finals last year? Because of Flip they said. Well they'll be more trouble this year, and the players will be throwing all the blame at Flip's feet. Add to this the FACTS that the Pistons have been extrememly fortunate when it's come to injuries during their run (they've had ZERO to their key guys. That will change), and that they have no depth whatsoever (honestly after McDyess, who in their bench rotation is decent? Anyone?) this spells a recipe for well, maybe not disaster, but there's no way Detwah gets anywhere close to 50 wins this year. None. In a watered-down East they're still a playoff team, but the end of the Pistons run is here. Call me a Pistons-hater, but this is how it will happen.

6. Indiana Pacers, Central (41-41)
Over/Under 43.5 wins: OVER

2 of the following 3 things will happen for the Pacers this year: Al Harrington will make a big splash in his return to Indy, Jermaine O'Neal makes a big return from being chronically injured, and Stephen Jackson will try to stop shooting people. IF 2 of those 3 go right, this is definitely a playoff team. Not to mention more PT and maturity for 2nd year forward Danny Granger, and as little reliance as possible on Jamaal Tinsley would also be a good thing.

5. Orlando Magic, Southeast (36-46)
Over/Under 38.5 wins: WAY OVER

Yeah I'm in love with Dwight Howard. Deal with it. The New Moses Malone will add more offense to his already stellar game, and we might even see more from Darko this year than just waving a towel on the bench and giving awkward hi-5's to guys as they're coming off the court. Grant Hill might be healthy (ok so his chances of being healthy are as good as Horatio Sans chances of leaving SNL and being a movie star), and Jameer Nelson will continue the rebirth of the point guard in the NBA. What's Orlando missing? Vince Carter, that's what. This is the best team in the East with Vince. Where will he go in free agency next summer? Probably Charlotte. Too bad.

4. New Jersey Nets, Atlantic (49-33)
Over/Under 46.5 wins: OVER

Just not sure about this team. I think Jason Kidd's play will drop this year, and although Marcus Williams has looked good in preseason, is he really ready to handle a lot of NBA minutes? We'll see. Richard Jefferson is consistent (well as long as he's not playing for Team USA that is), and Vinsanity's in a contract year, so he should be a monster. Still they have little to nothing in the post, and still no real depth coming off the bench. All of that should be good for an easy division title in the worst division in the league, but I'm not even sure they get out of the first round.

3. Miami Heat, Southeast (52-30)
Over/Under 51 wins: UNDER

Well I've already pissed off Pistons fans, so why not continue with Heat fans too? Although really everyday in Miami it's 80, sunny, there's a nice beach, there's a lot of pretty plastic girls down there, AND your team are the defending champs, so how upset can you really get as a Heat fan? They had the perfect storm to win it last year, where EVERYTHING (including the commish's office demanding Dallas be called for fouls on DWade as soon as he got of bed in the morning) went right for them. This year? Yeah not so much. The only 3 guys you can really count on doing more of what they did last year are Wade, Udonis Haslem and James Posey. Everybody else is a wildcard heading into the season. GP and Zo were running on fumes last year, so I'm not sure how much they contribute this season- and remember, it was Payton not Jason Williams, who was getting the crunchtime minutes in the playoffs. JWill and Employee #8 played nicey-nice to get a ring, but I have a hard time believing they'll buy in again. And Shaq? He might as well wear a Hawaiian shirt for a jersey and sip mai tai's during timeouts (I got a maitai but I ordered a margarita. And I asked for no salt. NO SALT but there were big grains of salt on the rim). What else does the man have to prove? More importantly, what else does the man WANT to prove? History shows dominant centers DO NOT get better once they hit their early 30's, especially 7'1, 350 pound former dominant centers who haven't been in shape for the regular season the past 4+ years, got his title without Kobe, and has a nice fat contract in one of the countries coolest cities. You tell me, what does Shaq have left to prove? Heat fans will be lucky to see him repeat last year's averages of 20 pts and 9.2 boards a night. I hope DWade was working on his shoulders in the offseason, because he's going to be carrying this team all year.

