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Last night was a good night for the NBA.  Sure, it may have been uncomfortable for the league to watch its biggest superstar squirm and stumble in front of a big audience on the worldwide leader, but ultimately the merger of two superstars and an all star in Miami will be a great storyline to follow. 

I am an NBA fan who has a hard time finding much relevance in the regular season, especially before Christmas.  I usually get excited about the start of the season and will watch pieces of a game or two and look at box scores.  But I don’t usually sit down to watch a whole early season NBA game.  That will change in this upcoming season.  I haven’t been as excited about the NBA in July as I am now in a long time.

You have probably already heard people say LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh coming together to play in Miami is a bad thing.  That it will hurt the league to have a “superpower” team.  I could not disagree more.  This type of imbalance is actually good for the NBA.  It drives interest and gives the casual fan a team to root for, or maybe more likely against.  I have to use a professional wrestling reference here – pro wrestling is never more popular than when it has a huge superstar hero to root for and/or villain to root against.

How will they play on opening night?  Who gets the ball in the fourth quarter?  How will they match up against the Celtics?  How will they play against the Lakers?  Who will be the first team to beat them?  How many games will they win?

Look no further than Michael Jordan’s incredibly strong Chicago Bulls teams for evidence of why this is good for the NBA.  The teams were stacked and people loved them.  I was not a Michael Jordan fan but I loved to watch the Bulls play and win.  Driven by Jordan the Bulls had the hearts of stone cold killers and couldn’t win enough to satiate their appetites for victory.  Consider the way NBA fans followed the team during their run to 72 wins in the 1995-96 season.

The Heat have already sold out their season tickets for next season.  Is there any doubt that they will sell out every game on the road?

I certainly don’t agree with the approach that LeBron and his “team” took to delivering the news of his decision.  If he wanted to celebrate himself in an hour television show he could have done so after making a more low key announcement during a press conference.  While I don’t think he owed the Cavaliers anything, it would have been much more respectful to deliver the news to them directly instead of making them find it out on television.

As far as the allegation that this whole free agency process was all a farce and LeBron, Wade and Bosh already knew what their final decisions would be – I don’t agree.  I understand where the basis for that allegation is coming from but I don’t believe it to be true.  Have the three good friends talked about the idea?  Sure.  Did they go into free agency with a loose pact to sign in Miami?  Maybe.  Was it a definite agreement?  I don’t think so. 

I think it was genuinely very difficult for LeBron to make his decision.  I think he did try to persuade Bosh to agree to play in Cleveland.  I think he seriously considered a few teams.  I think he was in a no win situation of sorts, trying to weigh his loyalty against his will to win.  But before you criticize LeBron ask yourself this question: Would you pass up the chance to “work” with two of your best friends, make a lot of money and dominate your competitors?

What are your thoughts?  Is the Miami Thrice super team good or bad for the NBA?

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NBA free agency fever is about to spike off the top of the thermometer.  Over at ESPN they have a roundtable discussion with eight NBA experts predicting where the top free agents will land.  I’ve got my own thoughts on the final destinations of these key players:

LeBron James – Cleveland Cavaliers

I’ve gone back and forth on this one.  Ultimately I think that if LeBron leaves Cleveland he will be admitting failure.  I don’t think he’ll be willing to do that, nor take the chance of leaving his comfort zone in Ohio.  I also don’t think he’ll be willing to go to a team where he takes the chance of not being considered “the man.”

Dwayne Wade – Miami Heat

This is a pretty easy call at this point.

Chris Bosh – Miami Heat

Bosh will happily take the max contract and a chance to play with D Wade and the Heat will happily acquire him in a sign and trade.

Joe Johnson – Atlanta Hawks

Word is out tonight that the Hawks will offer JJ the maximum deal – that is all he’ll need to hear.

Dirk Nowitzki – Dallas Mavericks

Absolute no-brainer.

Paul Pierce – Boston Celtics

Another non-event – with the announcement by Doc Rivers that he is returning to the Celtics for at least one more year it is clear they are pulling the team back together for one more run.

