Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Day Notes


-The Celtics had as much to do with giving that game to the Lakers as the Purple and Gold had to do with taking it. Making only 5 of 22 threes, committing 22 turnovers, openly bickering with each other, and foul trouble from the Celtics “all-star” point guard were major culprits in the 19-game streak ending.

-Kobe played brilliantly in the last 3 minutes of the game. Instead of forcing it and trying to be the hero, the Lakers got the win. Bryant amassed four assists, three defensive rebounds and hit two buckets. The first, perhaps quietly the biggest of the game, came 20 seconds after KG had just given the Cs the lead 81-79 after the Green men had been trailing all night. Kobe brought the ball down and hit a fadeaway 18-foot jumper from the right corner to tie the game back up. If the Lakers don’t have that bucket, Mr. Mo (momentum) would have swung completely in the Celtics favor, and the Cs, instead of bickering and forcing quick/tough shots, probably pull this one out and everyone today would be talking about the end-of-the-world for the Lakers and who needs to be traded and Phil needing to be fired, etc. etc.

-After that big bucket though, the double team started to come and Kobe just kept giving the ball up to Pau. Pau gets credit for being the key to the Lakers win and while he did shoot 3-3 from the field and 3-3 from the line, his looks were all directly related to the wizardry of 24.

-I’m almost at a point where I want the Lakers to scrap the triangle offense at different points during games. Especially against tough defensive teams. Blasphemous? Perhaps. But, when Kobe and Pau, or Kobe and Bynum play pick and roll, there’s not much teams can do to stop it. Well, that is unless Bryant decides to force things. If he keeps the ball moving, then no team, the Celtics included, can keep up with the excellent passing or the wide open looks Walton or Radmanovic (who barely played), or Vujacic are going to be getting. Odom and Pau are excellent passers and Bynum is a willing passer. This team should average 25-30 assists a game.

-I love D-Fish, but there is never a time in a Celtics/Lakers game where he needs to square up his defender, dribble back and forth for several seconds and then chuck up a shot without passing the ball (I counted three times he did this). With the talent and shooting prowess and creative ability of his other teammates, there’s never really a situation where Fish needs to run this play.

-Odom played confident. He needs to play with that swag in every single game. He’s the man on that second unit. He’s the go to guy, the focal point who makes everything happen. He played a great game. Solid defense. He put up numbers across the board with 2 steals, 2 blocks, 2 3s, 2 assists and 7 boards to go along with 10 points. As always, he’s the Lakers X-Factor. When he’s on, the Lakers are unbeatable.

-Gasol got nasty. He pushed back K.G. letting him know that he ain’t no Jose Calderon. He also gave a hard body check to Rondo. Poor kid was crumpled on the floor, feeling that blow last night, and I’m sure he's feeling it today. Oh yeah, and Pau sealed the game for the Lakers by hitting all of his shots in the last three minutes. Que fuerte!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


I know this sounds crazy. I've had some crazy ideas on here, for the Suns to bring Steve Nash off the bench. Well, here's another crazy idea. How about instead of benching Odom, who is really good at help defense, how about bring Gasol off the bench. Gasol, much like Odom, is a selfless player. That's how he's been able to co-exist with Kobe so well. What he's not so good at, is well, tough defense. Bynum's struggled a bit, but bringing him off the bench would just add to his mounting frustration. Pau Gasol is the perfect facilitator type that the second unit, now without Jordan Farmar, can rely on to keep the offense flowing. Think Boris Diaw in 06. Plus, he's legit down low. Surround him with Vladimir Radmanovic, Trevor Ariza, and Sasha Vujacic, and that's a great bench unit. Odom plus Bynum plus Kobe plus Walton plus Fish makes for a tougher, more help happy defense that is also a bit more versatile than with Pau and Bynum. Just a thought.

Eastern Point Guard All-Stars

Thoughts on potential Eastern All-Stars Rajon Rondo, Devin Harris and Jameer Nelson among others.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dimes of Wisdom Blog

New post on my Dimes of Wisdom Blog. Sam Cassell for the HOF.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Master Deceiver

I bit. I believed the dude. I’ve hated on him for quite some time, but this year, I said, “Jordan, you are going to be as unbiased as you possibly can be in your writing, and you are going to take the dude at his word.”

Well, Amare and Shaq came up with Amare’s new nickname, Sun Tzu, and, you know what? He’s lived up to that name perfectly. Amare has used deception, or, more blatantly, lies, to try and make me believe that he has become something that he is not. Here are some examples of his art of war…

"I want to be Ron Artest,” he said all the way back in September. “I want to be that guy you fear when you see him guarding you."

"My goal is to become a phenomenal defensive player,'' he said in November. "That's my goal, to be a phenomenal defensive player night in, night out, no nights off. And ultimately to win a championship.'

So far, the Suns are 21st in points allowed, 24th in defensive rating and 22nd in defensive rebounding. This from a team who with Shawn Marion, sported the best offense (SSOL) last year while also maintaining a ranking of 16th in defensive rating.

And speaking of D’Antoni’s offense…

"I couldn't be more ecstatic about the decision,” he said in September about the hiring of Terry Porter and the leaving of Mike D’Antoni. “[Terry Porter] is very organized. He knows what it takes to win. He wants to be the champion. That falls into the category of the Stoudemire brand and also the Phoenix Suns brand. We want to be champions, whatever it takes to do it."

"A lot of defensive drills,'' he said of his coach’s practices at the beginning of November. "We're going over the different tactics of defense. It's very important from my standpoint, being a young player. I never really had long practices on defense. It was never really forced. We talked about it, but as far as practicing it and really going through the preparation, it is the first of my career.''

Just last week, that tune has hit a sour note. He’s openly been questioning Porter’s coaching. After getting beat down by the Lakers in their first meeting two weeks ago, he said the Lakers "were fluid, flowing,” and added, “I remember when we looked like that."

So now, he misses his old style of play after he threw D'Antoni under the bus with his "this is hte first time I've ever been taught how to play defense..." quotes. Throwing former teammates and coaches under the bus while complaining and never taking any blame...Sounds very…uh, Shaq-like.

Way back in September, Sun Tzu oozed enthusiasm, and yes, quite a bit of cockiness as well. "Expectations are higher than they've ever been. As I improve and I get better, we get better. I have no problem putting the total weight and everything we have on my shoulders. If we lose, I have no problem taking that burden. If we win, just make sure you guys give props where props are due. We're ready."

At the end of November and into December, his enthusiasm has lost all of its shine instead weathering down to a harsh, loud glare.

He’s suddenly “absolutely” looking at free agency in 2010. "As a player,” he said, “You should look at the teams you might want to play for. The city you may want to live in. The system you may want to play in. The economy. The cost of living. Everything. It's about what's best for you."

Always what’s best for himself…

“Right now,” Sun Tzu said, “I’m a little frustrated."

Well, he should be. Despite being a freak of nature athlete, Stoudemire is 23rd in the league in rebounding with a paltry 8.3 per contest. He’s sitting behind his own teammate Shaq, who plays 11 minutes less then him; Andrew Bynum and Drew Gooden who both play nearly 8 minutes less; and David Lee who averages 2 more boards but plays nearly 5 minutes less.

Spin his per 48-minute rebounding numbers and he comes in at 68th in the entire league. While I don’t put too much stock in per-48 minute numbers (because, they aren’t real) any big man who thinks of himself as a superstar can in no way shape or form average in any stat form, less boards than Darko Milicic (59th) and Ryan Anderson (63). Or maybe that’s why he gave up his nickname, STAT, cuz he couldn’t live up to it.

I read an article
( that tries to make it sound like Amare’s very body is the reason for his inability to rebound. Ha Ha. He’s blamed everyone from his former coach to his present coach’s style, to the lack of another big man, to, now, finally, his small frame…

You telling me that Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol are stronger and more athletic than Tzu? Or that all 6-foot 5-inches of Chuck Hayes who averages half of Amare’s rebounding in less than half the time (4.4 boards in 15 minutes) is better equipped to rebound despite being 4-5 inches shorter? Or that David Lee’s body is more blessed.

Dude…just man up and get the rebound.

As it stands now, Suns Fu has utilized his new name quite well. He's mastered the art of deception...of deceiving himself.

You know, that new haircut he’s sporting got me thinking about who he looks like. And then it hit me. To borrow a line from the always eloquent Mr. T,

“I pity the Foo…”

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Trade Me!!!!!!

Couple of trades went down today. So, forgive me for interrupting the Lebron/Kobe team whatever it was I was trying to do last week.

First off, is the three-team deal involving the Hornets, Grizzlies and Wizards.

The Wizards got point guard Mike James and combo guard Javaris Crittenton. The Grizzlies got a Wizards future first-round pick. The Hornets got guard Antonio Daniels.

Now, from the Wizards standpoint, not entirely sure what they are doing. They’ve got a whole host of guards, DeShawn Stevenson, Nick Young, Dominic McGuire, Juan Dixon, and, oh yeah, Mr. $111 million man Gilbert Arenas. With the trade, they are subtracting one guard and adding two more. Mike James, let’s be honest, is a salary dump thing. And, adding JCritt means that they got the most potential talent out of the deal, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that, JCritt, much like he was on the Grizzlies, doesn’t really have a spot in the rotation. Of course, Crittenton does have a chance to be better than all of the guards on the Wizards' roster not named Gilbert (actually, kind of plays like GA without the range), but, he’s only 20 and Hibachi is supposed to be coming back into the rotation in the next few months.

As for the Grizzlies, I really don't like this deal. Critt was one of their more valuable pieces. Sure, the more DNPs or 3-minute outings he racked up, the further his value fell, but trading him for a conditional first round pick? Eh. This team needs veterans, not more youth. Hell, their starting rotation averages 21 years of age. Adding more draft picks to this team is like herding more kids into Neverland Ranch. Just more youth for the man in charge to screw up.

As for the Hornets, Antonio Daniels is exactly what they need…in theory. Daniels is pretty banged up. He spent the early part of the year recovering from a knee injury and has recently dealt with some back issues. After back-to-back seasons (05-07) where he averaged 80 games, Daniels has been injury-prone this year and last. He’s had all sorts of ailments all over his body: sprained wrist, messed up ankle, bone spurs. But, when he’s right, or, that is, if he can get right, he will be a welcome addition to the squad. His ability to play turnover-free basketball and run the point as well as consistently get to the line, is exactly the type of production the Hornets lack. On defense, he’s great at drawing offensive fouls. He’ll struggle to guard quicker point guards, but he’ll have a lot of help with a defensive-minded second unit.

As for the other trade between Phoenix and Charlotte that sent Boris Diaw, Sean Singletary and Raja Bell to the Bobcats in exchange for Jason Richardson, Jared Dudley and a second round pick…I have my reservations.

First and foremost, I have my reservations because I know who the respective GMs are. If you’ve read this blog, we all know what Steve Kerr has done to the Suns…hint, he’s really big and frequently pops off at the mouth.

As for Charlotte Bobcats GM Rod Higgins, he’s done some piss poor work himself. And, like Kerr, in only a season and a few months. He signed PF/C Emeka Okafor, SF Gerald Wallace and SF/SG Matt Carroll all to huge and lengthy contracts well beyond what any of them deserve (especially Carroll). Then he exercised the rights to two more SFs Adam Morrison and Jared Dudley (okay, he can kind of play power). This year he signed Marcus Williams, Donell Taylor, Andre Brown, Justin Williams, and Linton Johnson, and then waived each and every one of them.

So, forgive me if this trade smells of disaster from the get go. Higgins needed to trade for some big bodies, and instead flipped a guard and a small forward for two guards and a small forward on a team littered with, you guessed it, guards and small forwards.

I mean, I get why he got Bell. Bell’s a Larry Brown guy through and through. Bell came up with Brown on the Sixers. Brown helped mold him into the player he is today. But, that was 8 years ago. Bell isn’t close to what he was defensively, even two years ago. His 3-point percentage is up, but you have to consider that he’s trading in the passing skills of Steve Nash for the combo of D.J. Augustin and Raymond Felton, and the spacing provided by Shaq and Amare, for the no spacing provided whatsoever from Nazr Mohammed and Okafor.