2. Chicago Bulls, Central (41-41)
Over/Under 48.5 wins: OVER

See here's an example of where chemistry matters, and where when everybody buys in, they're a pretty damn good team. I think the Bulls are clearly behind Dallas, San Antonio and Phoenix in the West (and maybe the Clips and Lakers too for that matter), but in the East they should be fighting for top spot. This was already a hungry scrappy team that played solid fundamental basketball (and yet were somehow strangely enjoyable to watch), and now they get a guy in Ben Wallace who does more of those things. Big Ben's got a chip the size of the Hancock Tower on his shoulder, and the rest of the Bulls think they should have beat Miami in the opening round series last year, so motivation will not be an issue. These guys will run, D up, and will win 50+ games. They're still missing a go-to scorer (although I think in the right circumstances Ben Gordon can be that guy), or at least a go-to post scorer, but even if they don't make a move at the deadline, they'll be in the hunt for the Finals. Well at least until the semi's or conference finals when suddenly anytime a guy in a Bulls uniform so much as thinks about breathing they call a foul on him and send Lebron or DWade to the line. But hey until then, enjoy Bulls basketball.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers, (50-32)
Over/Under 49 wins: OVER

This isn't as much about Lebron, as it is his supporting cast. Here's a list of things that went right for the Cavs last year: Lebron and Side Show Bob. A list of things that went wrong: everything else. AND THEY STILL WON 50 FREAKING GAMES!!!! And in a tougher conference last year with better teams!! We know Lebron will be better (which might be the scariest thought of any this Halloween. I mean good gawd, how good can this kid be?!?!) and his teammates can't be any worse. THeir big free agent signings last year were all terrible. Larry hughes because of injury and Damon Jones because of well, maybe he was worried more about his fashion sense than shooting %. I don't know, but he was awful. Donyell Marshall? No explanation either but he was unwatchable. Drew Gooden was mostly hurt or mostly inconsistent and Big Z's main contributions were a neck beard and looking European (and by the way, I STILL think they should have moved him in the offseason. He does not fit their style at all, takes touches away from Lebron, and well, did you see the guy's playoff neckbeard? Cavs fans were getting trapped in it on his way to and from the locker room! It was a travesty. A Sham-trave-mockery!) So Lebron will be better, his team will be better, and with homecourt advantage and Stern and the refs on their side throughout the playoffs, I don't see how the Cavs aren't in the NBA Finals this season.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Jeff: NBA Preview The Third: The East

If the National League is being called AAAA baseball (and of course an 83 win team from the Senior Circuit looks primed to win the World Series) in the NBA what do we call the East? The NBDL II? NBDL Sr? NCAAA? Unlike the West, where there are at least 3 elite teams, there's not one here. Not one. And yes Heat and Piston fans, I realize that both Miami and Detwah are still in the conference. Let me say again: NOT ONE SINGLE ELITE TEAM IN THE EAST!!! But somebody has to win it, and chances are that one of those somebodies will win the NBA Title. Why? Because of the 1-on-5 playoff factor and that the East has two of the best players in the league in Lebron James and Dwyane Wade and David Stern and the refs LOVE superstars. Just love 'em. Mark it down, one of those two gentlemen will be in the Finals. You'll have to wait till tomorrow to find out which one. First, the non-playoff teams in the East (and by the way, according to my calculations if we seeded the playoffs as the 16 best teams in the league regardless of conference, the NBDL2 would get 4 teams, maybe 5. Seriously.)

As an added bonus for the NBDLEast preview, I'll be throwing in each team's Vegas win projections for the upcoming season. The idea here is to pick the over or under for how many wins Vegas predicts a team will get. Who doesn't LOVE playing the Over/UNder game? Exactly! Keep in mind Vegas sets odds and projections like this to get as much action as possible on both the overs AND unders for each team. So for example the defending NBA Champion Miami Heat are predicted to win 51 games. The Vegas wiseguys might not necessarily believe Miami will win 51 games this year, that's just the number they think will get the most people betting on both sides. Remember, Vegas makes money by you losing money.

Two from the East that really surprised me: Detroit at 50.5 and Cleveland at 49. Let's just say that if I were a betting man, I'd be betting the farm on the over for one and the under for the other. You'll find out soon enough which one's which. And oh by the way, no team in the league was predicted to win 60 games. Miami was predicted to win the most in the East at 51, and in the West Dallas had the most at 56, with Phoenix and San Antonio right behind at 55.5. Alright on with it then!