Amare Stoudamire – New York Knicks

The Knicks will have missed out on a lot of guys by this point and will be happy to give Amare his money.  Amare will feel like he’s finally getting his due.

Carlos Boozer – Chicago Bulls

Boozer will be an excellent addition for the Bulls and will step in nicely at the four slot next to Noah.  He certainly has experience playing with an elite point guard.

David Lee – New York Knicks

A known commodity in the locker room, the Knicks will bring Lee back on board to play next to Amare on the frontline.  At this point they’ll also want to bring in a few additional pieces, maybe Raymond Felton and Richard Jefferson.

Rudy Gay – New Jersey Nets

I think the Nets will come really close to getting a few of the major free agents.  But in the end they will all go elsewhere and the Nets will overpay to make a splash with Gay.

Let me know what you think – post your predictions in the comments section below.

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On Sunday I posted the key question I think each NBA Eastern Conference team faces as free agency approaches.  Today I’ll focus on the Western Conference teams.

Southwest

Dallas Mavericks

Simple – how fast can they re-sign Dirk Nowitzki?

Houston Rockets

After they re-sign Yao what other pieces can they add to their front line?

Memphis Grizzlies

How much are they willing to pay restricted free agent Rudy Gay?

New Orleans Hornets

The trade of Morris Peterson should help the Hornets avoid paying the luxury tax.  Can they find a mid-level outside shooter (Dorell Wright?) to complement the drive and dish styles of Chris Paul and Darren Collison?

San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs have a lot of money tied up in four guys (Tim Duncan, Richard Jefferson, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili).  Is now the time to trade Parker?

Northwest

Denver Nuggets

Can they use Kenyon Martin’s contract, which is expiring after next season and likely to have a high percentage covered by insurance because of his injury, as an asset to acquire a solid low post player?

Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota does have a good amount of money to spend.  They also apparently think that Al Jefferson and Kevin Love cannot play together because they add up to a huge defensive liability.  Should they attempt to trade Jefferson or Love to acquire a wing scorer like Rudy Gay?

Oklahoma City Thunder

OKC is definitely the up and coming team in the West.  They also have enough available cap space to add an excellent player to their abundance of young talent.  Should they focus on outside shooting or an offensive threat in the post?

Portland Trail Blazers

The Blazers were the team that were widely expected to make a big jump last year.  That didn’t happen but they still have a good group of young talent.  Is now the time to trade the suddenly mercurial Rudy Fernandez?

Utah Jazz

It is highly likely that Carlos Boozer will be wearing a different uniform next year.  Can they leverage Andrei Kirilenko’s huge expiring contract to become a player in the sign and trades?

Pacific

Golden State Warriors

The Warriors did a good job of dumping Corey Maggette’s contract and positioning themselves to potentially become a player in the free agency market after next season.  Do they trade Andris Biedrins for an expiring contract to create even more cap space?

Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers have a good young roster and the cap space to bring in a top level free agent.  Do they pursue one of the top guys who they are not likely to get, or do they immediately target somebody like John Salmons who will be more moderately priced and can make a big impact?

Los Angeles Lakers

Do they re-sign Derek Fisher?

Phoenix Suns

After making the Western Conference Finals the Suns face a lot of changes.  Amar’e Stoudamire and Channing Frye are both likely to opt out of their contracts.  Do the Suns make a big push to retain Stoudamire or are they willing to let him walk?

Sacramento Kings

With a good young nucleus and cap space the Kings could be a player in free agency.  Do they try to make their move now or do they hold their cap space for a year or two while they let their young talent develop?

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As much as I usually love the NBA Draft, I have to admit this year it was really nothing more than an appetizer for the big entree to follow, free agency.  Chances are that in four to five years we will be looking at the 2010 NBA Draft as one that brought in a few superstars and a good batch of role players.

NBA free agency in 2010 is a whole different story.  There is no question that there will be a number of players on the market that can change the fortunes of the team that signs them.  While not every team in the NBA will have the ability to chase after those transcendent players, each team has a few questions they need to answer heading into the free agency period.  I’ve highlighted the key question that I think each Eastern Conference team needs to address.