But Diaw? Diaw is represents everything that makes Brown furious. A talented, lazy, non-head user. And that’s for three more seasons. Have fun with that Larry.

Worse comes to worse, in the end, the Cats saved a few million dollars.

Say what you will about Richardson’s overall game—lacks handles, can’t play D, doesn’t know how to pass—but dude could consistently score 20 a night. Diaw and Bell are the opposite of consistency.

Who knows, Diaw could blossom under Brown and get back to averaging 16, 6 and 6. Truly scary numbers…

As for the Suns, they got the best player in the trade, but they also added his $12.5 million salary for three more seasons. He’s a dude who lives off his crazy athleticism (twice a dunk champion) coming off of arthroscopic knee surgery. He’s a bit one dimensional, but he’ll make that starting five a lot better…if everyone is willing to share the ball. Cough, cough, Amare, cough.

The problem here is that Phoenix swapped out Singletary as well, leaving them with statistically, one of the worst players in the NBA, Goran Dragic, backing up Steve Nash. And for a team whose main goal this season was to get a lot better at defense, trading J-Rich for your best defender is like a Mormon marrying a pornstar. Dudley’s got some game, like a garbage man (cleans up trash, gets down and dirty), but he’s sort of redundant with Matt Barnes.

We’ll see how this all turns out. Amare could be content in taking less shots and instead focus on defense and rebounding so J-Rich can get his 16-18 points per. The Suns defense could get better despite trading their best defender for a horrible one. Grant Hill could act as a point-forward off the bench…er, wait…this all sounds so familiar.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Lebron's Got Great Teammates

I can’t get away from it because it has inundated our basketball news and the blogosphere and will continue to do so for the next two seasons. So, what the hell, I’ll just roll with this Lebron wanting out business.

Because he is not quick to stomp out the rumors, and in fact adds fuel to the media’s fire about wanting to leave, today, Westcoast Slant would like to dispel the myth that Lebron James does not play with good players.

Article after article, blog after blog talks about how Lebron’s team is nowhere near the talent-level of Kobe’s team and due to his out-of-this-world stats and inherent ability to “make his teammates better,” Lebron James is hands down the best player in the L.

We’ll skip his defensive shortcomings…huge blocks, like I’m sure you’ve seen on SportsCenter or something ( are great fun to look at, but let’s not get confused with those kinds of blocks being signs of great defense. Sean Williams of the Nets was second in the league last year in blocks per 48 minutes and had some monster blocks due to his athleticism and length. This season, however, he can’t dislodge his butt from the end of the bench because of fouls and horrible defensive fundamentals.

Blocks are an overrated stat. It’s really an image thing and that goes back to the “image” of the Lakers being better than the Cavs.

Taking a charge is definitely not as pretty or exciting to watch as sending the opposition’s shot into the 8th row, but it’s always better than a blocked shot because it punishes the offender with a personal foul and a turnover. Blocks have their place (mostly the intimidation/embarrassment factor) and shot blockers definitely can act as deterrents (Mutumbo, Hakeem, etc.) that act as huge game changers…but blocks, in general, are not as valuable as taking charges. That’s why Anderson Varejao, though not flashy, is every bit as good a defender as Andrew Bynum. Just in a different way. But we’ll get to that in a second.

Now, I’m not saying the Lakers don’t have more upside talent (they are younger), but as far as production goes, this battle is closer than some might imagine.

Let’s dissect the two teams. Because Kobe and Lebron play different positions, it’s hard to exactly match up, player-for-player, position-by-position. However, there are certain skill sets that individuals bring to a team: shooting, defense, ball-movement, energy, etc. That’s how I’ve paired the players off.

Pau Gasol vs. Zydrunas Ilgauskus
Andrew Bynum vs. Anderson Verajao
Derek Fisher vs. Mo Williams
Vladimir Radmanovic vs. Wally Szczerbiak
Jordan Farmar vs. Delonte West
Sasha Vujacic vs. Daniel Gibson
Lamar Odom vs. Ben Wallace
Trevor Ariza vs. J.J. Hickson

Pau vs. Big Z
Basically, Big Z is the hairless, OG Pau (by like two years). He has a great 15-17 foot jump shot. He’s a face up, finesse-style 7-footer who can also play with his back to the basket. Great freethrow shooter for a big. An excellent offensive rebounder, but weaker on the D glass than you’d want from the tallest dude on the court. He gets a good number of blocks just because he’s so long. And he keeps his PER in the 18 to 22 range with a high water mark this season of 24.9. Pau’s a better passer and more athletic but he’s also lankier and doesn’t take up nearly the same amount of space. And he’s not quite perfected the offensive rebound like Big Z. Pau’s better, but it’s close. And, Lebron’s had Big Z for all six years. Kobe hasn’t even played a full season with Spaniard—it just seems like they’ve been balling together since they were kids.

AB vs. AV
Real talk. Anderson Varejao’s ceiling is the floor to Andrew Bynum’s two-story house, but in the here and now, they are both equally effective. Varejao is annually in the top 10 for offensive fouls drawn and is a beast on defense in ways that Bynum has not even begun to learn. He’s fantastic at showing on screens, making him great against the pick-and-roll, is the energizer bunny in the hustle department and controls the glass. Bynum’s got length and the intimidation factor going for him, but he’s 21, has never played a full season, and still seems to be a little bit too concerned with his scoring touches. Bynum’s got better box score numbers, but this is a tie.

Fish and Mo
Statistically, this one isn’t even close. Intangible-wise, it’s a wash. While last season, I would have argued that Fisher’s influence was worth at least 8 wins (6 in fact), this year, with everyone buying into Kobe’s leadership, that Fish intangible loses some of its luster. He’s putting up nearly identical numbers as last year, but shooting 2-point shots a whole lot worse. Mo’s playing worse than last year too (more on that tomorrow), but his presence is much like what Fish brought to the Lakers last year and his numbers are far and away superior.

Farmar and West
Again, this isn’t about upside. Farmar, at 22, would seem to have the brighter future. In the here and now, Delonte is playing out of his mind. He’s shooting an insane 51 percent from the field and 44 percent from beyond the arc for a whopping 64 percent TS% (true shooting). J-Far brings energy and floor leadership off the bench, but he’s shooting poorly. This one’s really close despite the stat disparity. Farmar’s importance as the second unit’s go-to scorer and floor general can’t be measured, and if they were getting equal minutes I’d sway to Farmar, but Delonte’s been HUGE this year. Edge has got to go to him.

Vlad Rad and Wally World
This comparison is pretty straightforward. The numbers are nearly identical across the board, so, we’ll have to go with more advanced stats. Wally’s PER 14.68 trumps Vladi’s 12.25. Wally’s 1.1 WS also trumps Vladi’s 0.6. Wally’s 105 and 124 offensive and defensive ratings are better than Vladi’s 97 and 100.

Machine and Boobie
They do the same thing, except one is a feisty defender while the other is a decent passer. Both signed to pretty decent money extensions this off-season. While both have struggled to live up to the money, no question the Machine has been better, though if Boobie could play against OKC, Golden State, and the Knicks every night, than he’d money.

LO and Big Ben
Both of these guys don’t necessarily fill up the box score to be effective. Their games are both predicated on things that box scores don’t show. Wallace is an aging defensive ace, who has regained some of his lost form from a year ago. He’s swatting nearly 2 shots a game (again, a bit overrated) but is rebounding much better than he has in two years. Odom has seen his minutes reduced and has taken on a sixth man role, but he’s been quietly putting together a stellar season. He gets the nod because he makes the Lakers second unit starter-quality, especially considering the starters OKC, Memphis, and Washington are throwing out there.

Riza and Hix
Trevor Ariza by a mile right now. But if Hickson can continue to improve on his game and bring energy off the bench, he could fill a very similar role that Ariza has on the Lakers. Right now, Trevor’s the Lakers MVP in my humble opinion.

The rest of the Lakers bench is better, but of the dudes that actually get PT, the talent disparity and the level of production is nearly equal. Tomorrow we’ll continue with this conversation and focus on how Kobe and Lebron do or do not “make their teams better.”

Monday, December 1, 2008

Been Wrong. Been Right.

So far so good on most of WCS' pre-season predictions.

Though, for all the ones we nailed on the head, there’s also been a few where we’ve hit our collective thumb instead.

Sure, there were some gimme calls. The Lakers and Thunder for example. Everybody got those. NASCAR fanatics could've called those. It's not brain surgery to predict the Lakers would rock and the Thunder would hit rock bottom.

Houston’s had injuries, played ugly, but still find themselves at the top of the West. Ditto for Phoenix. Ditto for Utah. All at 11-7. Though, of the three, Utah is still the most promising. They’ve compiled their record without the services of their best player (Deron Williams) while dealing with injuries up and down their lineup (Kirilenko, Boozer, Williams, Brewer, etc.)

And, like Old Faithful, the freaking Spurs have been the freaking Spurs.

Here's a link to all those predictions if you missed them the first time around.

As for the miscues…

I went against conventional wisdom and believed that the Clippers could eek their way into the first round of the playoffs. I thought Ricky Davis would have a great year. I thought Kaman and Camby would form a formidable duo. I thought the team defense would be one of the best in the league…yeah, well, I should’ve known. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine them trading for Zach Randolph. I even joked about Dallas doing that trade in desperation. Well, these are desperate times in Clipper land, and that’s saying a lot. The main problem is simple. It’s talent (Baron) versus ideology (Dunleavy), and so far, it’s produced a 3-13 record. Yuck.

I also misfired on Minnesota. I didn’t really think they had a shot to make the playoffs, but I did believe they would be a much improved team. I listed seven factors that were necessary for the Wolves to make the postseason. Here’s the ones they’ve got semi-right. Al Jefferson is close to averaging 23 and 11 (22 and 10), but, in spite of a slightly better team defense, Big Al’s D isn’t close to where it needs to be. Half a factor fulfilled there. The Clippers, have, well, been the Clippers. 1.5 factors fulfilled. Kevin Love is kinda a legit NBA player, which makes it half a factor bringing our total to 2 factors fulfilled. And the ones that have gone wrong? Dallas has not fallen off a cliff—J Kidd’s actually playing pretty well (nowhere near Devin Harris however). Denver has risen to scary playoff opponent (more on this in a sec). Randy Foye had one transcendent game, and has otherwise been a huge disappointment. Corey McCants never happened (Brewer is now out for the season, which, with the infusion of Rodney Carney into the mix, might actually help the team’s offense). In the end 2 of 7 ain’t going to get it done. And it hasn’t. Minny’s currently sitting at 4-11.

I give myself a little bit of a break on the Denver prediction (still somewhat of a miscue) because I didn’t know they were going to trade for Chauncey. Mr. Big Shot has been a revelation for the team, and now, if everyone stays healthy (I’m talking to you Nene and you Kenyon Martin) this team could be very scary come playoff time. Their defense got better in spite of losing Camby (that’s thanks to the AI/Billups tradeoff) and they even have a decent bench. Once J.R. Smith smoothes things out with Karl, bringing Chris Anderson, Smith, an underrated Anthony Carter, Renaldo Balkman and Linas Kleiza off the pine is a definite asset.

Okay. So we've established some of the predictions I reached on. Some of the ones where a lot of things had to go right for them to be, well, right. As for the things I actually did get right? There are two big thoughts that have been money when most everyone else was saying differently.

The Hornets look dreadful. Their defense has been awful. Their current rating is worse than the league average. While Chris Paul has been stellar, David West, Peja Stojakovic, and Tyson Chandler are all playing worse than they did last season. And the bench? The bench has killed the team. Especially the lack of a point guard and any semblance of a decent bigman. If you added up the PERs of Hilton Armstrong, Sean Marks, Melvin Ely, and Mike James, their collective PER is 8 points less than Chris Paul’s PER (22.8 to 30.9). Pathetic. But, the bench is and will continue to be their problem. Using Devin Brown at the point guard position is not a long term nor short term solution. James Posey has played big, but his presence has made Julian Wright relatively, well, irrelevant.

