Friday, June 26, 2009


This must be what the guys in "The Hangover" felt like. Waking up bewildered, seeing everything in shambles, missing a buddy, and wondering just what the hell happened last night?

Timberwolves fans can empathize. Just like for a bachelor party in Vegas, last night began with the anticipation and excitement that anything was possible. Would the Wolves deal up to get the clear second-best player in the draft in Ricky Rubio? Or would they stay at 5 and 6 and take what falls to them? The Clips started off the night by actually doing the right thing in taking Blake Griffin. Memphis was up next- were they going to deal the pick? Keep it? Were the Wolves dealing up to get Rubio? The Grizz kept it and because they're the Grizz, they take Hasheem Thabeet, a guy who me and plenty of others think is going to be a Shawn Bradley-level bust. I text to Jer "Thank you Memphis!"

The Stolen Sonics pick third, and here's where the Rubio dream is going to die- GM Sam Presti seems to have made the right move everytime...except he takes James Harden! ANother guy who is going to be a bust! I text again to Jer "Thank you Stolen Sonics!!" Just one team between Sota and Rubio- and unfortunately it's Sacramento, who is rumored to love Rubio, and even worse, Rubio apparently loves the idea of playing in Sacto. And so they take...Tyreke Evans!

HOLY $&%^&!!!! WE"RE GETTING RICKY RUBIO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Wolves make the second easiest pick in the draft and take Rubio!!! YES! WE GOT HIM! CALL THE TARGET CENTER! GET YOUR TICKETS! WE'VE FINALLY GOT ANOTHER STAR!! VIVA EL RUBIO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And to make it even better, we're going to get Steph Curry at 6! Steph Curry! Two of the most exciting players in the draft on the Timberwolves! If not that, we can deal down for somebody who wants Curry and grab DeMar DeRozan of USC. We're set! Hello promise! Hello bright future! Hello light at the end of the tunnel!

Then things when you least expect it, something went horribly wrong. GM David Kahn takes another point guard Jonny Flynn of Syracuse. Ummm...


I guess that light at the end of the tunnel was a train, not hope. You cannot play two point guards, one who could be the best passer to come into the league in a decade, and the other who's not even 6 feet tall, together. You just can't. Rubio and Curry would have been a GREAT combo, but neither Rubio or Flynn can shoot a lick. It'd be like the Vikings having the 5th and 6th overall picks in the NFL draft and taking Mark Sanchez and Matt Stafford. You cannot play Rubio and Flynn together anymore than you can play Sanchez and Stafford at the same time. It just doesn't make sense!

In interviews last night and this morning, Kahn claims they CAN play together, that he's not planning to trade either guy, and that they can absolutely work in the new NBA where guards are now allowed to run wild, even going so far as using the example of Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars. Really David? We're going to use a two-time championship backcourt of two possible Hall-of-Famers (Thomas is a lock and Dumars an outside chance) that played IN A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT ERA?!?!?!? Thomas was one of the best guards EVER, and Dumars, while he didn't have a great outside shot was bigger, stronger and much more of a traditional two guard than Flynn will ever be. I LOVE Rubio, and like Flynn, but not on the same team.

So what now? I was fine with dealing Lawson and Calathes (according to the great Wolves blog, the future #1 the Wolves will get from Denver for Lawson actually belongs to Charlotte, but has plenty of protection: top 12 protected in 2010, top 10 protected in 2011, top 8 protected in 2012, top 3 protected in 2013, and unprotected in the 2014.), and maybe what all this really amounts to is Kahn believing he took the two best players available and will sort it out as we go. Fine, except you could have taken Curry instead of Flynn and not only keep the same mentality, but actually had a functioning backcourt.

Fred Hoiberg was on KFAN this morning with PA and Charch, and said the phones have been ringing off the hook with interests and trade requests about Rubio, yet maintained they hope and want and plan on Rubio playing here this season. I hope so. The only thing that could make all of this worse as a Wolves fan is if Rubio falls into their lap at 5 and they end up dealing him. I would hope Wolves fans would revolt with torches and pitchforks if Kahn and crew don't do everything humanly possible to make sure Rubio is here this season. If you let him use the excuse that his buyout is too much and he stays in Spain for another year or two, then you failed. Failed. You don't use the fifth pick in the NBA draft to stash a guy in Europe for a year or two. And you don't draft Jonny Flynn just in case Rubio doesn't come over. Failed.

After the first couple of weeks of David Kahn, I'm very nervous. I expressed this during the hiring process when two very qualified candidates, Ted Lindsey in San Antonio and Tom Penn in Portland, pulled out of the search process. I wondered then why two guys who have dreamed about being GM's would pass up what looks to be a great opportunity to shape a team with plenty of assets, picks and cap room exactly as they wanted it. What were we not being told? What was going on behind the scenes that were driving these guys away? I opined at the time that Taylor was telling his candidates that they had to keep McHale. Dan Barreiro has said recently a very good source is telling him that Rob Moore's son has become heavily involved and is even making decisions, which cuts into the power of the would-be GM.

Whatever it was that was keeping qualified candidates away, we ended up with David Kahn, a guy who had never ran a team (you'll hear he was GM of the Pacers, but Donnie Walsh ran that team. Kahn had no real power there AND DIDN"T EVEN LIVE IN INDIANA AT THE TIME!!!!!!!!!!) and was about as unqualified as McHAle was when he got the job. Yet the guy acted like he was Red Auerbach or Jerry West, and talked to the media like he was trying to explain quantam physics to a bunch of four year olds. Can you be an a**hole and be successful? Of course you can, but it might help to DO something first before acting like you're the smartest basketball man who's ever lived! He took way too long to make the no-brainer decision to fire McHale, then made a nice deal with Washington, had Rubio fall in his lap...and then took another point guard, which apparently has only infuriated Rubio. Brilliant.