15. Atlanta Hawks, Southeast Division (2005 record 26-56)
Over/Under 28.5 wins: UNDER

I mean, what can you say about the Hawks? Well other than more people in Atlanta would show up to hear Gilbert Gottfried read the phone book than watch a Hawks game. It's that bad. They had a great trading chip in Al Harrington. He was the only young-allstar-caliber player available this summer, and what did the ATL get for him? Draft picks, and considering that lately they've used draft picks on Shelden Williams and guys not named Chris Paul, that's not a good sign. And before all 4 Hawks fans who still give a damn start saying they've got the best chance to win the Greg Oden sweepstakes, let me say this: the worst team never gets the 1st pick (see every draft since 2000 when the Nets got KMart) and even if you DID get the 1st pick with your luck Oden would either go back to school or more likely, come out and the Hawks would draft another small forward. Draft time for Hawks fans, or really just being a Hawks fan, must be a lot like Will Hunting getting a beating from his foster dad: he'd just lay out a wrench, a belt, or Gilbert Godfried and say choose. I think Gilbert's supposed to be reading at the Barnes & Noble in Buckhead on Thursday! Go Hawks!

14. Philadelphia 76ers, Atlantic (38-44)
Over/Under 34 wins: UNDER

In one of the most intriguing races in decades, we're now essentially down to 2. What race is that you ask? Why who can be the most incompetent NBA GM the longest of course! It's been a 4 horse race for awhile, but Isiah Thomas in NYC and Billy Knight in Hotlanta should be out of jobs by this time next year. That leaves us with Minnesota's Kevin McHale (and believe me, my money's on him) and Philly's Billy King. It's hard to choose right now, really. Both men have done an excellent job of putting the most over-paid non-talented players around a superstar, and both have made some awful trades, but McHale really excels when it comes to drafting. His draft record is uglier than me in a speedo. Knight's strength is killing his cap with a ballooning payroll, which at $94 million, is 2nd highest in the league. Sure he could have dealt Allen Iverson this summer for relief and a chance to start over, but why ruin a good thing? Not when you've got Sam Dalembert and Kyle Korver locked in until 2036. Chris Webber? He's owed $43 million over the next 2 years. And hey to top it all off, King is paying almost $18 million this season to Jamal Mashburn and Todd McCulloch, two guys who've been out of the NBA for years! Yes it's a race that should go right down to the finish folks, so don't miss it! For Sixers fans, um yeah, you might want to miss it.

13. Toronto Raptors, Atlantic (27-55)
Over/Under 34 wins: UNDER

Sorry but I'm just not buying the Raptors hype. I know Bryan Colangelo helped put together that fiesty Phoenix Suns squad, and that now the Raptors are supposed to be Phoenix East (well except for the difference in climate, currency, and number of times somebody will yell "take off eh!" when you knock over their beer). Although I think Bryan's on the right track and the team could be better, last time I checked the Raps don't have Steve Nash. Or Shawn Marion. Or Amare Stoudamire. Or Raja Bell, Barbosa, or the rest of the Suns roster. Is Chris Bosh one of the game's most underrated players? Definitely, and Bargnani should be a good rookie. But otherwise there's just not much talent here, and even in the NCAAA that's not going to be good enough. And TJ Ford? Yes he's quick and likes to run, but he can't shoot, doesn't pass as well as Nash (nobody does but just throwing it out there) and he breaks easier than a soda cracker. They're going in the right direction and Colangelo will have them in the playoffs soon enough, but not this year.

12. Charlotte Bobcats, Southeast (26-56)
Over/Under 32.5 wins: OVER

Speaking of teams that are going in the right direction, the Bobs (or the Shats. Yeah I like the Shats better) have amassed some good young talent and could put together a nice season. They don't have anyone as good as Bosh, but with Emeka Okafor, Sean May, Ray Felton, and Adam Morrison they not only have the college allstars, but a young nucleus that will make some noise this year. And don't forget about the league's most underrated player, Gerald Wallace. I think these kids will be 10 wins better (think about it: they won 26 last year with Okafor and May out for most of the year. Wallace had to play center!!) at least, but with youth comes inexperience. Morrison will be the scorer they've craved, but for all the game-winners and big baskets he'll score, he'll have some 2-11 shooting nights too. Ray Felton could be an allstar this year, and May and Okafor are a formidable low-post combo. If they can find a solid veteran leader (i.e. NOT Vince Carter) and add one more lottery pick next offseason this is a dangerous team for 2007, and one that at the very least will be fun to watch for 2006- if you're not blinded by the blaze-orange jerseys first. Good lord those things are uglier than Morrison's stache.