Atlantic Division

Boston Celtics

Do they re-sign Ray Allen and attempt one last run at a title or is it time to build around Rajon Rondo?

New Jersey Nets

It may sound crazy but the Nets want to win immediately.  The Nets continue to be mentioned as the dark horse in the LeBron sweepstakes and they have a nice group of young talent.  If not LeBron, who is their Plan B?

New York Knicks

What else can they do to convince LeBron to sign their contract offer?

Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers have very little cap flexibility but could really use a big.  Will Jason Kapono exercise his player option?

Toronto Raptors

I don’t think there’s any way that Chris Bosh is coming back.  The Raptors have a lot of long term contracts.  How do they get the best out Hedo Turkoglu and should they pick up a young free agent to support him?

Central Division

Chicago Bulls

The Bulls are the favorite in the LeBron sweepstakes and they have now made room for two max contracts.  Which free agent will best support LeBron and Derrick Rose?

Cleveland Cavaliers

Who can they build around after LeBron leaves?

Detroit Pistons

Can they make a move to sign David Lee or perhaps Brendan Haywood?

Indiana Pacers

They have a lot of contracts that expire after next season.  Can they turn one of those into a dependable point guard?

Milwaukee Bucks

This team was very close to advancing to the second round of the playoffs last year.  I’ve got to believe that John Salmons will decline his player option at $5.8 million while Michael Redd will exercise his at $18.3 million.  Right now Brandon Jennings and Redd are the only guards they have on their roster.  How do they add good shooting guards who are willing to put in the work on defense at the mid-level price?

Southeast Division

Atlanta Hawks

Joe Johnson is all but gone.  Is Jeff Teague the long term answer at point guard or do they need to look for one on the market?

Charlotte Bobcats

How much are they willing to pay Raymond Felton and would they take the chance of letting him walk?

Miami Heat

I believe Dwayne Wade will return.  What do they need to do to help his recruiting efforts?

Orlando Magic

How many dollars will they put out there to re-sign J.J. Redick?

Washington Wizards

If they decline Josh Howard’s option the Wizards should have enough cap room to bring in a mid-level free agent.  Is there a solid forward out there that they can target that will be a good long term addition, or do they hold the cap space for a potential max free agent next year?

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As promised, the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft was a strange one.  Some teams, like Miami and Chicago, dumped picks to better position themselves for the free agent derby.  Other teams, like Washington and Oklahoma City, were wheeling and dealing throughout much of the first round.  One thing that wasn’t different – a lot of teams made their draft picks strictly based on potential, not production.

I did get the first 12 players chosen right in my NBA Mock Draft 2010, although I didn’t quite have them in the right order.  On with the analysis…

Immediate Impact Picks
  • Top 10 – #1 – Washington Wizards – John Wall
  • Teens – #14 – Houston Rockets – Patrick Patterson
  • 20s – #20 – San Antonio Spurs – James Anderson
Best Future Potential Picks
  • Top 10 – #5 – Sacramento Kings – DeMarcus Cousins
  • Teens – #18 – Los Angeles Clippers – Eric Bledsoe
  • 20s – #27 – Atlanta Hawks – Jordan Crawford (pick made by New Jersey Nets)
Biggest Head Scratchers
  • #6 Ekpe Udoh to Golden State – Didn’t the Warriors say they traded Corey Maggette to free up playing time for Anthony Randolph and Brandan Wright?  Doesn’t the pick of Udoh cause the same issue?
  • #15 Larry Sanders to Milwaukee – The Bucks need guys who can put the ball in the hoop.  Larry Sanders is not that type of player right now.  Also, isn’t he the same player as Luc Mbah a Moute?
  • #28 Greivis Vasquez t0 Memphis – Instead of drafting a big man with a lot of potential like Daniel Orton or Hassan Whiteside, the Grizzlies take Vasquez who is a lesser form of Xavier Henry who they drafted with the 12th pick.
 Best Trades for Picks
  • Oklahoma City – Cole Aldrich
  • Los Angeles Clippers – Eric Bledsoe
  • Atlanta Hawks – Jordan Crawford

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The NBA Draft can be a bit of a crap shoot.  You never know what angle a team may be taking as they enter the draft and you may be even more confused with what they are doing after they make their picks. 