It should be an interesting next few months: will Rubio or Flynn be traded? Who else is getting dealt? What will the team look like at the end of October? For now, Kahn gets an incomplete grade for his first draft, because I still cannot and will not believe he truly thinks Rubio and Flynn will play together. We shall see.

I know it's early, and I know there's still so much that can and will happen, but I just get the feeling that as a Wolves fan, going from McHale to Kahn is like going from the Titanic to the Hindenburg. It feels great at first to be free and safe and be somewhere different and exciting...and yet you can't fight the notion that something feels strangely familiar.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Gee Wiz!

Well then. David Kahn has gotten to work and pulled off his first trade. What does it mean? We won't know that until Thursday night is finished, but we do know Kahn was serious about shaking up the roster. In dealing starting guards Mike Miller (1 yr left at about $9 million) and Randy Foye (1 yr left on his rookie deal) to the Wizards for Etan Thomas (bye!), Darius Songalia (see ya!), Oleksiy Pecherov (I don't even know you) and the #5 pick, the Wolves are now the team to watch at tomorrow night's draft. They now hold FOUR 1st round picks at #5, 6, 18, and 28, and it makes zero sense to hang onto all four of them.

I hope- I really, really, REALLY hope- that Kahn's plan is to deal two of those to Memphis for the #2 pick to take Ricky Rubio. I know the Wolves have been rumored to love Hasheem Thabeet (and as you know, I'm on record as saying Thabeet will be a bust), but it doesn't make much sense to me to deal both your starting guards away and then take a center with your top pick. This is NOT a good draft and it's not deep, and after Griffin and Rubio it's filled with nothing but question marks. You're not getting Griffin away from the Clippers (what kind of world are we living in where the Clippers might actually do the smart thing?), so if you have an opportunity to get the other "as close to a sure thing as you can get" guy, you go get him.

If they have to give up 5 and 6, then make it happen. If you have to give up 6 and Kevin Love, or one of those two picks and another player not named Al Jefferson, you do it. The Wolves do not need four more rookies from a weak draft, they need a sure thing to go with Jefferson. They also should try and get Rubio's buddy Marc Gasol included in the deal. It would ease the culture shock from Spain to Minnesota, and if you start winning, you've got a chance to keep them around a long time.

After that, I'd package the rest of your picks to climb back into the top 12 to take either Earl Clark from Louisville or DeJuan Blair from Pitt. Clark's really the only other guy in this draft besides Griffin and Rubio with all-star potential, although his chances of reaching it are much less. Still, in a draft this week, I'd roll the dice on potential compared to what else is available.

They could always stay at 5 and 6 and take Tyreke Evans and Steph Curry, Jonny Flynn, Jrue Holiday, or Demar DeRozan, but I'd much prefer to see them grab Rubio.

Guys I don't want to see in a Wolves uniform? I mentioned Thabeet and BJ Mullens last week, who are second and third on my "guaranteed to be busts" list. Who's #1? None of than Gonzaga's Austin Daye. As a Gonzaga fan I watched plenty of Zags games last year, and finding Daye in those games was like playing "Where'd Waldo?" Yes he's 6'11 with a smooth jumper and good handles- BUT HE'S SOFT!! In the WCC on a Zags team who gave him every opportunity to be The Man, Daye was practically non-existent. Any team drafting him is throwing away a first round pick. He's #1 on my list of busts (BJ Mullens is second, Thabeet third)- he looks great in workouts but has no passion, intensity, or aggressiveness on the court.

I had wondered why Daye bothered to stay in the draft and not go back to Gonzaga and prove himself, but somebody on (I read it yesterday and now can't find the article) made a great point- what if Daye KNOWS this is what he is? What if he's self-aware enough to know that he IS soft and if he goes back to Gonzaga he's going to get exposed as a fraud, whereas this year in the weakest draft in a decade, he's guaranteed first round money?

Again, stay the hell away from Austin Daye. Please!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ranking the Point Guards

Two days to go until the 2009 NBA Draft, when hopefully the fortunes of the Minnesota Timberwolves will start changing for the better. This is a point guard-heavy draft, which is convenient considering the Wolves are in desparate need of one. Last season Randy Foye proved he's much better off as a two guard (although I still believe on a good team he's a sixth man), and Kevin Ollie and Bassy Telfair proved what we already knew- neither should be starting in the league.

There's been a wide range of opinions on who the best point guards are, so I might as well throw my two cents into the discussion and rank the top 10...

1. Ricky Rubio, 6'4, 18, Spain
He's been called everything from the second coming of Pistol Pete Maravich to a sure-fire NBA bust. Rubio's true potential lies somewhere in between, but I can't believe so many people are questioning this kid's abilities. He's the same kid who was so impressive in the Olympics, and unlike any other high first round prospect in this draft, has been effectively running a team in one of Europe's top leagues. His basketball IQ is off the charts and he makes everyone around him better. And he's 18 YEARS OLD!!! Who cares if he can't shoot right now and doesn't have off-the-charts athleticism? The jump shot will come with age, and if at 18 he's already starting and excelling against guys 5-15 years older than him, he's going to figure out how to excel in the NBA. To me he's unquestionably the second best player in this draft, and I would love- LOVE- to see David Kahn trade up to get him. Good lord, I might even buy Wolves tickets if he did.

2. Tyreke Evans, 6'5, 19, Memphis
If the Wolves can't get Rubio then Evans is far and away my next choice. He's not going to have a problem scoring in the NBA, and if he can improve his jumper, he's going to be scary. At 6'5 he's big enough to guard either backcourt spot, and will be ready to start and contribute from day one. He doesn't have the most upside in the draft but other than Blake Griffin is the most likely to fulfill his potential.