And finally, my babies. I put them all the way into the top four in the West, and they’ve played a smidge better than that. That’s the Portland Trailblazers. While everyone was off riding the Hornets’ stinger, we here at Westcoast Slant believed that the Blazers, with an excellent, top-of-the-line coach (Nate McMillan, remember what he did with that Seattle team a few years back) and a huge host of talented, energetic, youth (as in 10 deep) would be a big player in the West. Atop the Northwest division (tied with Denver) Aldridge and Roy have been playing well (Roy got player of the week honors), the rooks, Batum, Fernandez and Oden have been better-than-expected to great, and Joel Przybilla has been out-of-this-world. Oh, and the bench is one of the best in the biz.

The reason for this post, is because Westcoast Slant is a new site. We want our faithful readers to know that we have a good to great grasp on the happenings of the NBA. Of course, there’s still 60 plus games to play, so the back-patting and/or razing should be held off until the end of the season.

In the meantime, keep reading and commenting!

Friday, November 28, 2008

What can Happen in 2 Games

*In the two games where Eric Gordon has started, where he’s been given more than 5 minute increments of time to play, he’s averaged a cool 24.5 ppg, 3.5 apg, 3 rpg, 4 spg, and a sparkling 47 percent from beyond the arc including a beauty of a 3 pointer that tied the game against the Nuggets in the final half minute. That’s against two good teams. The Hornets, though not playing that well, are still considered elite, and the Nugs have moved up on everyone’s power charts. Both of them were Clippers losses, but the Clips had a real shot of winning the Nugs game, but came up short on a Marcus Camby 3-point heave with 3 seconds on the clock. You read that right. Anyways, Mike Dunleavy should relieve himself of coaching duties and let Kim Hughes, who filled in admirably on Wednesday night, coach the rest of the season. The team just looked more fluid with him calling the plays. He even let DeAndre Jordan get PT (well, he had to thanks to Kaman’s injury, but it was nice to see Jordan get time).

*In two games as a starter, Paul Millsap of the Jazz has averaged 22.5 ppg, 13 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1 bpg, 1 spg, on 65 percent shooting. Sure, one of the games was against Chicago, who lack any sort of interior presence, and the other game was against the super young Memphis Grizzlies, but that sort of production doesn't just materialize out of nowhere. Millsap is the real deal, and a big reason why watching Carlos Boozer walk, or trading him before the deadline, is not going to be that difficult for the Jazz this off-season. He’s a better defensive player, and has improved in all aspects of his game. His inside moves, mid-range jumper, passing out of double teams, and defensive recognition have all improved, and he’s shooting a career best 55.9 percent from the field and 74.5 percent from the line.

*Kevin Durant’s so far 2 game experiment at the SF position for the woeful Thunder has produced mixed results. Against Phoenix he got to the line 8 times and converted all 8, leading to a 30-point performance. He only had 4 boards however. Against Cleveland a night later, he managed only 13 points and 1 rebound and shot 6-16 in a game that Lebron only played 17 minutes. In the end, I think this move will benefit his overall game, though, he'll need to add muscle for sure. The interesting aspect of this is what this does to Jeff Green, who has been playing much improved from last season. Green, no matter how well he's been playing, is still a questionable draft pick in my mind especially considering guys like Rodney Stuckey, Spencer Hawes, Thaddeus Young, Julian Wright, Brandan Wright and even Joakim Noah were still available.

*Better without Shaq? In the two games the Diesel has sat out this season, Amare Stoudemire has only compiled 24 ppg, 7 rpg, 2.5 apg, on 65 percent shooting. Steve Nash almost had a triple double against Oklahoma City the other night, 20 ppg, 15 apg, and 8 rpg, but also had 7 turnovers and the Suns barely beat the worst team in the league. Against Chicago, Nash played only 24 minutes and had 6 points and 5 assists. While I’m still convinced the Suns should have never traded for Shaq, especially giving away Marion, I won’t go so far to say that Shaq has been the main problem with the Suns this year. Look no further than the manchild. He’s got game like a man, but a brain like a child’s. I thought the key to the season would be Amare’s maturity and ability to play defense and rebound. If he did those things, the offense would come naturally and he’d be a legitimate MVP candidate. So far, Amare is under 8 rebounds per game and averaging over half a block per game less. Plus, he’s whining about wanting to be the man and seriously considering his options in 2010 ( The curse of 2010 has reached all corners of the NBA. Even Darko Milicic is talking about going back to Europe in tw years (

The NBA, where forgetting 2008 and focusing on 2010 happens.

Thanks a bundle New York.

Keep it Slanted West…

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Eastern Thoughts

-I’m sick of Lebron talk. Sick of it. So here I go putting my two cents into the conversation. Danny Ferry should trade LBJ straight up for Dwyane Wade. An even better trade would be Shawn Marion, Wade and Marcus Banks for Lebron, Wally Szczerbiak, J.J. Hickson, and Eric Snow’s expiring contract. Miami sheds Banks’ horrible deal and adds a rookie big (something they direly need) with promise. They also free up a crapload of cap space for next season. The Cavs? They get even better with Marion and Wade replacing Lebron. And, for the record, don’t think Wade would mind going to a contender. Don’t think he’ll be talking about how much he loves Chicago or sport a new pair of “Windy City” sneaks or make a whole media circus out of what may or may not happen in 2010. Pretty sure Flash will be 100 percent satisfied with his situation and go out and get another Finals MVP to add to his collection. Which reminds me, how many does Lebron have again?

-Accursed Derrick Rose. Was trying and trying and trying to figure out ways to spin the story to make O.J. Mayo more deserving of the ROY trophy this season. More points, more boards, more steals, better defender, and more minutes. Rose has a better PER, shooting percentage and assists numbers. In the end, it comes down to wins. It’s a tight race for sure, but the Eastern Conference has proven to be the more difficult conference so far this year, and Rose has his team at 7-8 while Mayo’s Grizz are at 4-10. Sure, Mayo’s playing on a team full of kids, but Rose has zero capable big men to play alongside. Huh, might’ve just proved Mayo’s more deserving after all.

-Big props to the UCLA kids this season. While some have struggled (Baron Davis, Russell Westbrook) others have shined brightly Trevor Ariza, Jordan Farmar, and to a certain extent, Kevin Love. Those are all West coast guys though, so I have to show love to Luc Richard Mbah a Moute who has helped the Bucks to a surprising 7-9 record without the help of Michael Redd who has been out with an ankle injury. Mbah a Moute has been the team’s defensive ace and is averaging 10 points and 7.6 rebounds.

-Too bad Ernie Grunfeld needed a scapegoat after doing a horrible job in creating zero cap flexibility with a ho-hum roster that, even if completely healthy, never had a legitimate shot at contending for a title. Farewell Eddie Jordan. You had the Wizards back on their way to respectability. Sure 1-10 sucks big time, but it's not your fault your starting center and supposed star player were both done before the season got going. But after an offseason that saw your GM give away $160 million to two players, one on the wrong side of 30 and the other an injury-prone loud mouth who has never won anything of significance, you have been shouldered with the blame. Farewell Ed. You'll land on your feet somewhere else.

If it weren’t for the Clippers, Grunfeld would be the worst GM in the Association. Dunleavy...hire Eddie Jordan...

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Walsh Should be Punished not Praised

Okay, I get the fact that over the past few years (last year especially) the media constantly berated and destroyed the New York Knicks organization over and over and over and over and over…ad nauseam. This fact cannot be denied, nor will I try to.

But glorifying Donnie Walsh for trading away his two top scorers on a winning ball club, for a malcontent who hadn’t played in two weeks (Al Harrington, who, even when he’s good, isn’t Jamal Crawford good), an aging vet (Cat Mobley) and the league’s most abusive offender of the term “talented underachiever” (Tim Thomas)?

While I get the thought process behind the moves, I don’t accept it. Especially not this high praise and undue glorification the media has vomited forth. I don't care if those were Walsh's moves to begin with. They are, from a basketball standpoint, horrific moves.

The thought process is to clear cap space for that magical 2010 season when all the top players in the NBA will be free agents…namely Lebron James. And, even if James skips on the suddenly “tantalizing” New York offer, any number of the other players available will be foaming at the mouth at a chance to play in Madison Square Garden with the run-n-gun fun of Mike D’Antoni.

Well, we can scratch Amare Stoudemire off that list, unless, gasp, the big baby, mans up for his shortcomings and finally realizes how good he had it under Mike D.

But I won’t hold my breath. After all, he’s got Shaq as his mentor.

Anyway, I bring this point up because the Memphis Grizzlies and David Wallace routinely got roasted last season for their shedding of Pau Gasol. And this is why I created WestCoast Slant. Because East Coast teams (I guess technically Memphis is in the East, but they are a west coast team) get all kinds of unfair publicity.

Blogger Brian McCormick has a great little blog just about this. Well worth the read.

I’d like to take this moment to add to his ideas.

First and foremost, the deal that Chris Wallace made gains more and more credibility the more his new team gets burn together. Though only sporting 4 wins so far, this team has kept almost every game close (the Knicks and the Dallas games aside).

And the players the Grizzlies got?

Marc Gasol has a 16.91 PER and is one of the top rookies, shooting 58.8 percent in only 30 minutes of action. A 23-year-old rookie with silky jumper, who is 7-1, 285 and has a high basketball IQ that has translated well to the American game would seem to be promising enough compensation for Pau Gasol but throw in Darrell Arthur and Javaris Crittenton and the trade looks almost lopsided in favor of the Grizzlies.

I went over this a couple of weeks ago, but the point must be made known. In only 23 minutes of play, Arthur is averaging 7 and 7 and his 12.83 PER would be a lot better if he could just get his shot down (seems to be a team-wide problem outside of O.J. Mayo and Gasol). His per 40-minute averages are 12 and 12 with 2 blocks (sound like Al Horford to you?) Remember, Arthur’s only 20.

Crittenton, who hasn’t gotten any burn, is 20 as well. Who knows what the Grizz are planning on doing with him, but don’t be surprised if JCritt starts to show his promise if and/or when Mike Conley or Kyle Lowry is traded. Remember, Critt’s main problems are his decision-making and lack of an outside shot. Those are both fixed with practice and game-time. He’s got all the other tools to be an outstanding player—quickness, athletic ability, good handle, etc.

In fact, the average age of the starting five for the Grizzlies is an absurd 21-years old. And they’ve played well in all of their games accept for the two previously mentioned.

Let’s get off of Wallace’s back please. In fact, the irony of all ironies would be if the Grizzlies sit on their cap space and try to sign Lebron themselves. And, thinking in terms of purely just winning…the Grizzlies have all of the tools necessary for Lebron.

Sure, in 2010, the team would have to pay a huge luxury tax (resign Mayo and Gay and Conley/Lowry), but if they could somehow dump or buyout Marko Jaric and Antoine Walker before then, they could have enough cap space AND the ultimate team set up to sign Lebron...mind you, a young team that would have been playing together for 2 years. That sort of built-in consistency and team camaraderie is hard to find. And Lebron's game "fits in" (understatement of the century) with any sort of basketball.

The Grizzlies are and will be athletic able to run and defend. They have a D'Antoni disciple as a coach for those who believe Mike D will be a big selling point for New York. The Grizzlies already have a deadly marksman and feisty defender at the shooting guard spot (Mayo); an athletic,defensive-minded SF with a shaky handle, who can shoot the 3 and is excellent at finishing (Gay); a bruising big with finesse and the ability to make the right play at the right time (Gasol); and one of the following point guards: a pass-first point with lighting speed (Conley) or adefensive, frenetic energy-hound (Lowry). Once Conley and/or Lowry learns to shoot the 3, all the team would need is a power forward.