11. New York Knicks, Atlantic (23-59)
Over/Under 31 wins: OVER

What would I do if I coached the Knicks this year (obviously I'm not qualified because I haven't bankrupted a semi-pro league and decimated a Canadian basketball franchise, as well as America'a most storied one, but bear with me)? I'd give half my roster the "Tim Thomas": last year the Bulls sent Thomas home. They told the guy they've got no room for somebody with his attitude and sent him home (again Clippers fans, THIS is the guy you'll be seeing at Staples Center. Not the one from the playoffs last year. I'm not sayin I'm just sayin). Marbury, Francis, Jalen Rose, Mo Taylor, and Jerome James- send them all home. Curry, and Crawford,you're on notice. Channing Frye, David Lee, Jared Jeffries, REnaldo Balman and Nate Robinson are your future, and the further you keep the cancers away from these kids, the better. And I know, I know I KNOW!!! Knick fans wouldn't stand for it. Well let me tell you something: ALL those guys I'd send home are "Me First" guys, and no matter how talented they are, they're not taking you to the playoffs because they refuse to play together. PLay them all and you're not going to the playoffs. Send them home and you're not going to the playoffs but your young guys get better. You tell me which option is better. And I don't believe for one second The Cancers will rally around Isiah. No way. They're getting huge guaranteed dollars. That's all they care about. If they didn't rally last year, they won't do it this year. But since Isiah brough in all the Me Firsts, they'll play and they'll probably get close to 40 wins and the playoffs, but not close enough.

10. Washington Wizards, Southeast (42-40)
Over/Under 39.5 wins: UNDER

DO NOT doubt Gilbert Arenas. Not for a second. The man loves revenge more than Chuck Norris, Rambo and Max Cady combined. Last year the East coaches didn't vote him as an allstar reserve, so he spent the 2nd half of the season putting on camoflauge and a red bandana and made it his personal mission to make those coaches pay for what they did to him in Nam! Now he got cut by Team USA this past summer. Who's on his revenge list? USA Hoops director Jerry Colangelo? Coach K? Every player on the roster? Try every damn person who gets in his way, that's who! You think you're better than Gilbert? You think Gilbert's not good enough? You think Gilbert's going to take this! You'll get what's coming to you! And you'll get it good!!!
Too bad the rest of the guys on the Wiz don't care this much. If they did they might be a playoff team. In the meantime Colangelo, Coach K and hell every single one of you better watch your back! Gilbert says you'll pay!

9. Milwaukee Bucks, Central (40-42)
Over/Under 40.5 wins: UNDER

Have I mentioned I'm really starting to like Milwaukee? A great baseball town (whose team needs to go back to the old jerseys), good beer, lots of brats, grown men wearing mustaches like it's 1973, hell there's even a river running through town out to Lake Michigan. It's really growing on me. I just wish I could say the same for the Bucks. The jerseys are new and yet old at the same time, and really that's Bucks basketball for you. They've got the big white center (or BWC as I like to call them. A Bucks staple. Somewhere Brad Lohaus and Frank Brickowski are smiling), no stars, and a bunch of guys who hustle and do all the little things- well except Charlie Villaneuva who is as new to the concept of effort as Katie Holmes is to the idea of "natural birthing." I think he's accepting the idea about as well too. Oh and just for spice the Bucks have registered sex offender Rueben Patterson too. Does he have to walk around to every fan at every game and tell them his name and what's he done? Ok that was just mean. Sorry, not enough beer or brats this morning. I get cranky like that. I have no other real analysis (why start now?) here. The Bucks will be good, but not good enough to make the playoffs.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