3. Eric Maynor, 6'3, 22, VCU
I rank him this high because he's got good size at the point (well, he's got good height. At 165 he's going to need to gain some strength), and is ready to run an NBA team right now. Maynor will probably never be an all-star, but will be an effective floor general for the next decade, a la Mookie Blaylock.

4. Ty Lawson, 6'0, 21, North Carolina basketball stats guru John Hollinger had him as the second highest ranked player in the draft behind Griffin. Yes he's barely 6'0, but he was the dictionary definition of efficient. Handling pressure (both on the court and from the fans and media) will be no sweat for a kid who just led the nation's most glamorous program to a national title averaging 30 mins per game 53.2 FG%/47.2% 3Pt/79.8% FT for 16.6 pts, 2.1 stls, and an unreal 6.6/1.9 assist/turnover ratio. The only question is whether he's too small to play in the NBA, but if the T-Pups can't get Rubio, I'd love to see them take Evans at 6 and Lawson at 18.

5. Jonny Flynn, 6'0, 20, Syracuse
I loved watching Flynn at The Cuse, but he's definitely not a true point guard. If he was 6'3 or 6'4 he'd be challenging Rubio as the second player taken, but at 5'11 on a tall day, he might be more of a sixth man scorer than starter, However, guys like Nate Robinson and Aaron Brooks are encouraging examples for Flynn's success.

6. Stephen Curry, 6'3, 20, Davidson
I'm just not sure Curry will be more than an off-the-bench scoring specialist. Yes he can score in his sleep, but at barely 6'3 and rail thin, is he strong and quick enough to be anything more than a spot-up shooter off screens? And who is he guarding? If he's going to an up-tempo, wide open system like the Knicks or Warriors he might have a chance, but in a conventional half court offense I think he struggles. And considering that the NBA playoffs always come down to a grind-it-out half court style, well let's just say I'm skeptical at best. If the Wolves take him, I just hope I'm wrong.

7. Jrue Holiday, 6'4, 19, UCLA
So just what is he? A true point or a two guard? A combo guard? Neither? Was he a poor fit for UCLA coach Ben Howland's system, or does he just not have a true position to play? If the first five are gone, I'd take him as a true point and see what happens.

8. Patrick Mills, 6'0, 20, St. Mary's
After a strong Olympic performance for Australia followed by a dominant first semester for St Mary's, Mills was playing his way into the lottery. Then a broken foot sidelined him until the tail end of the year, and when he returned, he clearly wasn't all the way back. Had he returned to St. Mary's and stayed healthy next season he would have been back in the lottery conversation for 2010, but by staying in the draft, somebody is going to get an absolute steal late in the first round.

9. Jeff Teague, 6'2, 20, Wake Forest
Which Teague would an NBA team get- the one who exploded onto the national scene by leading the Demon Deacons to the #1 spot in the polls midway through the season? Or the guy who disappeared from then on?

10. Brandon Jennings, 6'1, 19, Italy
After his ridiculous comments about Rubio and from everything I've read on his attitude, I want no part of Jennings. Sure, he's freakishly athletic and quick, but he's a me-first guy who has a much better chance of alienating his teammates instead of bringing them together.

Monday, June 22, 2009


(Said in my best Shaquille O'Neal voice)

Well, can you? After 15 mostly excrutiating years, Kevin McHale is finally, totally, completely, and absolutely out of the Minnesota Timberwolves organization. He is now free to spend all of his time fishing, hunting and sitting by the lake at his cabin nestled somewhere in the Northwoods...which I suppose really won't be any different for him that when he was supposedly working for the Wolves (and you thought I couldn't resist one last chance to take a McHale cheap shot?)

His replacement is none other than Mr. David Kahn! Now, now, let's settle down, everyone. You there, stop printing those Timberwolves championship t-shirts! You, with the "16 Months Til A Title!" hat, take it easy. Let's all take a deep breath, allow for one last giggle that McHale is no longer involved/running the Minnesota Timberwolves, and try to put some things in perspective here.

First, did I mention Kevin McHale is gone? Oh, right I did. Ok apparently I need to calm down too. But just because he is doesn't mean the Wolves road to an NBA title is paved with glory, riches, and hopefully a watchable basketball team. Mr. Kahn has said some interesting, provocative, and dare I say it, logical things about the state of the basketball club, but let's not forget that Glen Taylor is still in charge and that other than NOT re-hiring McHale, Kahn really hasn't done anything yet.

Kahn has promised big changes and a contending team in the next 16 months, and if he pulls it off, he should run for mayor of Minneapolis, governor of the state, and leader of the free world. Things GM say at press conferences are a lot like running for office- once you've got the job, those campaign promises can go right out the window. While Kahn's latest comments to the Strib are refreshing and point towards a different direction (ie- competency), they're not going to mean much if he doesn't do much.

Then again, at least he's saying something different and refreshing, which we never got with McHale other than "do you know how hard it is to make a trade in the NBA these days?", "do you know how hard it is to fly fish with one hand and talk on my cell with the other?" or "my laptop battery always dies after the first five hours in the fishing boat."

From Kahn we actually got an honest assessment of where the T-Pups are at: that this team is NOT a contender right now (at this time last year McHale and Hoiberg were telling anyone who would listen that the Wolves should win 40 games and compete for a playoff spot), that on a title contender Al Jefferson would only be the second best player and that Kevin Love would be a 6th man (even I don't think I'd got that far but still), and that nobody on the roster is off-limits for trades.