Enter the King.

Slam Online has a great breakdown of how Lebron is the perfect power forward:

LeBron still starts games at the three and spends a good deal of time out on the perimeter working off screens 30 feet from the basket and will keep the defense honest with deep jumpers every now and again, but the dynamic backcourt play has allowed LeBron to weave elements into his game that we previously only saw on Team USA–playing the high post and driving from the elbow, posting up deep, sealing off and getting easy buckets, getting more fast-break looks and quick post-ups early in the shot clock before the defense can load up, weak-side and back-door cuts often finished with Alley-Oops, and 1-3 pick-and-rolls with Mo Williams that have been effective both ways. He’s been off-the-charts effective when put at the four, where he spends about half as much time as he does at the three–his per-48 minute stats at the four-spot are (this is not a typo) 50/11/9 on 60 percent shooting, for a PER of an even 50. I’ll take that. The +/- statistics for LeBron at the four are favorable as well–the team’s best five-man unit is the reserve crew that puts West and Gibson in the backcourt, Wally Szczerbiak at the small forward (and Wally’s been terrible), and LeBron and Varejao in the front-court. While the unit doesn’t defend or rebound well enough to be a true option, as a curve ball it’s been devastatingly effective.

The results of LeBron’s new gameplan have been staggering. LeBron’s percentage of shots taken “inside,” which is a good place for LeBron to be because he’s one of the five best players in the NBA at converting from that area and easily the best perimeter player, has gone up from 38 to 45 percent, easily the best mark in the NBA for any perimeter player who takes nearly as many shots as LeBron, and his foul drawing rate has also risen. (He’s even displaying a far more confident free throw stroke.) All of these things have LeBron on pace to finish with career-high marks in points per 48 minutes, field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, assist rate and PER, despite the fact his jumper has been way off to start the season. (Despite LeBron’s second consecutive summer of showing a confident outside stroke, LeBron has started the year shooting what would be an easily career-worst 24 percent from three-point range and 35.7 eFG% on his jump shots–usually he finishes at 40 percent.) LeBron is basically dominating without a jumper right now, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t come around to at least his career-average in the coming weeks.

The whole article can be found at

With his newfound ability to play the ultimate power forward, what team is better set up to compliment Lebron’s unique talents? New York players might have a lot of heart, but none of them mesh well with Lebron's talents (okay, maybe Q Richardson, but he's injury-prone). In fact, of the players left, the only player of real note plays the power foward position (David Lee). Nate Robinson needs the ball. Chris Duhon can't shoot. Wilson Chandler is a poor man's Lebron.

The Nets are a bit more prepared to welcome in Lebron with Devin Harris transforming into a stud point. But they have Yi Jianlian at SF and a glut of power forwards. Plus, without that Brooklyn addy, Lebron ain't going to want to play in Jersey.

So, what about the Grizz? Hey, it might not be sexy in terms of pub, but if Lebron is truly about winning, then the Grizzlies have set up the perfect team. He’d be the elder statesman, and only one of a handful of guys in the league that the egos of Gay and Mayo would actually bend over backwards for.

Grizzlies fans are just waiting to bubble over with excitement for their team. Winning breeds a lot of stuff, including endorsements (as if Lebron needed to go to the Knicks to get any bigger or better endorsements than he already has). Sure the endorsements aren't there. But the spotlight will follow Lebron wherever he goes. And there would be a ton of glory to be had. But, it all comes down to what Lebron is playing the game for. Money or Championships...

I hope to God Lebron spits in the face of the New York Knicks, who have made a travesty out of the NBA. People said Isaiah Thomas was a horrible G.M.

I concur.

But Walsh sacrificing two entire seasons of basketball for cap flexibility holding onto the intangible nature of hope...hope—by no means a guarantee—of signing a major free agent is the ultimate in tanking and should not be encouraged or praised, but in fact punished by the league.

And a guy like Chris Wallace, in a mini-market like Memphis, trading away his best asset for a collection of high-upside, high-talent players who have produced right away—that sort of General managing should garner votes for GM of the year.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Free Nash

Okay Suns fans, you aren’t going to like to hear this. But it’s the reality of the situation. And it’s not just for the sake of the Phoenix Suns, but really, for the betterment of the entire NBA. A league lost one of its brightest stars the second Shaq found his way onto the Suns.

It’s time to trade Steve Nash.

Last night’s trouncing by the Los Angeles Lakers, who, despite seeing Kobe jack up 23 shots and get only 24 points for his trouble, still got spanked by double digits. That beating really solidified this notion. ESPN’s Henry Abbott of TrueHoop blog has a great breakdown of what the new Suns offense looks like under Terry Porter from last night’s Suns/Lakers showdown.

Back at the end of April, when the Suns had been ousted in the first round, I wrote a three part series about the team on my Lakers blog. Here are a few excerpts from the first part:

*Getting Shaq changed everything. He and Amare have now become the focal points. Everyone else, including Nash, is expendable.

*Nash, is no longer Nash. After that brilliant game one, and as Mike D’Antoni continued to refocus his offense, Nash went from near MVP to all-star play to bench player to completely irrelevant. In fact, he had three turnovers in the last couple of minutes, the last one, completely sealing Phoenix’s fate.

Let’s go over this again. Steve Nash’s production has, indeed, gone down across the board. Dumping the ball into the big fella has made him completely irrelevant. Goran Dragic could do that (more on this in a sec). Nash has no freedom to penetrate with two huge behemoths clogging the lane, and his defensive shortcomings make the Suns renewed focus on that end an even steeper hill to climb. Think Mount Everest as opposed to Mount Whitney.

Because the offense is focused in on Shaq and Amare, Nash has no real place on the team.

The second part of last year’s Suns series focused on looking for ideal trading partners for Steve Nash. Here is that blog in its entirety.

Now, all of those trades have become impossible seeing as how Allen Iverson has been moved to the Pistons and Baron Davis signed with the Clippers.

What about trading Nash for Anthony Morrow, Al Harrington and C.J. Watson/Brandan Wright? That would have worked out beautifully for both teams. Too bad Harrington is headed to New York. So, reunite Nash with Mike D. Or ship him off to Philly. How about Charlotte for rookie D.J. Augustin and Marion-lite, Gerald Wallace…maybe?

Marion. Sigh. I hated the Marion trade. People say that Nash was the engine to the Seven Seconds or less offensive Ferrari, but Marion was the suspension, the wheels, the turbo. He was the welding that held the car together. Once they traded him, it was like sticking that Ferrari engine into a Big Rig and trying to make it work.

So, Steve Kerr trade Nash right now, while his value still seems high due to the past five seasons of work he has put in. Two more months of 13 and 7 for a player pushing 35 will not bring back much, especially if the Suns struggle. So trade the Canuck immediately. Kerr, you need to look for a point guard who can defend, and, if at all possible, has the ability to shoot 3 as well.

Of course, if Suns fans really, truly can’t see themselves without the man who has become the face of the franchise, there is another possibility that Terry Porter should strongly consider. Bring Nashty off the bench.

Start Leandro Barbosa when he comes back. Hell, start Goran Dragic. All that first unit needs is someone to dump the ball into the bigs. Have Nash come off the bench with Matt Barnes, Boris Diaw and Robin Lopez. Look at how effectively bringing a proven starter, a proven star off the bench has worked for the Lakers (Odom), Jazz (Kirilenko) and Spurs (Manu, the last few seasons). Basically whenever Shaq is in the game, sit Nash. It would give the Suns a different look and also maximize the talents of all the players they have on their roster. Nash could come in and create, create, create, push, push, push and be his SSOL self. Remember how good the team was when they had Diaw at center? Remember how good Diaw was playing off of Nash? That's what this year's Suns second unit could be. Nash could create for offensively challenged Robin Lopez, and Warriors fans know how much Barnes relishes playing in a more chaotic atmosphere. Get past the idea of starter/sub and focus on how to best utilize a mish-mashed roster that, as it is constructed right now, doesn’t quite work. Besides, in today's NBA the best teams have the most quality in their second unit (Boston, LA, Jazz, Detroit, etc.).

Otherwise, admit the error in judgment, and trade the two-time MVP. Let the butterfly out. Everyone wants to see that Ferrari flying.

Free Nash.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ellis Expendable?

With Anthony Morrow becoming a literal focal point of the Warriors offense, Stephen Jackson getting a $28 million extension solidifying him as the unquestioned leader of the team, and Andris Biedrins playing like the team’s best player, Monta Ellis suddenly seems, I don’t know, expendable. Sure, he’s a tremendous talent, and he put up crazy numbers last year. But he can’t shoot the three very well (and, due to his injury, didn’t get to work on it this past offseason) and is an undersized, combo guard who’s not the best distributor. His strengths lie in getting into the paint and getting high percentage shots…but, that’s what Corey Maggette does, and the Warriors just gave him a fat contract too.

Look, I’m not saying that Ellis couldn’t make this team elite plugging him into the point guard spot. All I’m saying is that a shiny new $66 million contract is supposed to symbolize a commitment to a player. It demands that he be a leader. Kid already failed in that department, even lied about how it happened instead of manning up and admitting his mistake. That’s something Vladimir “Space Cadet” Radmanovic does, not your supposed team captain.

So Captain Jack has retained those reigns, and is set to retain them for the next three seasons. Now, you’ve got this Morrow kid who can shoot the lights out and plays the exact same position as Ellis. Seems to me that the Warriors would be better off looking for ways to get out of Ellis’ contract and looking to get a true point guard. Maybe offer some bucko bucks to a guy like Ramon Sessions or Raymond Felton next year. They could even go after Allen Iverson or Lamar Odom. Al Harrington’s $9.5 million comes off the books next season (unless they trade him) and knocking off Ellis’ contract would make them major players in the free agent market.

Of course, you can slice it both ways. Because of how great Ellis was last year, and due to his youth, athletic ability and work ethic, there are plenty of reasons to believe he’ll continue to get better and when added to the other blossoming players take this team to another level when fully healthy. On the flipside of that, is the fact that he is an undersized combo guard who relies on his freakish athleticism—his lighting quickness and his incredible leaping ability. Dude injured his ankle. Because he has no outside shot, his whole game is predicated on his legs.

As weird as this sounds, the Warriors might be better off without Ellis.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lakers Blog Update "Kobe Stopper"

Check my Lakers blog on who the official Kobe Stopper is...

Also, check the SmushPot for the unanswerable stupidest question ever.

Stand out West Coasters

Here’s a look at some of the West’s most outstanding players that haven’t gotten much pub.

John Salmons
Dude has been great when given the opportunity. He’s shooting 48.7 percent, posting 18 points while dishing out 4 dimes and reeling in 4 boards. He came up huge against Phoenix and even bigger against San Antonio, but the Kings ended up losing those two contests each by 2 points. If not for a fourth quarter collapse against Phoenix and several botched opportunities against the Spurs, the Kings would be looking at a 6-1 win streak.

O.J. Mayo
Too bad nobody else (okay, save you Marc Gasol) can shoot the rock worth a damn on the Grizzlies in the early going. If Rudy Gay were shooting anywhere near his career norms, this team would have at least 2 more wins. The Grizz lost by 5 against the Kings, Phoenix, and Milwaukee. In those games, Gay has shot 40 percent, with a .235 percent against Denver where the team lost by 10. In those same games, Mayo is shooting 50 percent. As it stands, for the month of November, Mayo has been filling up the stat sheet, shooting 48 percent, with 23 ppg, 2.6 apg, 4.4 rpg, and 1.3 spg. Add to that deadeye marksmanship from beyond the arc (45%), and he’s hands down been the West’s best rook, and is neck and neck with Derrick Rose for the league’s best.

Rudy Fernandez
Unless of course you consider this guy’s efficiency. Sporting a rookie high 21 PER, Mr. Fernandez has been stellar. He’s hit 45 percent of his shots and his 3s and is shooting 94 percent from the line. Throw in a steal, 2 assists and 3 boards, and he’s the perfect game changer for the Blazers off the bench. Plus, he's so much fun to watch.