For the most part the NBA Draft is about potential, picking the player that has a high ceiling, not the one that has proven in college or elsewhere that they can really play the game.  Sometimes it is all about the measurements.  Last month I shared my reactions to the NBA pre draft measurements at the combine.  Regardless, I always think the NBA Draft is a lot of fun.  The 2010 version should be no different.  Here are my picks for the first round.

1. Washington Wizards – John Wall, G, Kentucky

No mystery here. It was pretty clear that whoever won the lottery would be taking Wall. The dynamic point guard will bring some excitement to a team coming off a deeply disappointing season.

2. Philadelphia 76ers – Evan Turner, G, Ohio St.

Turner does not really fill a need for the Sixers but by all accounts he is the second best talent in the draft. His versatility will help him fit in around current talents Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holliday and Thaddeus Young. New coach Doug Collins will look to Turner’s playmaking and shooting ability to increase Philadelphia’s offensive effectiveness.

3. New Jersey Nets – Derrick Favors, F, Georgia Tech

The Nets need bigs and shooters. At number three they’ll be considering Favors and DeMarcus Cousins. While offensively less polished than Cousins I believe the higher ceiling potential of Favors and his ability to complement Brook Lopez at the four position will make him the pick.

4. Minnesota Timberwolves – DeMarcus Cousins, C, Kentucky

Minnesota needs a lot and has to take the best remaining talent with the fourth pick. I love Wes Johnson but I think he is more of a finished product and much of the NBA Draft is about projecting talent. A center with solid post moves and defensive ability will be just too much for the T-Wolves to pass up.

5. Sacramento Kings – Wesley Johnson, F, Syracuse

After an excellent 2009 draft in which they brought in Tyreke Evans and Omar Casspi the Kings will be looking to add more pieces to the puzzle. The addition of Samuel Dalembert solidifies the middle and the choice of Johnson will give the Kings a dynamic, explosive wing player to complement Evans.

6. Golden State Warriors – Al-Farouq Aminu, F, Wake Forest

Defense is the area where Golden State could use the most help, ranking 29th last year in points given up at 109.4. They are not likely to use the sixth pick in the draft on a defensive stopper. Aminu is the best talent available and should help with rebounding, while providing some offensive contributions.

7. Detroit Pistons – Cole Aldrich, C, Kansas

As hard as it is to believe based on what they made their living on in the past, the Pistons ranked 26th in points allowed at 108.9. They are also desperate for big men. Aldrich has been sliding down mock drafts but I think his defensive and rebounding abilities will be enough to attract Joe Dumars to make him the pick.

8. Los Angeles Clippers – Gordon Hayward, F, Butler

Going into the draft the Clippers only have five players under contract for next season. Small forward is a need and Hayward is a high profile performer coming off Butler’s big run to the NCAA Championship game. This is a pick I think the Clippers will make as much to win the press conference as for Hayward’s talent level.

9. Utah Jazz – Greg Monroe, C, Georgetown

The Jazz will be delighted to see Monroe fall to them. He can instantly be inserted into the low post rotation with Mehmet Okur and Paul Millsap and make an impact on the team. While he won’t be able to replace Carlos Boozer’s scoring or rebounding right away, he will add another dimension to the team as a playmaker in the high post.

10. Indiana Pacers – Paul George, F, Fresno St.

Point guard is a major need for Indiana but they are not likely to get one unless they trade back for Eric Bledsoe. George is a little bit of a raw talent who will be best suited coming into a situation where he can grow into a starting role. With Mike Dunleavy and Danny Granger already there, he will not be feeling a lot of pressure early on with the Pacers.

11. New Orleans Hornets – Xavier Henry, G, Kansas

Henry has excellent range and should flourish with Chris Paul and Darren Collison driving and dishing to him behind the arc. He also has good height and a solid build, which should help him adjust to the physical nature of the NBA game.