These are all things I've been dying to hear from the 600 1st Avenue Country Club (as KFAN's Dan Barreiro calls it), and is hopefully the beginning of big changes and better days ahead. However, let's not forget that Glen Taylor is still running the team and calling the shots- it's because of him McHale lasted 15 years and was allowed to make so many ghastly decisions. Has the "Country Club" really been shut down, or have they just accepted some new members?

We'll start to get an idea this Thursday at the NBA draft, as Kahn will have every opportunity to make some moves, and reshape the roster as he sees fit. He'll hire a coach (which is about the most overrated part of his job- honestly, the difference between NBA head coaches is so neglible, especially for a team in the Wolves' situation. We saw in the playoffs what good and bad coaching can do, but really it doesn't matter whether it's Sam Mitchell, Mark Jackson, Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach or John Wooden coaching in 2009-10, because it's not going to matter one bit unless Kahn puts a lot more talent on the roster), then dive into free agency shortly after.

Will we have a 50 win playoff contender in 16 months as he promises? The chances are about as good as Tavaris Jackson ever becoming a competent QB (meaning they're slim to none), but if Kahn can reshape the roster and at least put a team out there that shows the promise of the playoffs, that would be enough to satisfy me. And after 15 years of McHale, we know that would be more than enough to satisfy Glen Taylor.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Answering Some Questions about the Lakers and Magic

With the Lakers wrapping up their 15th NBA title, the season might be officially over, but we're far from done with the NBA. The June 25th draft is just 10 days away, and free agency begins July 1. There's a lot of questions as we enter the offseason, and because I'm just that helpful, I thought I'd provide some answers. You might be sick of them already, but there's plenty to talk about just with our two NBA Finals participants...

Nope, he's not but he has now cemented himself as one of the 10 best player ever. Currently I'd put him at 9th, with a chance to move up with a few more years of dominance and another title or two. Who's ahead of Kobe, you ask? Obviously Michael Jordan as the clear #1, then in some order Russell, Magic, Bird, Wilt, Jerry West, Kareem and Shaq. Yes, Shaq. Both he and Kobe now have four titles, but the big difference for me is that Shaq was the best player on his team for three of four championships- with those three coming when he was with Kobe.

He has to be, doesn't he? Red Auerbach did win nine, and an incredible eight in a row, and was a pioneer both as a coach and GM, but to me Phil winning ten titles with two different teams in a 30-team league with a salary cap and free agency is more impressive than what Auerbach did as a coach. And don't give me this crap about "well Phil always had great players." OF COURSE HE HAD GREAT PLAYERS!!! You have to in order to win a championship! And yes, he's had some epic talents like MJ, Shaq, Kobe, Pippen etc, but he earned the right and respect to coach those guys because he was able to take Jordan and company to their first title. Doug Collins is/was a good NBA coach and a VERY knowledgable basketball guy, but he couldn't get Jordan and his teammates to play together and get them a title. But Phil did- then a second, then a third. Once he had those he had the thing that is seemingly impossible to earn from NBA players- respect. Guys would take less to play for him and players who might not have listened to others (Rodman, Kobe, and Shaq to name three), respected and listened to him. Phil Jackson EARNED that by what he did in Chicago. And yes, he's had some uber-talened teams, but especially his Lakers clubs, it's not like they've steamrolled their way to titles. Yeah you might fluke your way to one title (say, if the Magic had won this year), but 10 titles? You can't win and not be a good coach.

Only if he's an idiot. He is in the PERFECT situation and if he ever even thinks of leaving he's an idiot. LA is the only town in America that loves him, and he's clearly the best player on what will clearly be the best team next season, and one of the best the year after. What else could he possibly want? All season, and really since he forced the Shaq trade back in 2004, Kobe has lied to us that winning a title with O'Neal meant nothing. Then he wins it last night and yeah, I'd say he cares just a little. The man obviously cares about his legacy and his standing in history, and if he wants to add to it, he's going to stay in LA through the end of his current contract in the summer of 2011.

Lamar Odom. No really, he is. Yes, Ariza is a nice young player at 24 who does a lot of things the Lakers need- defense, rebounding, and hitting the occassional shot. He's athletic with an improving stroke and COULD develop into a solid third option on this team. But you have to emphasize the "COULD" part here, because he's not a finished product. Yes, Odom turns 30, but they do not win the title without him, and their chances drop if he doesn't resign. He averaged close to a double-double, and is capable of scoring on anybody when he has to, yet seems comfortable being the third wheel on this team behind Kobe and Pau Gasol. While Ariza could be a nice player, I think they can find other guys to fill the things he does, whereas Odom is PERFECT for this team for the next couple of years. The beauty for the Lakers (or disgusting for anybody outside of LA?) is that it sounds like they're going to get both guys back because Odom loves LA so much that he's willing to take less than $10 million a year to resign (played for $11.4 million this year), giving the team room to resign Ariza too.

Slim to none, and if you think it's more you're kidding yourself. They're going to lose Turkoglu to free agency because somebody will overpay for him. The Magic can't match without going well into the luxury tax (expected to be somewhere around $65 million. And yes that's more than this year's $58 million cap number. You won't see the cap drop because of the economy until the 2010-11 season)- something they're just not going to do. According to's salary index, Orlando's cap number will be somewhere around $63 million, which gives them no wiggle room to not only resign Turkoglu- but find someone to replace him. The Magic are clearly not the same team without him, even with a healthy Jameer Nelson back, and there's nobody on that roster- not Pietrius, Courtney Lee or anybody else- who's can do the things Turkoglu did that made Orlando so good this season. They don't have a small forward with his size and shooting ability or a power forward with size and any ability. With KG hurt, this was Orlando's one shot at a title and they blew it. They'll make the playoffs next year, but I'm not even sure they win their division, let alone make it back it to the Finals or conference finals.

