Monday, December 29, 2008

Baron Davis in Golden State of Mind

According to a report from the Contra Costa Times out of San Francisco, Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Jackson spent this past Saturday afternoon with former team mate Baron Davis and believes that Davis would welcome a return to the Bay area.

Let's hope that this is true and, while it seems unlikely to happen it would be great to see Davis back in a Warriors uniform. Things haven't worked out for him so far in L.A. with the Clippers and he just seems to be the perfect fit for Golden State and especially under coach Don Nelson.

The Warriors were the most exciting team to watch with Davis running the point, feeding guys like Monta Ellis, Jackson and ex-team mate Jason Richardson. Now they still play the same way (Nelson knows no other style), but they lack electricity and Davis was the spark plug.

Will it happen though ? Probably not, it would seem to be a strange move that the two franchises would agree to, especially if the Warriors offered former Clipper Corey Maggette as bait. Nobody seems to want Maggette and I can't see the Clippers pulling the trigger as a favor to the Warriors.

What is it about Corey Maggette ? He's a big, strong guy (6'6", 225lb) can play the two or three, gets to the line whenever he wants(8.5 attempts this year, almost seven for his nine-year career) and is averaging 19ppg this season (over 16 for his career) and 5.7 rpg(5.1 career) yet he seems to be available to any team that wants him. At any price.

While Maggette absolutely loves a shot, he is a pathetic defender and has an Eddy Curry-like ability to turn the ball over and he's not too fond of passing either. And he's getting even worse. He is averaging a paltry 1.8apg (down on his 2.2 career) but his turnovers are bang on his career mark of 2.4tpg.

For a guy who plays 34 minutes a game, in Don Nelson's system especially, he could just let go of the ball and he would get at least a few more assists. Then again, why pass it when he can shoot the ball himself !

Still, the Warriors only have themselves to blame, they couldn't keep Davis with $17-million and then gave $50-million to Maggette.

Brandon Roy Continues to Torment Bryan Colangelo

Toronto Raptors General Manager Bryan Colangelo has always stubbornly defended the decision he made when he selected Andrea Bargnani with the first overall draft pick in the 2006 draft. Brandon Roy, taken sixth in that same draft, continues to offer damning evidence to suggest that Colangelo got it dead wrong.

As witnessed by Portland’s comfortable 102-89 win over the Toronto Raptors Saturday night, it was once again Brandon Roy who played a vital role in guiding his team to victory, while Bargnani came and went like Toronto’s first half double digit lead.

Roy scored 32-points which was the same amount the Raptors could muster as a team for the second half. He was 14-for-19 from the field and combined with nine assists, it easily outshone Bargnani’s contribution of 13-points, which included shooting 3-for-4 from three-point range and two rebounds.

In the five times that these two players have now faced each other, Roy averages 24.2 points, (on 55-percent shooting) six rebounds and over eight assists. Bargnani averages a paltry seven points, (on 34-percent shooting), less than three rebounds and has dished out a total of only three assists in those five contests.

Regardless of whether or not he was thinking of a long term project or a short term gain, if Colangelo could have that one franchise-changing night from June 28, 2006 all over again, there is absolutely no doubt whom he would have chosen with that crucial first pick.

The prospective gap between Roy and Bargnani’s careers right now, is as wide as the distance between Oregon and Rome. As one player heads towards superstar status, the other heads towards being labeled a super bust.

Roy was Rookie of the Year in his first season and an All-Star in just his second. While he plots his course to greatness with the Portland Trail Blazers, Bargnani meekly plods along with the spluttering Toronto Raptors, occasionally hitting three-pointers but providing his team with little else.

While the frustration continues for Colangelo as he watches his Raptors limp along at sub .500 pace, how often he must ask himself that unanswerable “What if?” question. Just ‘What if’ the name above the number seven jersey for the Raptors said “Roy” instead of Bargnani ? Where might the Raptors be right now ?

It must be even harder for Colangelo to watch Royas he elevates himself to one of the leagues elite, confidently and calmly taking the new Trail blazers with him. Almost single handedly, Roy has buried the ugly “Jail Blazers” tag deep away from Portland.

This once tarnished franchise seems now a million miles away from the dark days of those player arrests and continual controversy.

Bargnani and the Raptors however, have made little progress together. Two playoff appearances in two seasons has been an improvement after some barren years since the Vince Carter days, but in reality, Toronto is no closer to being a serious contender than it was back at the early part of this decade.