JEff: NBA West Part Deux

8. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS, Pacific Division (05-06 record: 34-48)
This is all Don Nelson- well ok mostly Don Nelson. He's won here before and has won everywhere he's been, and this current Warriors team will respect that. I still haven't figured out why teams don't just hire a psychologist as their coach, and then get some assistants to do the X's and O's stuff. I mean, NBA coaching is 90% babysitting and 10% X's and O's. EVERYBODY in the league is talented, it's just a matter of chemistry and getting millionaires with guaranteed contracts to give a sh*t every night. Why couldn't you hire a guy with a psych degree (a basketball background would be preferred but not mandatory), and give him an assistant coach with a name like "Wex Tinters" and Wex could come up with some crazy offense with a shape name like "The Octagon" or "The Rectangle" or maybe even "The Triangle". Then Psych Coach can coddle and baby all the players and Wex tells him all the plays to run. Just make sure Psych and Wex go to a team with 2-previously-uncoachable superstars. I think this combo could be worth, what- 8? Maybe 9 championships? Just a thought.

7. LA CLIPPERS, Pacific (47-35)
I think the Arizona Cardinals choked against the Bears MOnday NIght because really, what would happen to the planet if the Clips make the playoffs 2 straight years AND the Cardinals start looking functional? Would the sky turn red and rain frogs? Would the seas boil? Would Jessica Simpson become intelligent? I just don't think the world's ready for the Clips AND Cards to be good. I have trouble believing the Clips will equal their 47 wins from a year ago. Yes they should get a whole season out of Corey Magette, Chris Kaman is a good center, and Shaun Livingston (if the kid would ever learn to shoot) could be the conference's breakout player. But Elton Brand can't possibly duplicate last year's MVP-like numbers, Sam Cassell will be the unmotivated "non-contract-year" Sam Cassell (and oh by the way he's 37), Cuttino Mobley's already 31, and they replaced the outside shooting of Vlad Radmonovic with Tim Thomas. Chances of seeing the Tim Thomas from the postseason instead of the one that he's been the rest of his career with a fat contract? Let's just say the Royals are going to the World Series before that happens.

6. LA LAKERS, Pacific (45-37)
I don't particularly like Kobe Bryant, and apparently I'm not alone. I read in Sports Illustrated's NBA preview issue (I needed something to do on my lunchbreak) that Kobe has the 6th highest "negative Q" rating in all of sports (the top 5? Barry Bonds, Terrell Owens, Ron Artest, Peyton Manning and Bode Miller. OK I made Peyton up because I couldn't think of the 5th one). Before being very unsurprised that Kobe was on this list, I wondered who voted on this and why have I not seen this kind of thing before? I don't read SI's print copies much anymore, so maybe I missed this, but did they publish a whole list of who has the highest and lowest Q ratings? Because THAT'S a list I'd want to see! Anyway, despite my dislike for Kobe I still believe he's the best all-around player in the league (if Lebron wants that title he'd better start playing D), and that he alone is worth a playoff spot. Surround him with a good 2nd banana in Lamar Odom and a developing supporting cast, and this will be a VERY feisty team come playoff time.

5. HOUSTON ROCKETS, Southwest (34-48)
Why aren't more people talking about the Curse of Tracy McGrady? The guy goes to Orlando along with Grant Hill and they look to be a dynasty in the making. Of course Hill's foot explodes while T-Mac carries the team for a few years, and he finally forces a trade to a contender with another superstar, Yao Ming. Another dynasty in the making, right? Of course not. T-Mac's back becomes worse than Rockstar Supernova and the Rockets limp to a spot in the lottery. So do things finally change this year? I just don't see it. Sure, IF T-Mac's healthy for all 82 and Yao plays like a house-a-fire (and stays healthy), this could be the best team in the West. But bad backs are like annoying ex's- they just don't go away, and I can't see McGrady playing more than 65. The Battier addition was good (I'd like to tell you they'll regret trading Rudy Gay but I can't. He'll either be great or a journeyman. THere's no in between), and Bonzi was a steal, but I'm still not sure they have enough shooting, a point guard, or depth for if/when McGrady goes down.