Absolutely. So should Orlando just for getting to the Finals. After what we saw during these playoffs, Boston with a healthy KG and a much-improved Rajan Rondo would have stormed through the Eastern Conference and knocked off the Lakers yet again. The Celtics could had the muscle down low to handle Howard, and with KG and others the defenders to guard Lewis and Turkoglu. On offense, Pierce and KG give Turkoglu and Lewis fits and Rondo destroys- I repeat DESTROYS- Rafer Alston and Anthony Johnson. Boston wins that series in five. Against Cleveland we'd actually get a better series because the Cavs match up much better (aka Mike Brown doesn't have to adjust his lineup to be successful), but the Celtics would still be the better team and win in six or seven. And against the Lakers, nothing's changed from last year except Rondo is substantially better, and like against Orlando he would have destroyed Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar and anybody else. He also would have fouled Fisher before he crossed half-court at the end of game four instead of allowing him to saunter up to the three-point line and bury the game-tying three. And besides Rondo, it would have been the same recipe as the 2008 Finals- beat the crap out of the Euro- and Euro-styled- Lakers team and they walk away with the title. Honestly, both Kobe and Phil better thank KG in their hall-of-fame induction speeches, because if he's healthy, they both don't get this title which took their careers and reputations to another level historically.

The Monday Musings

With the Lakers doing the inevitable last night (a game earlier than I thought. Stern is really slipping in his ability to influence the outcome of games and series. He needed to extend this series, but he lets the Lakers roll over the Magic on the road?! A travesty! An outrage! Next time Stern needs to either a) assign "refs better suited to extending the series" b) assign a coach better suited to extending the series than Stan Van Gundy or c) get someone to teach Dwight Howard some post moves. Really, any at all besides dunking or putbacks on offensive rebounds), and the Penguins pulling the game seven upset of Detwah Friday night, we have officially entered the barren stretch on the sports calendar known as Nothing But Baseball (or NBB if you will- and I will), which stretches from mid-June to late August. No real games of any kind except baseball from now until late August when college football starts. Sure, we'll have the NBA draft in a few weeks, NBA free agency starting July 1, NFL teams will start reporting for camp middle to end of next month, and then the kiddies will report in August for college football. So we have a solid month before there's really anything of substance to talk about for football, and two months before any real games begin.

In the meantime? Um, yeah good question. I'll be trying to figure out the "6 in-6 out" NFL playoff teams, which will include the Super Secret Sleeper nobody will see coming. Last year's winners were Baltimore (which I called- although I doubted it would happen if Troy Smith didn't win the starting QB job because obviously you cannot win with a rookie QB! Can't be done! We now know better) and Atlanta (nope!). Again, this needs to be a team nobody sees coming so Seattle is out of the running (although barring another horrible rash of injuries they should win the NFC West), and Kansas City might too (I know this is already Bill Simmons' early front runner for SSS, so we'll see how much coverage they get with Cassell and coach Josh McDaniel there. They'll definitely be better and could even win a division that won't be very good- once again I am not a fan of San Diego or Denver- but it depends on how much media coverage they get before the season. I've actually already got a front-runner of my own, and am feeling pretty good about it, but better do some more research before making the final decision. Two things I can guarantee you- it won't be Detroit or Oakland. It will never be Detroit or Oakland as long as the Fords and Al Davis are running those teams.

I also plan on studying up hardcore on Big Ten football. I'm taking my role very seriously this year over on Jer's Gopher football blog and plan to know everything humanly possible about the Big Ten. College football has officially taken over as my favorite sport on earth, so it won't be hard to really throw myself into it.

Otherwise? We can look forward to Blake Griffin going #1 to the Clippers (even they can't screw that one up. Also, people are making WAY too big a deal of Zach Randolph screwing things up there. He has two more years left on his deal, so yes, he's not going to be a good influence on Griffin as a rookie, but he should be dealable the next season, so you're only looking at 1-2 years of Zach Randolph. Not the end of the world, people, not the end of the world), Memphis doing something dumb (like not taking Ricky Rubio second), Minnesota doing something dumb (I don't think requires further elaboration, does it?), and Portland and the Stolen Sonics making smart picks.

NBA free agency and trades? Will be much ado about nothing, as usual. A lot of teams need to do something but the economy will probably only force those way over the cap to make moves to get under, not to make themselves demonstrably better. There's very few teams with a ton of cap space, and fewer willing to spend it. Detroit will basically have their choice of Carlos Boozer, Lamar Odom, or whichever free agent they want. Sounds like Phoenix is serious about moving Shaq, and so far there's rumors that both Cleveland and Dallas are very interested. And really, why wouldn't they be? I mean why wouldn't any team be interested in an overweight, overpaid (scheduled to make $20,000,000 next year!!!) 37 year old center whose body can no longer handle playing a full season and who would most definitely require a contract extension through his age 40 season if you deal for him? What a deal! Where can I sign up for that?!?

Seriously, what is Cleveland thinking? They did't lose to Orlando because Big Z, Ben Wallace, or Side Show Bob couldn't guard Dwight Howard one-on-one, they lost because a) Mike Brown refused to put smaller players on the floor who could guard Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu and b) Cleveland just wasn't that good. They weren't. We were all fooled into thinking the Cavs were a great team because of their regular season record, yet they were exposed badly by Orlando for having a subpar supporting cast around Lebron. The Cavs need more talent around Bronbron, and I just don't see how Shaq does that. There has to be better options available via trade to give him help than Shaq.