If that draft of ’06 taught us anything, it was again a case of how an inexact science drafting talent can be. Despite what any of the scouts and experts says, there is simply no way of knowing for sure, exactly how a player will develop and adjust to the rigors of the NBA.

There was no possible way to determine that in less than three full seasons, Roywould already be being mentioned in the same breaths as the current crop of the NBA’s best, along side names such as Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul.

The name Brandon Roy could easily complete that quartet.

The only comparisons Bargnani is making right now is to the more cringe worthy names such as Kwame Brown and Michael Olowakandi. Both were former number one picks, both complete busts. It’s enough to make Raptors fans shudder.

When Colangelo watches Roy as he drives easy into the lane, he must wonder how Chris Bosh would look on the receiving end of one of Roy’s crisp passes. Instead Colangelo is only constantly reminded of Bargnani’s ineptness, for when he catches the ball, there is often a look of utter confusion on his face and what’s expected from him within his own team’s offense.

Surely too, Colangelo couldn’t help but also allow his mind to wander to the summer of 2010 and wistfully ponder the prospect of having both Roy and Bosh together lobbying another of the other glorious free-agents to-be to join them north of the border. Instead, right now it appears right now as though Colangelo will need to plead desperately with Bosh to convince him to stick around in Toronto.

Roy and Bargnani do share some common elements to their game in that neither player seems suited to play only one position. Roy can seamlessly slide from the two-guard to playing the point-guard spot, occasionally even fitting into the three if he is needed there. Bargnani always seems to be in a ‘square peg in a round hole’ situation, too big for the small forward, to slow for the power spot and just not agile enough for a center.

This has forced the Raptors to have to yank him around from position to position, from a starter to a bench player and back again, trying any and every combination to find the right fit.

They haven’t found it yet.

From a 16-points-per-game average in his rookie campaign, Roy is now safely in the coveted 20-point plateau this season, averaging 23 per game, tied for 10th best in the league.

He knows what’s expected from him and he delivers, never looking to make a statement about himself, only for the team which he carries on his broad shoulders. Unlike many of his predecessors, Roy doesn’t need tattoos or earrings to draw attention to himself, he’s more old fashioned and he lets his game do the talking.

Recently, after he scored a career-high 52 points in a win against the Phoenix Suns, he shrugged at his achievement “My No. 1 goal is to win. Not to be the MVP. Not to be the All-Star,”

Others can talk about him; he just wants to talk about his team.

Bargnani, over the same timeframe has seen his production slowly regress each year. From a respectable 11 points-per-game average in his first year, to now averaging less than 10 points-per-game this season. Furthermore, the one strength that the Italian did possess – the three pointers also seems to have deserted him.

He’s making less per game now and shooting them at a lower percentage than he did in his first season.

The only statement Bargnani has made to date has been that maybe he doesn’t belong on the Toronto Raptors and maybe not even in the NBA.

Bargnani’s problem is that he looks literally like he’s too big for his own shoes. When he gets the ball at the top of the paint, if he doesn’t take the three-pointer he looks totally unsure of how to create any sort of opportunity for himself or his team mates.

On the occasions that he does take the ball into the lane, it is so awkward, so premeditated that the result is often ugly. Defenders often just stand there and wait for him to barrel into the lane and try to draw him into an offensive foul.

Ironically, when Roy has the ball, he too doesn’t make his mind up until the last second either, simply because he’s not quite sure which of his vast array of weapons he’s going to use. A spin around jump shot or a drive inside the lane finishing with either hand or maybe he’ll just dish off to an open team mate, whatever Roy decides to do, he always seems to know what to do and precisely the right moment when to do it.

And he usually gets it right.

Maybe it’s too early and even unfair to judge these two players against one another. Perhaps Bargnani will “get it” one day and perhaps Roy has peaked already, but both scenarios seem unlikely in the extreme right now.

Bryan Colangelo has a reputation for sharp suits and ties, but no matter how suave he looks, nothing will let him have that night all over again.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Firings and Trades...the NBA Season is Rolling !

About a third of the way through the 2008-09 and there has been six coaches fired and some big trades. GM's everywhere have become more impatient and unstable than the economy at the moment.

Some of the coaches deserved to go. P.J. Carlisemo was a poor signing to begin with last season. At 2-21, the Oklahoma City Thunder are on track to record the worst season in NBA history, currently held by the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers at 9-73.

Thunder GM Sam Presti has some work to do. He traded away everything to go young and build around Kevin Durant and Jeff Green, but no matter how good any player is, they need a few (good) experienced players around them.