Roger Mason
Nobody expected Parker to join Ginobili on the injured reserve, but Roger Mason has stepped up to the challenge of trying to replace them. Shooting a blistering 47 percent from beyond the arc, the journeyman guard has given the Spurs some much needed perimeter scoring and ballhandling. He hit the game winner against the Clippers last night and is looking for his shot. And when his shot hasn’t been falling, he’s found other ways to contribute. Didn't give this guy much love when the Spurs signed him, thought it was appropriate to give credit where credit is due. Another solid signing by San Antonio.

Andris Biedrins
My man. Yup. Dude has been transcendent and a big reason the Warriors aren’t a laughingstock. The hype is all around undrafted rook Anthony Morrow right now (37 and 11 will do that) and the money’s being thrown at Stephen Jackson ($28 million), but the leader of this team in terms of playing ability has been AB. Leading the league in rebounds (15 per) and remaining in the top 20 in FG percentage (53) while boosting his atrocious free throw percentage north of 60 has resulted in a career year for the Latvian. Can’t mess with 17 ppg, 15 rpg, 2 apg,1.5 bpg and a sparkling 22.10 PER. He’s turned into Dr. Slantedstein’s monster all by his lonesome.

Shaquille O’Neal
The Big Diesel has been playing great. He’s also been pushing Rockets to the floor and leveling Pistons. All the while amassing only fines—no suspensions yet. His 1.27 blocks lead the Suns (that’s actually kind of pathetic) and he’s second on the team in scoring. He’s even averaging 2 dimes. All this while shooting a stellar 59 percent. He’s been a big reason why the Suns sport the West’s second best record. Now if only he could avoid back-to-backs the rest of the season.

Maybe it’s the quality of the opponents (Memphis, Minny, Charlotte, Dallas) that might curb onlookers’ enthusiasm for a 4-1 stretch this past week and a half. But that 9-point win in Boston was impressive no matter how poorly Doc Rivers thinks his team is playing. Credit the addition of Chauncey Billups, but don’t sleep on Mr. Mono-Name. Only taking 9.2 shots per contest is a crime for his production, because, unlike every other starter on his team who is well below the 45 percent mark, Nene is sizzling at 64 percent. He’s also throwing in nearly 2 steals and 2 blocks per contest. The rebounding isn’t great, but the steals and blocks show that he’s making things happen. Key reason, especially with a team in flux, why the Nuggets are looking more and more like playoff material (they just need to add some height and they’ll be set).

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Westside Connection Pt. 2

-Clippers got their first win and guess who played 30 minutes? Eric Gordon. He got some time and, oh my god, he shot 50 percent and hit 3-4 from beyond the arc. Sure, he wasn’t the only reason the team got the monkey off their back, Baron did have 22 and 10 and Camby added 14 rebounds and 2 blocks. But, this is the team that we should see more and more. The one that will have the most success. Ricky Buckets still can’t seem to find his shot. And, Cat? Cuttino Mobley still got 33 minutes, but put up only 8 shots. I really don’t hate Mobley. He got some time at SF because Thornton, who had a good game, was limited by foul trouble. The team held the Mavs (minus Josh Howard) to 92 points. The defense is starting to jell, and the Clips are learning how to play with each other. The Kings, Warriors, Spurs and Thunder are the upcoming games...all very winnable. The Spurs were struggling with Tony Parker playing as the best player in the league. They’ll be without him for a month, so the Clips should have more than enough to get by San Antonio. In fact, the brutal part of their early schedule is out of the way. After the Thunder, the Clips travel to play a worse-than-expected Philly team, and Mike Dunleavy should be plenty fired up to win that game. Then they’ve got New Jersey, New Orleans, Denver and Miami. They could realistically go 7-2 which would put them back at .500. It’s going to be an uphill battle for them the rest of the way, but Baron helped lead a less talented team to the brink of the playoffs last year. Still think this team could win 45-48 games.

-The Grizzlies had a disappointing second half against Denver, a great deal of it because O.J. Mayo went stone cold after being scalding hot dropping 20 points in the first quarter where he shot 8-9 with 3-3 from beyond the arc. He still ended with 31, but only had 5 in the second half. The team just won’t be able to win if Rudy Gay shoots 4-17. Just won’t happen. One problem the team has is that Gay and Mayo fall in love with their jumper too much. Both players need to get to the basket more or work the ball inside to Marc Gasol. Gasol can’t play 40 minutes and only shoot the ball 4 times. And the jumpshot-itis is not just confined to the team’s two stars. Everyone on the roster jacks up way too many jumpshots—you just can’t win consistently like that. Even still, they held a high scoring Denver team under their season average as they’ve done with every team they’ve played this year. Defense is keeping them in it. They’re sitting at 3-4 on the season, but, tell me one person who thought they would have as many wins as the Spurs and Mavericks combined? Love Darrell Arthur’s game. A bit like a bruiser version of Trevor Ariza. They just make things happen. Ditto with Kyle Lowry. The point guards just need to learn to shoot the three. If and when that happens, this team will get a whole lot better. Q Ross was a good pickup for this team. He and Greg Buckner come off the bench and offer great defense.

-Denver looks a lot more balanced now with Chauncey, even though dude has yet to find his shot. 2-13 is putrid for any player. But the 16, 6, 10 and 3 steals is very nice. Part of the reason he couldn’t find the hoop was due to the pressure he was seeing from Mayo and Lowry and whoever, but if Chauncey could’ve hit four more shots, this game wouldn’t have been as close as it was. J.R. Smith hasn’t taken to Billups as fast as I thought he would. But Renaldo Balkman and Nene are loving him. Melo too, though he missed some absolute gimmes including a wide-open two-handed jam. Denver’s defense looks a lot better though. A lot better. They’ve got someone who can actually play defense at the one. Once Chauncey gets more comfortable with his shot and K-Mart comes back, this team will start to climb back into the race in the Northwest, though the rest of their schedule this month is tough. They’ve got the Cavs, Celtics, Lakers, Hornets and Houston, and, though people might laugh at me, I’m going to put the Clippers into the equation as well. Don't let their 1-6 record fool you. The Clips are a good team. Denver's got an uphill battle going forward, but they've added defense to a still potent offense. They are not as flashy, but they are definitely a better team. If Antonio McDyess wasn't such a baby, he could really help this squad out.

Friday, November 7, 2008

It's Sad to See a Giant Fall

I've hated the Spurs for so long. Usually, the teams you hate are the ones that are good, and San Antonio has been no exception. That's why everyone hates the Lakers. I'm sure there are Celtics haters now. In any event, I had a hunch the Spurs would fall in the standings this year. Manu's injury. Duncan's age. Hell, the team's collective age. No bench, or a very shallow bench. Now, tonight, news is that Tony Parker has hurt his ankle. This bodes ill for the Spurs no matter how you spin it. Depending on the ankle injury, Parker could miss anywhere from a single game to 4-5 weeks. The Spurs were barely hanging on with Parker sporting a 36 PER and averaging 33 points per game with 7 plus dimes. With him out? The Spurs might hit the lottery for the first time in a decade. All the hate for Bruce Bowen and Timmy D's exasperated faces after every single call or non-call. The eyeball-gougingly painful to watch, though highly effective Hack-A-Shaq. The slowdown offense. The highly effective defense (with all the cheap non-call fouls). The flopping. In a way, if the Spurs do indeed fall...what a run huh? A new bad guy will have to rise up and take their place. A new team to hate and root against. Let's hope Parker gets better real quick.

East Over West?

Wouldn't you know it. The year I decide to give the Westcoast the much deserved love it has been dying to have with this website, the year after the greatest and deepest western conference in the history of the sport, the season that was supposed to be even deeper and better than last, the Western conference has come out of the gates sputtering. Overall, the West has a losing record 31-36 to the East's 34-29. Egads. What's going on?

Well, the Clippers have sucked. Baron and Camby both have missed time. That one hurts because I was so excited about them. But, I still have hope that they will turn things around, just as soon as Mike Dunleavy decides to let the kids play (Jordan and Gordon please!!!!). In fact, I feel better about them than the Spurs whose weak bench and lack of a third star due to the Manu injury have resulted in San Antonio sucking. You can never count them out, but Tony Parker is playing out of his mind, and the team is 1-3. Portland lost Greg Oden in the early going (though, Joel Przybilla is playing great once again) and Brandon Roy can't shoot (and despite those two amazing shots last night, is at 40 percent). My hopes for Minny and Denver (who look to be getting back on the right track with Mr. Bigshot in town) were also, at least in the early going, a bit in vain. I still stick by my predictions. I think the Clippers can find momentum as Camby gets healthier and more in tune with the team. I think the Spurs will still end up being the Spurs, though a 7th or 8th seed seems more likely now. And, yes, Portland will be boosted by that miracle shot by Roy last night and start to roll. Even without Oden.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Baseball Aside

Let’s get this Manny Ramirez thing out of the way. I mean, I’m a Dodger fan through and through (okay, love the Angels too) so, even though this is a basketball site, I’ve got to weigh in on the offer from Dodgers GM Ned Colletti.

For those who don’t know, it’s a base salary of $25 million per season, at around 2 or 3 years. The worst part about it is that Colletti threw out a not-so-subtle hint, “The offer won’t be there forever.”

Colletti, if we hadn’t gathered by your stellar signings—Jason Schmidt ($47 million), Juan Pierre ($45 milion for 5 seasons), and Andruw Jones (36.2 million for two seasons)—you really are a freaking idiot.

Here is a no-doubt hall of famer and you offer 2 years? A player who, single-handedly saved your ass from complete humiliation considering that the only good pieces of your team were drafted and handpicked by the two GMs who came before you.

Man Ram is the only good thing (scratch that, he’s a great thing) that has come from your tenure with the Dodgers. And don’t try to sell me on the merits of Jeff freaking Kent.

Manny hit .396 with 17 homers, 53 RBIs, 36 runs scored and a so-good-it’s-like-playing-on-easy-in-MLB-2k9-good 1.232 OPS. His whole season, Boston included, was a .332 average, 37 homers, 121 RBI and a 1.031 OPS. Very, very, very elite. Not to mention all the revenue that Manny Mania stirred up in Los Angeles, the fact that they were a sub .500 team before he got there and still managed to not only get into the postseason, but into the NLCS. There’s also all those Manny dreadlocks that were sold.

And, just like classic Manny, he was even more dangerous in the postseason, hitting .520 with four homers, 10 RBIs, nine runs scored and 11 walks in eight playoff games. He’s helped lead Cleveland to two World Series, helped Boston win two World Series, and helped the Dodgers get into the NLCS for the first time in 20 years. Instead of insult him, why don’t you embrace him.

Tell him, that you and the McCourts love him so much and think of him so highly that you are going to make him, per season, the highest paid player ever in the history of the sport. That’s how highly you think of him.

Offer Manny $30 million for 3 with a 4th year option. You know that shorter deals are always better, especially a player at his age. But, uh, a 2 year deal? That’s straight up spitting in his face.

And this is all coming from a guy who has never, ever, ever liked Manny. Despite the HOF career, I can't respect anyone getting paid ungodly amounts of money who quits on his team and acts the diva. Hated Bonds. Hated Sosa. Hate Curt Schilling.

Was listening to Scott Boras on ESPN radio talking about how he got Bonds and ARod deals that both took and will take them to 42 years of age. Big deals. Arod, the biggest.

Uh, if I were Boras, I’d maybe rethink that line of thinking. Bonds got to play until he was 42 because, well, he put unnatural substances into his body. Now, whether you believe that or not, you can’t deny that 99.9 percent of all players who push 40 years of age, decline rapidly. None of them, Bonds included, have ever hit 40 plus homers and batted .320 into their 40s. But that’s what a $25 million per season salary signifies.

Also, Arod plays both ways, and while Manny is better-than-advertised in left, he’s not an asset by any stretch of the imagination.