Anyway, so other than rumors and rumors and more rumors, there won't be much of substance to talk about for the next two solid freaking months!! Good thing it's summer and judging by the weather today, Minnesota might actually get some real summer weather. Let the season of NBB begin!

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Monday Musings- NBA Finals Edition

I have not mused about the NBA (non-draft stuff) in quite some time, but my lovely fiance and I got back from her folks place in Wisconsin just in time for me to catch all of the 4th quarter and overtime. A few thoughts...

...I'm going to go ahead and guarantee two things: the Lakers will win this series, and they will do so at home. While I don't think there's anyway possible the Magic will win four of the next five games (Sure, the Heat overcame a 2-0 hole in the 2006 Finals, but they had three things going for them: a rising superstar in Dwyane Wade, a rising superstar in Wade who attacked the basket almost anytime he had the ball, and a Stern Mandate to start calling fouls on Dallas as soon as Wade entered the building. Sure, Orlando has the rising superstar in Howard, but he's not the offensive force Wade is, and none of his teammates go to the rim), let's just say the NBA will do everything it can to assign the refs most suited to making sure the Magic will get two of the next three at home. As Bill Simmons has said time and again, the NBA isn't rigging games as much as assigning the worst refs possible for the situation to try and influence the outcome. The Magic are not as good as the Lakers, but they're definitely good enough to take two of three at home. Especially when you consider that while the Magic shot better last night than game 1 (they were 33% from 3 but only 41% from the field), they still have one of those "everything they throw up will go in) kind of games coming, and are going to get some, um, "help" from the refs.

...Courtney Lee's alley-oop miss at the end of regulation was a tough shot. His momentum was carrying him under the basket with Pau Gasol coming over to block the shot, but as an NBA player, he HAS to make that shot. Has to. If it was a better known player- Howard, Rashard Lewis or Hedo Turkoglu- who had taken that shot, they'd be getting murdered in the media and on the interweb. Tough shot yes, but not impossible and with a perfect pass from Turkoglu, he HAS to make that one.

...this season is setting up as the Perfect Storm for Kobe Doin' Work because he's going to get his all-important title as the Best Player on His Own Team just as his window of opportunity is closing shut. I have not watched much of the NBA playoffs, so I'm probably telling people who have something they already know: Kobe is now just a jumpshooter. The thing that stood out most to me last night was how Kobe doesn't get to the rim and finish anymore. Instead of blowing by guys and finishing in traffic, Kobe now uses the drive to set up his jumper. It's effective, but it obviously decreases his efficiency. On the occassions when he can drive past somebody, instead of going over, around or through the help defenders that slide over, he's now pulling up for jumpers or floaters. Take his shot just before the end of regulation: in the old days, he blows by Turkoglu, elevates over Howard and either dunks and/or lays it up and draws the foul to boot. He hits the clutch free throws and game over. But last night, after he got by the slow-footed Turkoglu, instead of elevating over Howard, he pulls up and tries to attempt a fade-away, giving the recover Turkoglu time to swat his shot from behind. All the credit in the world should go to Hedo for recovering and making the play, but Kobe never gives him the chance to a year or two ago.

Kobe is in unchartered territory here: he's been a warrior in the league since he was 17, and while he's been banged up here and there, you have to say he's been pretty durable over his career: and even though he's only 30 it's been a LONG career. 948 regular season games, all of the playoff games, the Olympics and everything else means Kobe's played the same as a 35 or 36 year old. People want to make the comparisons of how Jordan, as he got older, was able to transition himself from an attack-the-basket physical freak to a jump shooter and how Kobe's done the same. True, except that MJ could still blow by defenders in his early 30's, where as we're seeing now, Kobe can't. So yes, Kobe is making the necessary changes to his game that MJ did, but it's changes Mike didn't make until he was 34 or 35, while Kobe has to do it at 30.

Where I'm going with all of this is that Kobe was one of the three best players on the planet this year (along with Bronbron and Wade), but starting perhaps as soon as next season, he'll slip down to a top 10, then top 20, then to "MJ with the Wizards"
status by the time he's in his mid-30's. This year was one of his last few years to be able to to dominate a season and a post season and win the title by himself. Doing so, if/when the Lakers finish off the Magic, means Kobe goes from borderline top 10 of all-time type to definitely in the top 9 (I'd put MJ, Russell, Magic, Bird, Wilt, West, Oscar, and probably Shaq. Elgin Baylor too?), and it was the perfect year to do it.

While we didn't know it at the time, when KG's season ended with a knee injury, so too did any hope of anybody knocking off the Lakers this year. A healthy Celtics squad was the only team capable of beating the Lakers this year (and I believe they would have- same recipe they won with last year, with the added bonus of Rajan Rondo becoming one of the L's three best point guards. He would have MURDERED the Lakers all by himself). We found out how overrated the Lebrons were, the Magic just don't matchup well, and as we suspected, nobody in the West was touching them. Kobe's been the best player on a title team, and nobody will be able to take it away from him, and this might have been his last chance.

Next year, the Cavs will/should/HAVE to be better in what's possibly Lebron's swansong, Portland has a chance to get dangerous, Houston has some interesting possibilities, and Chicago could be downright frightening (Orlando will be one of the East's best yet again, but they don't have the cap or roster flexibility to really change anything). 2009/10 should be an exciting year (if you can stomach all the "Lebron to New York!!" talk. Good lord it hasn;t even started and I'm sick of it already), but the chances for a Lakers title will certainly be tougher than it was this year.