12. Memphis Grizzlies – Ekpe Udoh, F, Baylor

Memphis had a solid season last year and they may have made the playoffs if they hadn’t wasted their 2009 pick on Hasheem Thabeet. Udoh will give them a solid defensive presence to work into the forward rotation and help them slow down the dribble penetration they were so susceptible to last season.

13. Toronto Raptors – Ed Davis, F, North Carolina

Sorry Toronto but I don’t see Chris Bosh coming back. The Raptors will be looking to rebuild and Davis will give them some defensive effort, a nice touch around the basket and solid potential.

14. Houston Rockets – Hassan Whiteside, C, Marshall

Whiteside may have as much upside as anybody in the draft but he is very raw and there is some concern over his maturity level. Houston will be an excellent landing pad for him as the presence of veterans like Shane Battier, Trevor Ariza and Yao Ming will keep him focused while the hard working ethic of the team will help him approach his potential.

15. Milwaukee Bucks – Luke Babbitt, F, Nevada

The Bucks are desperate for scoring and Babbitt can put the ball in the hoop. His expected defensive deficiencies may be masked by a team that plays excellent defense at the other four spots on the floor.

16. Minnesota Timberwolves – Avery Bradley, G, Texas

Another team that really needs scoring, Minnesota goes with Cousins early and picks Bradley later in the round to help on the perimeter.

17. Chicago Bulls – Patrick Patterson, F, Kentucky

The biggest question for the Bulls will be whether they can lure LeBron to Chicago. In the mean time they have a chance to add another nice piece to their talented squad with the polished Patterson, who can add some low post scoring punch to the second unit.

18. Miami Heat – Daniel Orton, F, Kentucky

With only four players signed for next season, none of which has much value, the Heat have to take the best available talent. At this point that is Orton because of his long term potential.

19. Boston Celtics – James Anderson, G, Oklahoma St.

For a team that made it to the NBA Finals the Celtics have a lot of uncertainty going into the offseason. During their playoff run it was clear that they needed to add some outside shooting. That’s still the case whether they sign Ray Allen or not.

20. San Antonio Spurs – Kevin Seraphin, F, France

One thing we know about the Spurs, they are not afraid to take the international players. They need to strengthen their front line and Seraphin has the most potential of the options they have left with this pick.

21. Oklahoma City Thunder – Damion James, F, Texas

OKC is an up and coming team with an MVP candidate. With the collection of young talent and the salary cap flexibility they have, they are positioned to make some moves. If they keep this pick they’ll take the best available player. The rebounding ability and toughness of James will entice the Thunder.

22. Portland Trail Blazers – Eric Bledsoe, G, Kentucky

The Blazers will be excited to see Bledsoe still on the board with this pick. While his ball-handling is not yet up to the caliber of an NBA point guard, his potential is high, and playing behind Andre Miller for a couple of years will be a good learning experience.

23. Minnesota Timberwolves – Elliot Williams, G, Memphis

After choosing Bradley at 16, Minnesota again looks to add shooting by picking Williams. They’ll also gain in athleticism and hustle.

24. Atlanta Hawks – Solomon Alabi, C, Florida St.

The Hawks had an excellent season last year but will be in danger of a big fall in 2010-2011. Losing Joe Johnson as a free agent would be a big blow as would the continued deterioration of Mike Bibby’s game. With this pick I’ve got them going with Alabi, who should free up Al Horford to play the four more and provide some contributions on the defensive end.

25. Memphis Grizzlies – Devin Ebanks, F, West Virginia

Memphis will continue to look to get better on defense by adding Ebanks, who can guard three positions and rebounds well.

26. Oklahoma City Thunder – Larry Sanders, F, VCU

Sanders could be a defensive-minded low post shot blocker, which is something the Thunder could certainly use.

27. New Jersey Nets – Dominique Jones, G, South Florida

Looking for outside shooting the Nets will find some to add to their bench with the pick of Jones.