Accept a shorter deal and be content in the knowledge that you got your client the most lucrative, per season salary of all time. Another notch on your belt. Because, if you keep trying to get a 6 year deal, the Dodgers might just go out and try and trade for Jake Peavy and sign C.C. Sabathia instead. Because, like Cole Hamels has shown once again, pitching wins in the postseason.

So, let’s get the Manny deal done people. Please.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Westside Connection Pt. 1

Westside Connection will be posts that highlight a few different teams each week. Here's the first installment featuring the Clippers and the Nuggets.

-Denver, with their trade for Chauncy Billups, have boosted themselves up into the playoffs, especially considering the Clippers’ dreadful start, Portland’s injury to Greg Oden, and San Antonio looking like they have a big 2 and that’s it. Chauncy Billups is exactly what the Nugs need. He is selfless, a real point who gets others involved, and one who can muscle opposing guards and play way better defense at the one than Denver has seen in years. Plus, he will get the ball to Melo, J.R. Smith, and Nene, so the team will stop giving Kenyon Martin 12 shots per game. K-Mart is best as a finisher. Let Chaunce be the initiator. The team even has a decent bench now, with Linas Kleiza, Chris Anderson, Renaldo Balkman and Anthony Carter. You can even throw in Cheik Samb, who should get some minutes with Steven Hunter's knee being messed up.

-Another tough loss for the Clippers tonight. They played, for the first 3 quarters, as I had envisioned them playing when they made their roster overhaul. They held the high-scoring Lakers to only 71 points over the first 36 minutes. They played slowed down, grind-it-out defense. Marcus Camby got 7 boards and 4 blocks…in 16 minutes. He and Kaman with Baron (3 steals) is a formidable trio on defense. The rest of the team is shaping up too. Al Thornton, by the way, looks like the real deal on offense. He’s taken another step towards improvement. He’s got a pretty consistent, though admittedly ugly-looking fadeaway jumpshot that, when he shoots it, you look and think, “Damn, that’s ugly, no way that’s going…” and then he nails it. Mike Taylor is greased lightening. All he needs is a chance to, gasp, play more. 7 and 4 with only a single turnover in 12 minutes is better than anything Jason Hart could hope to do on his best day.

-The main problems for the team are that Baron hasn’t found his shot yet, they’ve played two whole games together, and that Mike Dunleavy doesn’t know how to utilize the talent he has on his team. He’s totally misused Ricky Davis.

-Come to think about it, I’m about to call for Mike Dunleavy’s head. Cat Mobley getting 39 minutes? Really? I mean, really? He shot 4-11 and actually improved his overall shooting percentage to 39 percent. He’s at 33 percent from beyond the arc. He’s sporting a 0.5 assist to turnover ratio, a nifty little 9.75 PER and jacking up nearly 14 shots per game. I don’t know what Eric Gordon has done, or if Dunleavy just has some sort of prejudice against athletic wings who get to the hole (Maggette), but EG should be playing. Period. No question. Who cares if the team struggles with him out there? They’re 0-5 anyway and Eric can’t possibly do any worse than Mobley. Plus, there’s plenty of upside. Gordon’s a solid defender, so there won’t be too much drop off there. What he brings to the table is the ability to actually shoot the freaking ball. He can rain threes from anywhere—which would open up the middle for Kaman and Camby to go to work instead of allowing opposing defenders just cram the middle. Thornton has improved his 3 (hit 2 of 3 tonight) but the team needs floor spacing. Gordon would provide that. Plus, he’s the future, and Mobley is not. I hope they are showcasing Cat in the hopes of trading him, but at the rate he’s “producing” the Clips would be better off sitting him and letting his rapidly fading rep of a savvy veteran do the talking.

-Uh…pretty much ditto for Tim Thomas. Though, while I’m sure DeAndre Jordan would bring some WOW dunks, he might look completely lost out there. Then again, pot-smoking Darrell Arthur is playing well out in Memphis, so why not roll the dice on the upside? What have they got to lose…More games?

-Check my Lakers blog for a Lakers update

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

My Bear Crush on the Grizz

I like the Grizzlies. Sure, two wins, one over a struggling Warriors team and the other over a struggling Orlando team, don’t really amount to jack diddily, but, just for the record, here’s a post I wrote all the way back in July.

After Gasol’s outbreak Monday night, 27 points and 16 boards (albeit, against the Warriors) as well as Darrell Arthur who has looked incredibly raw no doubt, but in general a beast, it’s not too hard to say that the Grizzlies are much better off after trading away Pau Gasol.

No question.

Yeah, the Lakers are the best show in any town, but the Grizz have looked very respectable. And while my generous love for Marko Jaric and slight liking of Antoine Walker (both of whom have yet to dislodge their butts off the pine) may have been on the overly optimistic side, I gotta just say toldja to all the Grizz haters of the trade.

Of course, in my preseason predictions, I felt like they would be a great offensive team and not be able to stop anyone so, can’t be right all the time, though, we strive to be more righter than everyone else at all times here at Westcoast Slant.

The Grizz are, in fact, quite the opposite. Ranked sixth in the entire league in defensive efficiency and holding their opponents to a measly 85.3 points per game for fourth best, the Grizz’ active defense and general athleticism have kept teams off balance and been the main reason behind their success. Their opponents haven't been too shabby either. SW division leaders, Houston (a game they were very much in until they collapsed in the fourth quarter), Orlando, Chicago and Golden State. Especially considering that the average age of their starters is barely old enough to drink (21.5 years).

My mans Q Ross and even Greg Buckner have added to this defensive mindset. But O.J. Mayo and Gay and Gasol have all stepped up to the plate. Darrell Arthur can mix it up too.

I’m not going to go pronounce them team of the century anytime soon, but nobody’s talking about how lopsided the Pau Gasol trade is anymore.

And, dude over at Hornets247, shut yo mouth!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Dr. Slantedstein's Monster

We are unfashioned creatures, but half made up.”
-Mary Shelley

Happy Halloween my dear readers. In my Timberwolves predictions, I suggested the fantasy of melding Rashad McCants with Corey Brewer to come up with Corey McCants—the ace super-small forward who could both score like Johnny Depp and defend like Johnny Cochran.

So, being that it is Halloween, I thought it would be fun to go through each team and find two players that apart, find themselves very much useful but ultimately flawed.

However, if somehow, whether through magic, sorcery and/or mad science, they were to be combined together, they could rise up and become a terrifying, unstoppable, basketball monster.

It's Alive!!!!

Golden State Warriors: Andris Turiaf
First and foremost, that name just sounds wickedly tough and brutal. Like some sort of Soviet Super Soldier in the Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV type way. Andris Turiaf would have an incredible feel for rebounding and finding himself around the basket for easy buckets, but would also have a nice 15 to 17 foot jump shot, and the wherewithal and tenacity to block shots and make solid passes. He’d be a super-duper awesome energy man and would win the best hair award with a slick flattop and crazy goatee. Think, 15 ppg, 13 rpg, 2.5 bpg, 2.5 apg, while shooting 60 percent from the field and 75 percent from the line. Scary.

Los Angeles Clippers: Ricky Mobley
I was thinking about doing Al Davis, but since that name’s got a scary enough dude attached to it, I went with the more fan friendly Ricky Mobley. I can just see him sitting back thinking, “Well, I’m the best there is. Plain and simple, when I wake up in the morning I piss excellence.” And Ricky Mobley would. He would have range and a be a great passer. He’d also have Cat’s post-up game, but Buckets’ shooting prowess. He’d be able to spark any offense, while also playing lockdown D. Basically, you’d give him Cat’s brain and veteran savvy with Ricky’s skills and athleticism. Nice. Think 22 ppg, 6 apg, 6 rpg, 2 spg, shooting 45 percent and 85 percent from the line. He’d also be able to get a triple double without cheesing it.

Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Diop
Double D would, simply put, make a boob out of anyone foolish enough trying to handle him. He’d have the shooting touch of the greatest bigman shooter of all time, the ability to snag a gang of boards and even have the wherewithal to dish out some dimes. Add to that his innate ability to give defensive support like a Wonder bra, holding up sagging defenses while rejecting shots like Berkeley rejects applicants. There would be no holes in his game. The ultimate baller. Think 29 ppg, 10 rpg, 3 apg, 3 bpg and a 49 percent field goal percentage and a 38 percent 3-point percentage. He’d make you gawk at his offense, while his D would stop you dead.

Los Angeles Lakers: Vladimir Odom
While the Lakers don’t need any additional help, because they look damn scary enough, imagine Vladom and tell me that THAT guy wouldn’t scare the beejesus outta you and even win a couple of MVPs over Kobe. Vladom would be 6-10, have the skills to reign threes from anywhere, handle the ball and pass like a point guard, be an ace rebounder and play solid to excellent defense. Plus, you know he would never hesitate to take an open shot. He’d average 25 ppg, 10 rpg, 6 apg, 1.5 bpg, 1.5 spg and throw in 2.5 3s per game while shooting 40 percent from downtown and 50 percent overall. He’d win you fantasy every year. But fans of the real game be forewarned—Vladom would also disappear for long stretches and/or make incredibly stupid plays at incredibly crucial moments.

Phoenix Suns: Amare Amundson
Gotta love that name. Plus, you add the specs to that pony tail? Forget it. Gotta love Double A. He would be a terrifying behemoth on offense with bone-crushing and neck-breaking dunks mixed with a pretty stroke out to 17 feet—just a beast of unstoppable offensiveness. AA would also be a mad, freakish board crasher who’d relentlessly hit the backboards while rejecting shots like a Christian with an extreme case of angioedema witnessing at a UCSB frat party. He’d average 29 ppg, 12 rpg, 2 apg, 3.5 bpg while shooting 58 percent. He’d be explosive and a tidal wave of pure energy and his nickname would be the Battery Ram and he would be awfully awesome.

Memphis Grizzlies: Mike Lowry
This dude would be a crazy combo of refined skill and sheer energy. Pitbull-like strength, toughness and tenacity with the penchant for creating chaos, while also being a pinpoint precision passer, who knows how to run an offense. Still can’t shoot all that well, but he’d be an elite defender and playmaker. Not much else you can ask from your point guard. That three will come with practice. He’d only be 21.5 years-old. So there’s plenty of room for growth. Think 16 ppg, 10 apg, 5.5 rpg, 2.8 spg, 1.5 bpg. Better yet, he’s a bad, bad boy.

Houston Rockets: Rafer Barry
Just what the doctor ordered, a lockdown defender at the one, who can skip-to-his-lou, create offense for others with superb passing AND shoot the rock lights out. I mean, put the intangibles of Alston, with the true shooting percentage and passing abilities of the youngest Barry bro and, well, that's a monster worth every bolt. Nuff said. Think 16 ppg, 8 apg, 1.5 spg, 48 percent from beyond the arc and 13.5 lpg (laughers per game).

Utah Jazz: Ronnie Korver
This one’s easy, but deadly effective. Ronnie K would make the Jazz the best team in the league. A lockdown defender, who could pick anyone’s pocket faster than the Artful Dodger, Ronnie Korver, with his elite athleticism, could also finish any fastbreak. The danger with him, however, is that he could drop threes from all over. In fact, with his dunking ability and exceptional skills dropping numbers on your head, his nickname would be the Rain Man. He’s a sure bet for 19 ppg, 7 rpg, 3 spg, and a 53 percent field goal percentage with 43 from downtown. This is definitely not one to mess with. Definitely not.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Joe Collicox
The Thunder are so bad, that the mad scientist in me had to go sniffing for body parts from not two, but three players in my quest to create the perfect power forward. The result, however, is beautiful. Joe Collicox would be a monster around the basket, using his athleticism to dunk and score at will. If the opposing teams decide to clog the paint with a zone, Collicox could take that game out to the 15-17 foot range to score from time to time there as well. He’d be a solid, wily post defender and gobble up boards like NFL fans tear into turkey on Thanksgiving. Energy, veteran smarts, and athleticism. Think 21 ppg, 12 rpg, 1 bpg, with 57 percent shooting. He’s a stud forward, with a stud pornstar name.