So enjoy Orlando's home wins, and enjoy the coronation of a Champion in LA. Kobe certainly will, as it could be the last one he gets as one of the league's best players.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Who I Like/Don't Like in the 2009 NBA Draft

As easy and fun as it is to rip Kevin McHale and the 600 1st Avenue Country Club for their horrible, horrible draft record, it's only fair to give my own opinions on who I like and don't like in a given draft year. Something about accountability and transparency when ripping others. Call me crazy, but it's something I believe in.

For instance, while I liked Brandon Roy more than Randy Foye, I had no idea Roy would be THIS good! I also didn't like LaMarcus Aldridge because I thought he was too soft, but he's turned into a pretty good player. Some of my other draft hits and misses:

Kevin Durant over Greg Oden
Carmelo Anthony over Darko Milicic
Danny Granger over Rashad McCants
Anybody with a pulse over Wally Szerbiak and Ndi Ibi
Never, ever draft a white center in the lottery, or even the first round for that matter
Hating every player the Sonics took in the first round this decade before Sam Presti took over
Hating Andrea Bargnani
Chris Paul & Deron Williams being better than Bogut and Marvin Williams

Adam Morrison. Wow
Gerald Green
Mike Conley and Corey Brewer (so far)
Emeka Okafor over Dwight Howard (again wow)
Dirk Nowitzki
Andrew Bynum (although after this playoff series...?)

There's plenty more, but those are a few that stand out for me. Another one, and it's one that McHale still gets heat for, is Stephon Marbury. Look, you're lying if you say you thought Starbury would be a bust, and the draft day deal of Ray Allen for Steph was a horrible idea. You are lying to yourself and the world if you say that now. EVERYBODY loved the idea of Marbury and KG teaming up for the next decade and dominating the league, and the thing that sucks is it SHOULD have happened.

Playing with Garnett was the perfect- I repeat PERFECT- situation for Marbury. A tough and engaging leader to lean on who would do all the little things, but would not only allow but LOVE for Steph to take over down the stretch. Honestly, it was a match made in heaven and it should have led to years of Timberwolves glory- it's just Marbury himself couldn't swallow it because he'd never get paid more than KG and would be overshadowed by him. The worst thing that ever happened to Steph was himself, and considering his background (he had the weight of his entire family riding on his success and was the legend of legends in NYC in high school), it shouldn't be a surprise that he would never gain the perspective needed to realize how good he had it. It was just impossible for a young Stephon Marbury to see that being the highest paid and biggest star wasn't everything, and that he absolutely, positively needed Garnett to be successful. And yet even if we could do it again, knowing what we know now, I would STILL petition for McHale to take Marbury and hope like hell it changed and he could get through to him.

Anyway, I'm not going to go through like 50 players of who I love and hate, but I'll give you five I love (besides Blake Griffin and Ricky Rubio. Duh), five I hate, and five I'm on the fence about. As you've probably heard, this is NOT a good draft- Griffin is the absolute sure thing at the top, Rubio is the consensus second best player (could be a better NBA player than Griffin, but because Griffin's chances of achieving his potential are better than Rubio's, he should be ranked higher), and after that it's pretty much a crap shoot. Get used to hearing this phrase: "but in this draft..." It means normally you wouldn't reach for or take a player because of flaws/concerns "but in this draft" there's really nothing better so you're almost forced to roll the dice. Honestly, after Griffin and Rubio, there's only two other players with star potential, yet I'm only sold on one of them. Let's start there...

DeMar DeRozan, SG, 6'6, USC, 20 yrs old (when the 2009 season starts)
DeRozan was inconsistent in his one year as a Trojan, but started to put it together during their NCAA tourney run. He's the perfect size for the wing and is probably the best athlete in this draft. His ballhandling could use work but has a good stroke inside of 20 ft, and you have to believe he can develop the NBA 3. His hunger is a bit of a question, but to me he's the third best prospect behind Griffin and Rubio. If he's still available at 6 the Wolves should RUN, not walk, to the podium with his name.

Jordan Hill, PF, 6'10, Arizona, 22 yrs
Not sure he's an all-star, but he should be a solid starter for a long time. In the couple of games I watched him this year, he showed a good offensive feel for the game in the post, both with his back to the basket and facing up, and scouts are saying his range goes out to 15+. A good college rebounder and most importantly, he really seems to give a crap. If the Wolves two best players weren't at PF, I'd love to see him here.

Eric Maynor, PG, 6'3, VCU, 22 yrs
What?!? A senior in the lottery? A guy who played four years of college who will actually make a good pro? Impossible, you say! Well I don't care. I don't care that Maynor isn't an elite athlete or is slim at only 164 pounds, or that he doesn't have the prettiest jumped. I don't care. Because when you actually watch the man's games, you see a point guard. You see a guy who has a high basketball IQ that knows how to run a team, and those kind of players are few and far between. In his NCAA tourney runs with VCU, his team always had less talent yet they were always in the game, and Maynor was often the best player on the floor. He might not have the Tremendous Upside Potential of some other PG's or players in this draft, but he's going to be a solid pro point for a long, long time.

DeJuan Blair, PF, 6'7, Pittsburgh, 20 yrs
Somebody made a "the next Tractor Traylor" comparison, and while that's certainly a possibility, I'd still have no problem taking Blair. Yes, he might not even be 6'7, and yes he could end up eating an entire Perkins and Denny's for a snack, but he was an elite rebounder in college in the best conference in the country, and that absolutely translates to the NBA. Again, he's not going to be an all-star talent or a go-to option in the paint, but he can be a starter and rebounding machine in the L. I'd draft him, and hire him a personal chef and trainer to keep his weight in check. And put a "stay the hell away from fast food joints" clause in his contract.