28. Memphis Grizzlies – Armon Johnson, G, Nevada

After filling out their front line with two forwards the Grizzlies will pick up a capable back up for Mike Conley who may be able to supply some scoring punch off the bench.

29. Orlando Magic – Jordan Crawford, G, Xavier

With J.J. Redick possibly gone via free agency and Vince Carter dropping faster than a one ton boulder the Magic need help in the back court. Crawford is an excellent cutting and slashing wing who has potential to be a good shooter.

30. Washington Wizards – Quincy Pondexter, F, Washington

With the addition of John Wall the Wizards will be looking to surround him with shooters and cutters to take advantage of his creativity with the ball. Pondexter is a solid glue guy who can defend and run the break.

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Third Quarter

  • Kobe really needs to come out and play like a diamond in this second half.  If he wants to be considered among the best of all time he needs to win this game.
  • KG coming out strong with five early points.
  • Beautiful one-hander by Rondo in the lane gives Celtics an 11 point lead.
  • Rondo has such great touch around the basket and in the lane it’s hard to believe he has none on his jumper.
  • Midway through the quarter both teams string together a few good offensive possessions – nice to see.
  • Kobe could have 10 assists already in this game if he hadn’t been forcing it so much.
  • Celtics with no movement on offense.  They are going completely with one-on-ones.
  • Van Gundy – “This is one of the most poorly played games you’ll ever see from an offensive standpoint.”

The Lakers were able to cut two more points off the Celtics lead in the third quarter and go into the last 12 minutes down 57-53.  Kobe continues to force the issue but with mostly poor results.  The Celtics went to the iso way too much in that quarter.  Van Gundy’s analysis sums the game very well.  Now the big trophy is there for the taking for either team – it looks like whoever has the most heart and effort will likely by the NBA Champions.

Fourth Quarter

  • Artest has been playing stellar defense on Pierce.
  • Both teams continue to make big plays on defense.
  • One point game after Kobe hits three free throws.
  • 7:13 left – Kobe picks up fourth foul and Ray Allen misses first free throw.  Starters all in the game with exception of Odom replacing Bynum.
  • Huge three pointer by Derek Fisher ties the game at 64 with 6:10 remaining.
  • After knocking down two free throws Kobe hits a jumper to put Lakers up by four.
  • Spectacular defense by Lakers, especially Artest on Pierce.
  • Smart play by the Celtics to get Pierce on the move and open for a foul line jumper.
  • 3:00 left Lakers up be three – who will close?
  • Really bad foul by Pierce with 2:20 left puts Gasol on the line where he makes one of two.  Lakers up by six.
  • Gasol with big block on Pierce layup attempt and then a strong move on the block for the hoop.
  • Rasheed hits a HUGE three with 1:23 left…then Artest responds with a three with 1:01 left…then Ray Allen hits a three with 51 seconds left.
  • Rondo with a huge rebound and running three pointer to cut the lead to two!  81-79 with 13 seconds remaining.
  • Sasha Vujacic with two gigantic free throws with 11.7 seconds remaining to give Lakers four point lead.

It was certainly not the prettiest game, nor the prettiest series, but as the final buzzer sounds the Los Angeles Lakers have won their 16th NBA title and second in a row.  While their play was often uneven in these Finals, the Lakers deserve credit for greatly ratcheting up their defensive intensity in the last two games.  Ultimately that is what won them the NBA Championship.  By the end of game six it was clear to me that if both teams played to the highest level of their potential the Lakers were the better team.  They proved it in game six.  The closest the Celtics got to that high level of play was game five.  Despite all of the struggles the Lakers had in that game they were still close at the end.  So congratulations to the Lakers – the well-deserved champions.

The Celtics demonstrated the heart of a champion throughout these playoffs.  They looked to be in trouble against Miami and Cleveland but fought back and won both those series.  They were fantastic against the Magic and fought to the end against the Lakers. 

While not the best-played series, the 2010 NBA Finals will be remembered as a seven game battle between the two most storied franchises.  The two traded solid punches throughout and both teams were reaching back to land that knockout punch right up until the very end.

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