Yeah, there's some teams missing. But some of the monsters just weren't that fun and some of the teams, well, just didn't have players that made any sense. Others were stretches, but I’ll throw out the names and see if you can guess the teams and players. Francisco Salmons, Fabricio Bonner, Hakim Walker, Al Collins, Peja Wright and Kenyon Hilario.

Monday, October 27, 2008

How the West Was Won

It’s BAAAaaaCK! The National Basketball Association throws up its first jump balls tomorrow night. Basketball racks are filled with new leather. Sneakers are ready to squeak across the floor. Headbands and wristbands and rubberbands are being snapped on. Manana, opening tip of the new 08-09 season will feature last year’s Western Conference champs (Lakeshow) verses this year’s up-and-comers (Blazers). And since we’re WestCoast Slant, who gives a crap about what’s going on out east (just kidding: Lebron/KG, Redd/Rose).

This past week I did my “Only Upside” predictions. And, well, I don’t think that’s how it’s all going to shake out. So, here, in the following post, I will give you my own personal, humble thoughts on this year’s Western Conference. Because the NBA, especially the WC, is so deep where even the bottom-feeding teams have talent and could upset on any given night, I have come up with a new theory. It follows the line of thinking that a team must not only have a great set of starters, but must also field (or is that court?) an elite bench. A deep squad with a great bench sets the bar of a championship contending team. Last year’s Celtics ended up being deep, as did the Lakers. In order to climb the mountain (The mighty Sierras, not the wussy Appalachians) out here on the left coast, the elite teams are going to need to run at least 9 deep. So, with that in mind, here are my 2008-09 standings/predictions.

(Ed. Note…Word of the day: notwithstanding; phrase of the day: Defense wins championships)

1.) L.A. Lakers
This team will be much improved defensively, not only for the additions of Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza, but also when you figure that Kobe will be able to focus even less on offense, and dedicate his energies towards defense thanks greatly in part to the team’s depth. Even if you factor injuries (a real possibility with Bynum’s knee, Kobe’s hurt pinkie, Lamar Odom’s body and Pau Gasol’s back), the Lakers are deep enough to withstand any injury to any player, Kobe Bean Bryant included. They’ve got Chris Mihm as their 4th big off the bench. While Chris Mihm ain’t a starting center by any long stretch of the imagination, he masqueraded as one for two seasons, and put up respectable numbers. And he’s their 4th big. Josh Powell also got run with the Clips last season and averaged a double-double per 40 minutes. So, it’s okay if AB or Pau misses some time. Then there’s the glut of small forwards, Luke Walton (the team’s 10th player), Trevor Ariza, Vladimir Radmanovic and Odom and the glut of wings, Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, and even Sun Yue (who happened to play pretty well in the Olympics). Let’s get two things straight, Jordan Farmar has shown the ability to be a feature player, even on this stacked Lakers squad, and Ariza is looking more and more like superman every single game he plays. Sure, they can’t win the whole thing without 24, but they can certainly survive him going out for 12 weeks to get his pinkie repaired. There’s even upside to that scenario. Much like the Manu Ginobili situation, if Kobe has to take 12 weeks off to get his pinkie fixed, he’ll have the most vacation he’s had in three years. A well-rested Kobe for the playoffs? Raise that 15th banner Dr. Buss.

2.) Utah
Sure they’ve got 8 potential free agents going into next off-season. Sure, their best player is starting the season with an injured ankle. Sure Jerry Sloan has never won a championship before. Despite all of these well-known facts, this Jazz team is loaded and full of talent. First and foremost, they have the best point guard in the league. People will argue that Chris Paul is better, some say way better. They mainly point towards his phenomenal stats that outshine Williams: 17.3 to 11.4 win shares; 52.2 to 43.6 assist percentage; 28 to 20 PER. Paul averaged more points, more assists, more steals and more rebounds. Yadda yadda yadda. To me, it’s like comparing Shane Battier with Josh Howard. They both are the same size, play the same position, they even played the same amount of minutes and around the same amount of games last season. Josh Howard scored more points, averaged more rebounds and had a way higher PER. But, would anybody argue Shane Battier’s importance to his team as being less than Josh Howard’s? There would be a great deal of people who would argue the complete opposite. In my opinion, Williams is every bit as good as Paul despite what statistics might tell you. Deron’s a legitimate MVP candidate. As for the rest of the team, Mehmet Okur had a horrible year battling injuries last season, though he came around after the all-star break. He’s fully healthy and looking to regain his, cough, all-star form. Carlos Boozer is fresh off a gold medal stint with Team U.S.A. and though he didn’t get much burn, the opportunity to play and learn with the elite of the NBA, as well as his impending free agency, should light a fire under him. He’s a 20 and 11 guy. Then there’s Ronnie Brewer, who is one of the most underrated players in the league. He’s a terrifying finisher at the rim, a master pickpocket, and a solid and still improving defender who has Michael Jordan athleticism. And he’s 23. Add to that mix the shooting prowess of Kyle Korver and Deron is surrounded by a perfect supporting cast—much like Chris Paul. As awesome as Andrei Kirilenko can be, he is not a good fit at small forward with that starting lineup. He can’t space the floor and he’s away from the basket too much. With him coming off the bench, he’ll be leading a squad where he'll get to play some powerforward and his shot blocking and ability to create will be a huge boost. Three seasons ago, Kirilenko was putting up PERs in the 20s and was anchoring the Jazz. This season, he'll be able to do that with the bench team. And that second unit is stellar. Paul Milsap would be starting for half of the other teams in the league. Jason Collins, who is a horrific offensive player, is a Chandler-like defender in that he uses body positioning to frustrate opponents. Matt Harpring is a consummate professional and middle-class man’s version of James Posey. He’s got a nasty bite to him too. Not to mention upside guys in Kosta Koufos, Kyrylo Fesenko and Miles. The Jazz have the better, deeper team and a coach who has done it all save win the big one. They are young (no starter over 29) and they are hungry and supremely talented and deep. That’s why they will win their division and why they will contend for a title.

3.) Houston
A lot has to go right for this team, and for some reason, I feel like this is their year for things to go right. Yao had a long summer, but, like the two teams above, the Rockets, more than ever before in the Ming Era, are more than capable of withstanding his absence. In fact, dare I say it, they might even be better without him—especially if Mount Mutumbo joins the squad mid-season. Luis Scola has proven that he’s a stud. He’s coming off the bench right now. Carl Landry is a stud in training. He’s coming off the bench right now too. Chuck Hayes, hard working, physical, defensive ace—yup, coming off the bench. Rookie Joey Dorsey? Athletic defender in college. Bench guy. Sure, they’re all short for their position, but they all excel regardless (Daryl Morey’s stat-oriented GMing going on). Then there’s the addition of Mr. Crazy-in-the-head, who will be joining, by far, the most talented team he has ever played on. Even if T-Mac or Yao go down, this squad would still be as talented as those Pacers teams that Artest was a part of. Those teams, of course, were very, very good defensive teams (thanks to Artest and Jermaine O’Neal). Defense is what wins championships, and there isn’t a single weak defender on the team outside of Brent Barry (though he’s a smart team defender) and Yao Ming (and he’s really, really tall if you haven’t heard). Artest is an all-NBA talent when properly motivated and he’s in the perfect situation to succeed. He’s joining a world-class defense (22 game winning streak), a ready-made championship contender and while a new, extended contract would be the absolute worst idea, in this one season, where he is a free-agent-to-be, playing with his favorite coach, he’s almost as sure of a bet as any to perform at a premium level. Again, defense wins championships, and this team has the best in the business.

4.) Portland
Okay. Maybe this is kind of high. Maybe I’m trying to drink the Cool-Aid before the powder’s had any time to suffuse the water. Maybe I’m not giving proper due to an up-and-coming team like New Orleans or a veteran squad like San Antonio. Even still, if you have not noticed up to this point, I tend to favor teams with depth, and this team’s got depth in bunches. Not only did the Blazers almost make the playoffs last year, despite not having Greg Oden and losing Brandon Roy for several stretches of the season, the team added four rotational players this off-season: Nicolas Batum, Jerryd Bayless, Oden, and Rudy Fernandez. All of these guys are super talents. Bayless carried Arizona last year and torched summer league. Batum has impressed coaches so much, that the 19-year-old is being talked about starting in place of the injured Martell Webster. Oden is a beast, though he’s had an up-and-down preseason. And Rudy, quite simply put, is going to be awesome. He’s looked stellar in preseason, and he lit it up in the Olympics and he was one of Europe’s best players last season. Let the good news keep coming…he’s only 23. With Bayless and Fernandez on board, the seasonal Brandon Roy injury will not hamper the team too much and when on the court, Roy should continue to solidify himself as one of the best wings in the game. Not only that, they have the best backup center in the league in Joel Przybilla, who could be an excellent starter and was starting last year. Travis Outlaw’s a starter masquerading as a sixth man. Ike Diogu’s per 40-minute numbers suggest all he needs is time to play to be really good. With Channing Frye being out for a while, he’ll get that opportunity. Frye and Webster will both return mid-season to help fortify the team. They’ve got a great coach in Nate McMillan who always makes more out of less. With Nate the coach, it’s always been, “imagine what he could do with more.” This year? He’s got more. No one will be surprised if this team is a top-four team. I’m just one of the few who is putting it in writing that they will be.

5.) Phoenix
Amare’s penchant for freak injuries has me a bit worried. Because the whole season basically revolves around him, and because he’s already suffered the eye injury, adding pinkie woes does not bode well. Even still, the injury is apparently not serious, and STAT should remind everyone why he has that nickname. Plus the new specs give him free reign to attack the basket mercilessly (even more so if that’s possible). I’m thinking plenty of MVP votes and his rise to top power forward in the league—with all due respect to Tim Duncan. The Suns are right in the middle of the pack as depth is concerned. If things go well, Shaq plays 68 plus games and Grant Hill and Steve Nash remain healthy, this team looks very deep. Robin Lopez, Matt Barnes, Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw are all solid to very good with upside. Besides injury potential, the most troubling thing about the Suns is backup point. Goran Dragic has shown some things so far, but only a few things. Sean Singletary too, but, he’s small and presents all of the same defensive struggles that Steve Nash has, just without the tremendous offensive upside. The potential for Shaq or Nash or Hill to go down at any point makes this team one of the biggest wild cards. They can be great, or they can fall out of the playoffs entirely. My guess is somewhere in between. They’re built for the playoffs anyway (Hack-a-Shaq notwithstanding).

6.) San Antonio
The Spurs are, well, the Spurs, and what spot they finish in during the regular season won’t matter at all unless they face the Lakers in the first round. And even with that match-up, Lakers fan would all be sitting in puddles of their own, well, you get the point. Over their near decade of dominance, nobody never, ever wants to see the Spurs in the playoffs. That being said, this is not a very deep team. Their bench is Kevin Martin on heroin thin. They are, however, a very old team (average age of 29.5 by far and away the eldest squad in the entire association), and a team whose best offensive playmaker, Manu Ginobili, is out for at least the first month of the season. San Antonio’s defense should maintain a high level, but as was seen last season, the offense, on too many occasions, sputtered and died. Losing your most dynamic offensive player (Manu), while also letting your best outside shooter walk (Brent Barry), is not a great way to rectify that problem. George Hill and Roger Mason will help, a little bit. But I still fail to see how this team scores enough on a consistent basis to warrant anything higher than a 6th seed. At the same time, I can’t drop this team any lower than a 6th seed seeing as they still have the best coach and best bigman of this decade. If any more injuries strike, however, especially to Tony Parker or Duncan, this team could swiftly fall out of the playoffs due to the West’s incredible depth. Then again, Manu taking off the first month and half or more, means he’ll be coming back fully healthy for the playoffs. And that’s Darkwing Duck Dangerous.