Tyreke Evans, SG, 6'5, Memphis, 20 yrs
Love the Jerry Stackhouse comparisons, or even Jamal Crawford or Larry Hughes. After watching him in college I'm surprised how many NBA people seem to be down on him. He dominated college against the best competition and just showed a natural will and feel as a scorer that you can't teach. I don't care how ugly his jumper is or that people think he's not an elite athlete, I think he'll step in and contribute immediately, and I believe a Stackhouse-type career (a borderline allstar) is not only possible, but probable.

Earl Clark, SF, 6'10, Louisville, 21 yrs
This would be the fourth guy with "star potential", but I have such a big question about his motor and whether he's going to care much once he's got a guaranteed contract for millions, I'm putting him here. Has all-star talent at small forward and everything you'd ever want skill-wise at the position (his jumper needs work but that's about it), but I see him being the next Tim Thomas, and that friends, is not a player I'd want to pay big money to. Still, he's such a freakish athlete and looked so dominant at times, in this draft...

Brandon Jennings, PG, 6'3, Virtus Roma, 20 yrs old
Was the top PG in last year's high school class, and took a huge risk by playing a year in Europe instead of the NCAA. The team he chose wasn't a good fit for his wide-open style, and so folks are down on him. Still, in this draft, I chalk up the shaky year in Europe to him being 19 and trying to adjust to a completely different lifestyle and country, and style of play. I focus on the fact he's a ridiculous athlete who can get to the rim whenever he wants, is quick defensively, and shows a good feel for the game. The big question is can he run a team? In a draft with so few impact guys, I'd roll the dice.

Jonny Flynn, PG, 5'11, Syracuse, 20 yrs
If you love basketball and you watched any of the 19 million Syracuse games that were on this year, you had to love Flynn. Had to. I certainly did and would love the guy on my team, but I'm just not sure what he does or is in the NBA. He's got a big wingspan for a little guy, great quickness, is strong for his size, and can do the "Sam Cassell Giant Cahones" dance as well as anyone (or that he has incredible intestinal fortitude). He was fearless and a great leader with The Orange, but in the pros he's a 5'11 combo guard who can't really run the point and doesn't shoot well. I want him to succeed, I'm just not sure he will.

Stephen Curry, PG?, 6'2, Davidson, 21 yrs
With the Knicks he's a solid contributor and possible starter. Anywhere else he's a 3-point specialist like his dad was.

Chase Buddinger, SG, 6'7, Arizona, 21 yrs
You don't want him as your best player, or even your second best, but if he's allowed to be a third option he could be good. I like the Glen Rice/Brent Barry comparisons makes. Great shooter and solid athlete (especially for a white guy).

Hasheem Thabeet, C, 7'3, Connecticut, 22 yrs
From his profile, this sentence about sums it up for me:
"Looked absolutely helpless against Pittsburgh’s DeJuan Blair, one of the few players he faced with an NBA-type body"

So you're telling me the guy will be fine unless he faces somebody with NBA size? Shouldn't be that big a deal unless...well yeah, unless he's trying to play in the NBA. I think it was Bill Simmons who wondered aloud why people were making such a big deal of Thabeet's shot blocking, because after all- he's 7'3 and there's so few good post players in college anymore. I didn't agree with him at the time, but do now- Thabeet dominated weaker competition because there were no real centers that could challenge him. And yet even with that, he STILL couldn't score to save his life. He has showed zero post moves or any semblance of an offensive game. Add to that the dubious track record of NBA players over 7'1 (they're generally either terrible or terribly injury prone), and you couldn't keep me far enough away from taking Thabeet.

James Harden, SG, 6'4, Arizona State, 20 yrs
Won't be a bust, but won't be a star either. Yes, he's strong for a two guard, but he's a bit undersized, isn't a superior athlete to make up for it, and right now is an ok shooter. Wouldn't touch him in the top 10, let alone the top 5.

Gerald Henderson, SG, 6'4, Duke, 21 yrs
So let's see, he's from Duke, he's undersized, he's not a great shooter, he went to Duke, HAD MORE TURNOVERS THAN ASSISTS LAST YEAR (felt like I needed to yell that point), couldn't consistently be the go-to player his team was dying for him to be, and he's also from Duke. Other than that, what's not to love?

BJ Mullens, C, 7'0, Ohio State, 20 yrs
Had to save my most hated player for last. This guy will be the prime example that NBA GM's just will never, ever learn- no matter how useless a white center is in actual games, if he shows a pulse and some semblance of ability in workouts, they're going to take him in the first round. I will never understand it. Mullens has NBA size and according to all of these experts has all of these skills, so why was he so bad at Ohio State? The Big Ten was way down this year, there were zero big men to challenge him, and yet he never took over games or came close to dominating. If you average his stats out to 40 mins per game, he averaged a respectable 16 points, but only 8 boards and 2 blocks. If he couldn't get motivated to dominate in college, why does anyone believe he's going to be motivated to dominate the NBA once he gets a guaranteed contract? He's the unquestedioned leader in the clubhouse for the 2009honorary "Shawn Bradley Award" for useless white center taken in the first round who teams had talked themselves into thinking wouldn't be a useless white center. Past recipients include Michael Doleac (1998), Frederick Weis (1999), Chris Mihm (2000), Nickoloz Tskitishvili (2002- I know he's not a center and I don't care), Darko Milicic (2003), Pavel Podkolzine (2004), Yaroslav Korolev (2005- narrowly edging Bogut in one of the great Useless White Center draft debates of all-time), Andrea Bargnani (2006 hahaha SUCK IT TORONTO!!), Jason Smith (2007- who? Exactly), and last year's winner Kosta Koufus (bigger shock- that he went to Ohio State or was drafted by Utah? Discuss, discuss...). Congrats BJ on the only NBA award you'll ever win.