4. DENVER NUGGETS, Northwest (44-38)
Ok ok I'll admit it: I have a man-crush on Carmelo Anthony. He's my favorite player in the league to watch right now, and I think he makes the superstar-leap this year. In the only Timberwolves game I attended last year, I watched him torch the Wolves for 30, including the game-winner on an impossible fade-away 3 from the corner. I STILL believe he's more Bernard King than Glenn Robinson. I do agree with the pundits who said that his dominance in the World Championships this summer was due to the fact his game translates better to the international game than the NBA. However, I also think that experience and further bonding with Bronbron and Dwade will get the competitive fire burning more than ever. Wade's got a title. Lebron looks on the cusp. Melo does not want to be left behind. The Nuggs division title hopes rest largely on other factors however: one is low-post health. For Marcus Camby (used to be mentioned in the same sentence as Fred Taylor and Grant Hill when it came to frailness) and Nene (missed all of last year with knee injury) it's physical health. For Kenyon Martin, it's mental. The other factor is getting something- ANYTHING!- out of the shooting guard spot. The Nuggs may have stole JR Smith from the Bulls. I say MAY because the kid has the talent to be a star, but he hasn't proven yet he's got the desire. This is where Melo's leadership will be needed more than ever.

3. PHOENIX SUNS, Pacific (54-28)
One of these days I'll have to delve into "The Curse of the Power Forward." Think about it, starting with Lenny Bias' death we've seen at least 4 transcendent talents at power forward fizzle in the L: Bias, Derrick Coleman, Chris Webber, and Shawn Kemp. All had ridiculous game but for one reason or another they never lived up to their mountainous potential. I'm worried we could be adding Amare Stoudamire to that list soon. "Micro-fracture surgery" has become the scariest phrase in basketball, especially for a guy like Amare who depends so much on explosiveness. The guy who before his surgery I had rated as one of the top 3 guys in the league I'd start a team around, now is fighting just to play again. Personally, I think Stoudamire never fully returns to his pre-injury form. For Phoenix, even if they get Amare at 80% of what he was, they're the best team in the league. However, I don't think you're going to get even 80% of him for a full 82 games. Not only will he be trying to work his knee back in shape, you're now trying to work a guy back into your offense that needs the ball. With 2-time MVP Stevie Nash (seriously that's STILL surreal to type- and keep in mind I'm Canadian, you hosers!) running the show, sharing shouldn't be a problem, but it's the small stuff like this that can tweak a team's chemistry just enough to change things. If Amare's back to 80% by the end of the year, this is the favorite come playoff time, but I have my doubts that happens this year- or ever. The other thing working against Phoenix? Nash cut his hair. Has he not heard the story of Sampson?

2. SAN ANTONIO SPURS, Southwest (63-19)
Honestly, I've got them in 2nd only because of the "nobody's had the conference's best record 2 years in a row" thing. Tim Duncan had an "off" year by his standards, Manu was never quite himself, and Big Shot Bob's age might have finally caught up with him. And they STILL won 63 games!!!! Duncan will have a monster comeback, Manu will be feisty and annoying as ever, and I'm sure teams will inexplicably continue to guard Tony Parker like he has a jumpshot (even though he obviously doesn't), allowing him to drive and slash and dish and score. I hate the Spurs, but this is my pick to win the whole thing- which means another boring, methodical NBA Finals. Oh well, at least it will mean plenty of shots of Eva Longoria. Mmmmmmmmm hi Eva.

1. DALLAS MAVERICKS, Southwest (60-22)
Well we'll definitely see what Dirk Diggler Nowitzki is made of now. He finally broke the Euro-stereotype of disappearing in the playoffs- well at least until the Finals. Dirk became human against the Heat, and that (well besides the fact the Mavs were getting called for fouls on Dwyane Wade the moment they got off the bus) was one of the main reasons a title eluded the Mavs. How do they respond? Will the be as fiery as ever? With the Little General Avery Johnson, I say yes. They resigned Jason Terry, which was HUGE for their chemistry, and these guys know what to expect now from each other and from a long playoff run. Dirk will be in the MVP-running again, Devin Harris SHOULD become a bigger factor, and with another deep bench the Mavs will have no shortage of scorers. By the way, LOVE the Maurice Ager pick. The Mavs are too deep for him to be in the rookie-of-the-year conversation, but he'll still be one of the league's best rooks from day 1. Still, I think the Spurs will be just a bit better when they meet in the conference finals.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Jeff: NBA West Preview Part I

Well here we go with the 3rd Annual MWSR NBA Preview. I'd like to say I'm a year older and a year wiser in making my predictions, but you know that's not true. A 4 part preview as before: non-playoff teams in the West, West playoff teams, and then the same for the East. We start with the 7 teams who won't be making the postseason, and who's only solace is knowing that all those teams except the one from Portland would be in the playoffs if they were in that other conference. Seriously. The West is that loaded.