7.) New Orleans
Seventh!?! Yes. Seventh. I love Chris Paul. World class, MVP-caliber player. Love Byron Scott. Coach of the Year. Love Cajun food. Shrimp and gumbo! And New Orleans has been my number one travel destination in the United States for the past 15 years (Katrina notwithstanding). But none of that changes my feelings that this is a team just waiting to fall flat on its face. The Hornets main weakness is its thin bench. So, here we have the ultimate loser in my theory that a deep bench is what puts teams over-the-top in today’s NBA—especially the West (You can check trader Jays for a possible solution to this problem). The NO has NO bench. They’re bench would get murdered by any of the benches of the top 5, and San Antonio, while actually having a thinner bench, gets the nod because, well, they’ve been beating the odds for 9 straight years now. New Orleans did it once. Also, it will be hard for any of the starting five to play better than they did last year. David West, Tyson Chandler, and Chris Paul all had career seasons. And while Chandler and Paul are young and still improving, an early ankle injury to Tyson and Paul’s extended summer, seem to point towards dips in productivity. Also, everybody is assuming Paul is going to improve on last year’s performance, but, seeing as how he had the greatest statistical season by a point guard, um, ever, that’s probably not the case. Add to this the fact that West has been an every-other-year player, and the Hornets seem to me to be a classic case of a team getting hyped too much and then falling prey to over-expectations or injuries, or both (see 05-06 Clips). Sure they’ve added James Posey, and he’ll definitely help them both with his leadership and enthusiasm, but he effectively knocks out the Hornets best bench player in Julian Wright. He also makes Rasual Butler completely irrelevant. There's Devin Brown, but he plays a similar position. What's worse, signing Posey for their midlevel meant that they didn't address their biggest need. They don’t have a single serviceable backup big—and no, Hilton Armstrong doesn’t meet those requirements. I’d go out on a limb and say that Josh Powell, the Lakers fifth bigman, is better than Armstrong right now. Behind him they have Melvin Ely and, uh, Sean Marks. No joke. So, while the starting five is legit and championship caliber, even if they stay healthy the whole season, the weak as Napoleon Dynamite’s brother of a bench is what is going to do this team in. Oh yes, I forgot, the Hornets also play in the league’s toughest division and, in order to have what has become a must have for most teams—home court advantage—they’ll have to stay ahead of San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston. That’s why they drop to seventh. If an injury to Paul, Chandler or West occurs, I could see this team dropping out of the playoffs all together. New Orleans, you see, they mirror their own favorite son, Lil Wayne. Hot as all hell right now with exceptional skills, perhaps best in the business skills, perhaps take-home-a-championship skills, but sorely lacking in any sort of depth.

8.) L.A. Clippers
Okay, if you thought my Portland prediction was wacky, here’s one that might surprise you even more. I really like this team. Sure, injuries to either Baron Davis or Marcus Camby (both of whom, I might add, are currently mildly injured) would derail this scenario faster than Jennifer Aniston pulling off Clive Owens pants, but I can’t help but love their potential. Sure, there’s a lot not to like. Injury-prone players is the main thing (BD, Camby, Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman). A star who doesn’t mesh well with his coach is another (BD in Dunleavy’s structured offense, ugh). The influence of Ricky Davis on his teammates when they go out…yeah, absolutely terrifying. That being said, Camby plus Kaman plus Baron makes a formidable defense. I’ve said it before, but Camby was the defensive player of the year two seasons ago, and adding him to one of the best defensive point guards (when motivated) along with a hulking caveman blocking and rebounding monster, should have the other teams in the league fearing coming to Los Angeles regardless of who’s lacing them up in Staples that night. In fact, the Clips could easily move up the ladder (or down of course) if their defense gels as fluidly as my vision foresees it. Add to this defense the best draft class (Gordon, DeAndre Jordan and Mike Taylor) outside of Portland, and there’s a nice blend of veterans and rookies with potential and a surprisingly deep bench (Cuttino Mobley, by season’s end, could find himself as the 9th rotation guy. And if Cat is your 9th guy, that’s pretty good). Finally, despite Dunleavy’s penchant for being a controlling, micro-managing coach, he has double the incentive to do whatever it takes (including letting Baron take free reign of the offense) in order to make this team work. He is after all, the new GM who handpicked this roster while simultaneously running Elgin Baylor shamefully out the door. If the Clips ascend to a top-five defense, there’s no telling how high they can climb because defense wi…yeah, yeah, like Larry H. Parker, you know the story.

9.) Dallas
I don't think J-Kidd is done, but I don’t think this team has the right pieces to make project Jason work. If Kidd were to be traded for, oh, I don’t know AI, then Dallas and Denver would automatically move up a couple of spots and into the playoffs with the potential to be even better than that. AI is just what this team needs—a tough-as-thugs, stud offensive player who can create for himself and carry the team when Dirk is off. Kidd is the opposite of that. But he’s perfect for the shoot-first mentality of every single Nugget. In Denver, Kidd wouldn’t need to play any defense, and his offensive skills would enhance every single player on that roster including Renaldo Balkman. Unfortunately, as of right now, that scenario has not happened. Therefore, I don’t see how this team scores enough points even if Kidd does his best Nash impersonation and makes Dirk more efficient. In the end, Kidd can’t shoot, so the offense won’t be as good. And he’s too old to guard even mediocre points in the West at this stage of his career, so the defense struggles as well. And the staple of the Mavericks serious title runs under Avery Johnson was their defense. And, about that bench. Well, they’ve got one for sure. And it’s deep. It just doesn’t make too much sense. Devean George (ugh), Antoine Wright, James Singleton, Shawne Williams, you can even throw in Jerry Stackhouse and Gerald Green (who is a potential stud breakout player this year mind you), all seem very, very much superfluously redundant. Meanwhile, outside of DeSagana Diop and Erick Dampier, Brandon Bass at 6-8 is the only other big and he sort of fits into that repetitious group previously stated before. All in all, this team still has enough talent and veteran moxie to earn a playoff birth, I just think too highly of the Clippers.

This NBA commercial would feature the Nuggets all standing around together (sans Nene) and it would be awesome: “The NBA, where body art happens.” The artistic Nugs look to be an even more explosive offensive team than a year ago. J.R. Smith, Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony will hover near or above an average of 70 points per game. Nene’s going to show people that you don’t need both your nuts to be an absolute stud—on offense anyway. George Karl is going to prove my cousin right that he is one of the most overrated coaches of all time (that one Sonics final notwithstanding). Hmm…I think I see a SmushPot article coming up. Denver will either become the new SSOL Suns and shoot their way into a low playoff seed by averaging 115 points per game, or they’ll descend into fits of anger and frustration and completely fall apart. Either way, look for explosions.

11.) Minnesota
How many things have to go both wrong and right for this team to make the playoffs? My count? 7. And those are broad-all-encompassing factors. 1.) Denver needs to implode. (See above why that is a very realistic possibility). 2.) The Clips need to…again…get decimated by a bunch of injuries (see Clippers comments). 3.) Al Jefferson needs to, A.) play both ends of the court and B.) continue to dominate the post on offense and average 23 and 11 (part A, eh…part B, almost for certain). 4.) Kevin Love needs to be a legit NBA player (We’ll see. He’s lead-footed in the slow way, like if dropped into a river he’d sleep with the fishes). 5.) Randy Foye needs to be a legit NBA player and build off a pretty impressive pre-season (reasonable). 6.) Dallas needs to fall off a cliff caused by: Kidd living up to all the rumors of his demise; Josh Howard folding under the added pressures of negative media spotlight; Dirk, for an entire regular season, playing like 06-07 playoff Dirk. The bench playing exactly like each other and adding nothing differently then the next guy. And Mark Cuban hitting the panic trade button and swapping Josh Howard and Desagana Diop for Zach Randolph (Hey, no one thought Shaq for Marion either). And finally, 7.) Corey Brewer and Rashad McCants need to somehow fuse together and become one whole complete player. He’ll be called Corey McCants and he’ll dominate at shooting guard averaging a tidy 21 points and 6 assists while simultaneously locking down the opposing teams best perimeter player. I’m thinking at most, 6 out of the 7 will happen. Sorry Minny.

12.) Golden State
It’s too bad, because, like Marlon B, they “could’ve been a contenda.” Well, in contention for a playoff berth anyways. But Monta Ellis had to go cruising with his MoPed and derail those hopes. However, a youth movement is in full effect. Andris Beidrins (stud), Anthony Randolph (stud 2 be), Brandan Wright (questionable stud 2 be), Kelenna Azubuike (nice), Marco Bellinelli (?) and C.J. Watson (looking nice), oh yeah, and Marcus Williams (exactly like Marbury and in Nellie’s doghouse), are all 24 years old or younger. Stephen Jackson believes in his heart that this team is still a playoff team. Can’t say I agree with him, but Nellie Ball has been known to upset. Plus, even though he’s already hurt…(toldja) Corey Maggette will put up ginormous numbers and should warrant a spot on the all-star team. Unfortunately, because there are over a billion people in China, he’ll probably miss out as three Rockets (two small forward/shooting guard types) are likely to be voted as starters meaning that the other deserving guy(s), just ahead of Maggette (Melo and maybe Rudy Gay if another SF is taken) are voted in by the coaches.

13.) Sacramento
Sorry Kings fans, not much to like here other than Mr. New School Reggie Miller (a.k.a. Kevin Martin). K-Mart will challenge for the scoring title and if justice exists, will make his first all-star team (another reason why Maggette won’t make his first all-star team). Beno Udrih will prove ESPN’s John Hollinger wrong and live up to his new contract. There’s a lot to look forward to down the road with rookies Donte Greene and Jason Thompson, but at this current juncture, don’t expect too much. The rest of the team is made up of solid, but hardly spectacular players. Most everyone but the hardest of hardcore Kings fans can all agree that Sacto is in full rebuilding mode. Even still, Reggie Theus (Hang Time!) knows how to extricate water from rocks and he’ll have this team overachieve.

14.) Memphis
I’m not going to lie. This is my favorite lottery team (although Minny’s intriguing and I like Kevin Martin). But being my favorite and being good are two completely different things. Case in point, I’ve loved the Clippers for my entire adult life. Rudy Gay is very good. Marc Gasol is good. Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo, Hakim Warrick and Kyle Lowry all have the tools to be good. But alas, the Grizz won’t be very good…Yet. Of course, on any given night, they will be exciting and an absolute blast to watch (check for more than a few 120-plus-point games), but their interior defense is suspect, to say the least, and they have a glut, a big fat glut, of guards that can’t all find playing time. Their bench has youth and talent (Darrell Arthur, Javaris Crittendon, Lowry, Hamed Haddaddi) and some useful though flawed veterans (Marko Jaric, Quinton Ross, Greg Buckner) but is further than the moon away from elite. The Grizz will lose close to 60 games being that they reside in the league’s toughest division, but they’ll at least be fun to watch. Trust me, I’ll be watching them.

15.) Oklahoma City
Too much youth. Too much inexperience. Not enough NBA-savvy players—Joe Smith notwithstanding. Kevin Durant will wow at times and he’ll put up a great sophomore season, but one guy can’t carry a team even if he is a 6’9 Michael Jordan reincarnated (not sure about all that) and while Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green are the future, they aren’t the present. Plus, this team has no legit center right now. They’ve got thirty bigman projects, any of which might break out given consistent playing time, but this team will struggle to win every single night KD doesn’t drop 40 plus (while shooting the lights out) because they can't play any defense (though Westbrook should help that out a bit). And, because defense wins championships, this team won't be winning any until they get a post player or two or three who can defend. And as for their bench, let’s just put it this way, the Lakers bench could beat this team’s starters 7 times out of 10. Nuff said. With Durant, Westbrook and Green, OKC’s future looks bright, but as for this season, the Thunder will make about as much noise as their lame, pathetic logo…

So, that wraps up the 15 teams. Let’s have a great season people. The NBA is on the right track to overtaking baseball (yawn…) and challenging king Football (pride always comes before a fall). Here’s to a great 08-09!