Scarily enough, I did some research this year on the 7 seasons leading up to this one, from 1999-2000 to 05-06. Here's some things to keep in mind about the Western Conference:
* only two teams have made the playoffs the last 7 years: one's the Spurs, and I bet you won't get the other one (they won't make the playoffs this year, and are somewhere in today's preview, so you've got some time to ponder that because this is going to get wordy!). 4 others have made it at least 5 times.
* Never have more than 3 teams made the playoffs when they didn't make it the previous year, but there was always at least 1 new team every year. What does that tell you? That there's certainly parity in basketball, but not to the extent of football, where almost half the playoff field changes from year-to-year. In basketball one player can dominate a game more than in any other pro team sport, so it's not suprising that teams with dominant players stand a good chance of making the playoffs for as long as that guy is dominant (well unless of course that guy is Kevin Garnett and your GM is incompetent).
* No team has had the conference's top record two years running.
* The Don Stern refused to get rid of his moronic 3 division conference format, but he at least tweaked it a little bit. Unlike last year, where the Nuggets had the 6th best record but got the 3rd seed because they won their division, this year the division winner is guaranteed no worse than 4th. So if two teams from the same division (oh like say Dallas and San Antonio) have the 2 best records, they will get the top 2 seeds.
* Just for a point of reference, here's how the team's finished last year:

1. San Antonio* 63 19 0.768 0.0
2. Phoenix* 54 28 0.659 9.0
3. Denver* 44 38 0.537 19.0
4. Dallas 60 22 0.732 3.0
5. Memphis 49 33 0.598 14.0
6. L.A. Clippers 47 35 0.573 16.0
7. L.A. Lakers 45 37 0.549 18.0
8. Sacramento 44 38 0.537 19.0

9. Utah 41 41 0.500 22.0
10. NO/Oklahoma 38 44 0.463 25.0
11. Seattle 35 47 0.427 28.0
12. Houston 34 48 0.415 29.0
13. Golden State 34 48 0.415 29.0
14. Minnesota 33 49 0.402 30.0
15. Portland 21 61 0.256 42.0

On with the preview then...

15. PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS, Northwest Division (2005 record: 21-61)
Not sure how things get worse for Portland. They took one of the most passionate and loyal fanbases in the country and killed them with pot-smokin' gun-totin' dog-fightin' thugs who were much better at getting arrested than making the playoffs. Now owner Paul Allen is complaining about a horrible arena lease THAT HE WILLINGLY SIGNED, and wants to move the team. And the final straw was passing on Adam Morrison, a guy that would have actually brought fans back to the Rose Garden, for Lamarcus Aldrige, who I said last year and will continually say is soft and will make Sto Swift look consistent. The Brandon Roy pick was a good one, but they could have had him and Morrison. Just another day at the office for the Blazers.

14. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES, Northwest (33-49)
KG had a good year last year, and this team still only won 33 games. Now they're counting on Mike James, who magically came alive during his free-agent-to-be year, and a rookie in Randy Foye to help Garnett carry this team back to the playoffs? Really? Have I mentioned they have NOTHING in the post and a $34 million dollar European nothing at point guard? Garnett could have an MVP year, James could average similar numbers to last year and Foye could win rookie of the year and they're STILL not going to the playoffs. Minnesotans, catch KG while you can because he won't be here next year. But don't worry, Kevin McHale probably will be.

13. OKLAHOMA CITY SONICS, Northwest (35-47)
Poor Howard Schultz. The Starbucks founder and BILLIONAIRE just couldn't doop the fine folks of the Emerald City into building him a brand new arena. So what'd he do? Slammed down his triple espresso skim latte in a hissy fit and sold the team in a huff to buyers in Oklahoma that will move the team down there in 2007. Oh and poor Howard, the guy who claimed the team was hemorraging money in Key Arena, got $250 million more than he paid for the Sonics. Thanks for ruining my basketball team, Howard. What's left is a decent core with Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, and Chris Wilcox, but there's not enough front-court depth to keep this team in the playoff hunt. It'll also be hard for the guys to concentrate when the new owners are telling the players "no no you'll LOVE Oklahoma! We've got wind and rodeos! And cows! And cowboy hats! You'll love them!" Oklahoma will make Utah look like Vegas in comparison.

12. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES, Southwest (49-33)
No Pau Gasol for the first two months means no playoffs for the Grizz. Even I can do that math. But as will be mentioned 9,482,765 times between now and draft day 2007, this is one of the best drafts in decades, so it's not the worst year to take a one year hiatus from the playoffs. Oh and quick, can you name another Grizzly besides Gasol? Didn't think so. Mike Skinny Miller will keep bombing threes, and the transition year should give good experience for rooks Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowery. Definitely a team with a bright future...well as bright as can be for a team that will be owned by Dukie's Christian Laettner and Brian Davis. Who else is in that ownership group? Alaa Abdulnaby, Thomas Hill, and Cherokee Parks?

11. NEW ORLEANS HORNETS, Southwest (38-44)
Here begins the list of 11 playoff teams in the Western Conference. The problem for 3 of them is: they're only taking 8. The Hornets were last year's surprise team, right in the playoff hunt before losing 11 of 14 in March to knock themselves out of contention. A good young team saw some breakout years from power forward David West, and Rookie-of-the-Year point guard Chris Paul. Now with the big additions of small forward Peja Stojakovic and center Tyson Chandler, the Hornets should be all set to continue their rise into the playoffs right? Wrong. New Orleans played over their heads for most of the year, and came back to earth late in the season. Chris Paul will be an allstar, and David West will be solid, but there's still way too many holes in this lineup. Bobby Jackson won't be as good for this team as the departed Speedy Claxton was, and although Peja Stojakovic is a nice addition on the perimeter, he's not the player he used to be, and brings nothing else to the table besides shooting and a beard. Tyson Chandler? People are acting like the Hornest picked up the next Bill Russell. Please. The guy averaged 6 pts, 9 rebs, and 1.5 blks last year. He's a decent NBA center but not a guy who's going to propel you into the playoffs. THe Hornets are going in the right direction and should be around the 40 win mark, but they'll miss the playoffs this year.

10. SACRAMENTO KINGS, Pacific (44-38)
Here's your trivia answer: yes the Kings have made the playoffs every year of this century, but it looks like that nice run will come to an end in 2007. They've got all-star caliber players in C Brad Miller, PG Mike Bibby, PF Shareef Abdur-Raheem, and of course SF Ron-Ron Artest. A couple of problems in Cali's Capital though: 1st is Artest. I LOVE Ron-Ron when he decides to play, but the guy is a walking circus, and you just can't count on him to behave for 82 games. 2nd was letting Bonzi Wells go. Was he asking for too much? Yes, but who are they going to have replace him? Wells carried the Kings in the 1st round, and almost upset the Spurs. Now he's gone to Houston, and the Kings are going to try and replace him with Francisco Garcia, who's a nice role player, but not an NBA starter. The 3rd problem is depth-- the Kings don't have any, especially in the front court where they have Kenny Thomas in a rotation with Miller and Shareef- and that's it! Injuries or fatigue will take its toll here. The Kings will be around .500, but just out of the playoffs, meaning the Maloof brothers will have more time to spend at their casino in Vegas. Not that they need it.

9. UTAH JAZZ, Northwest (41-41)
I REALLY want to put this team in the playoffs, and in the weak Northwest Division, where it's basically just them and Denver, they've got a good chance. They won 41 games last year while only getting 33 games out of PF Carlos Boozer, using a rookie point guard, and missing their best shooter, Matt Harpring for most of the year. That rookie, Deron Williams, looked much improved by year's end, and Harpring should be back at full strength for the opener. They also added an athletic SG in the draft in Corey Brewer, who should help fill a gaping hole at the 2guard (well that's IF they can get coach Jerry Sloan to trust a rookie). And I haven't even mentioned the NBA's best defender, SF Andre Kirilenko, or underrated C Memet Okur. So what's holding the Jazz back? Let me put it this way: they make the WNBA look athletic, and in a conference that's getting faster and will be running more than ever, that's a problem. There's nothing wrong with slow, methodical, fundamental basketball (other than being painful to watch), and should get the Jazz at least back to .500, but they just don't have enough fire power to run and gun in the wild West this year.