Sam Mitchell had to go too. He lost his way in the last 12-months. There appeared to be a clear difference of idea on how the Raptors should be playing. GM Bryan Colangelo has been lauded for what he's done since arriving in Toronto but his biggest challenge is coming up. Can he convince Chris Bosh to stay ? The fate of not only the Raptors hinges on this decision, but more so Colangelo's reputation.

Randy Wittman getting the boot in Minnesota was probably the best thing that happened to him. Kevin McHale has been - by far - the worst GM in the history of the NBA. He has continually wrecked this franchise with shocking decision making, yet, he somehow keeps his job and firing others for his incompetence.
The T'Wolves should go back to Dwayne Casey, in fact I'm surprised that Casey hasn't picked up another job since getting the boot almost two years ago.

Eddie Jordan was unlucky in Washington. He'll definitely be coaching again before long. The Wizards have been without loudmouth point guard Gilbert Arenas for the best part of two years. The Wizards shouldn't have signed Agent-0 to that $111-million contract in the Summer. The only "0" really relates to "overpaid" or "overrated".


It's funny how some players rate themselves. Look at Shawn Marion and Raja Bell for instance. Both thrived in Phoenix under Mike D'Antoni. Marion tried to bluff Steve Kerr and Kerr sent him to Miami. Now, Marion still has exactly the same skill set he always has, but without Steve Nash and not playing under the Suns' offense, Marion isn't anywhere near the All-Star he was.

Raja Bell is the same. He thought he was pretty hot stuff knocking down wide-open 3's every night under D'Antoni's high scoring offense. He was also a "great defender" for clobbering Kobe Bryant in the playoffs when in actual fact, he had to play dirty against Kobe, because the Black Mamba was murdering him.
Bell will struggle in Charlotte because apart from shooting three-pointers, Bell has ZERO moves. ZERO. His supposed defensive abilities won't be of much use to a team that gets pounded every night.
Sometimes guys just don't realize how good they've got it.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Paul Out Duels Bosh in a Battle of the Chris's

Toronto Raptors General Manager Bryan Colangelo witnessed a game of basketball Sunday afternoon played just the way he likes it.

It was fast paced with clean, crisp ball movement, lots of three-point shooting and perimeter play, and had a mix of an inside action as well.

It had that “European” style that the GM admires and it's that way he’s trying to get the Raptors to play.

Unfortunately for Colangelo though, it was the visiting New Orleans Hornets led by the irrepressible Chris Paul, who stole the show and out played Toronto 99-91.

The Raptors boss might feel as if Hornets head coach Byron Scott has stolen his idea. In Jay Triano’s first game as head coach of Toronto against the Utah Jazz, Colangelo stated on air that the Raptors were “still a perimeter team”.

Heading into Sunday's game, it was New Orleans who led the league in three-point accuracy at 41-percent, yet was only eleventh in tries at 18.5-per-game, but seventh in makes with 7.6-per-game.

You can add another 12-for-33 three-pointers to New Orleans stat sheet from today, six of them coming from reserve James Posey, who also had 10 rebounds.

There is no feeling more deflating than being beaten at your own game.

After a slow start to the season, the Hornets have now won eight of their last 10 games and improve to 13-7. Toronto had a two-game winning streak snapped and drops to 10-13.

Paul controls the tempo of a game like no other player in the NBA does. Not Kobe Bryant, not even LeBron James, which is a measure of just how good he is.

In their own right, of course Bryant and James are fantastically entertaining players to watch and much of their teams fate - on a nightly basis - is decided by them. However, there is so much more noise and bang to the way they play.

Every dunk is a thunderous one; every play has highlight reel potential.

It's like watching a heavy metal rock concert.

Paul plays a very different way. He's subtle but deadly effective, instead of being at a rock concert, watching him is more akin to listening to a saxophonist playing in New York’s Central Park on a warm Spring afternoon.

Don't look to the stats sheet to tell the full story of Paul’s dominance. There, you will only see the numerical impact Paul had on today’s game. Twelve points and twelve assists is a moderate return from an All-Star and Olympian.

What the box score won’t tell you is how Paul, after showing total trust in his team mates all day, decided he would drive the final dagger through the Raptors.

Toronto had closed to within five points 92-87 and still over two minutes remaining when Paul fearlessly dissected the lane and scored a lay up to stretch the Hornets lead back out to seven points.

It was a high-percentage play, from a high-percentage player. The type a team expects from its franchise player.

The Raptors franchise man, Bosh, clearly wasn’t paying attention to Paul. The man who he'd spent a lot of time in the summer with as they won Gold medals as team mates at the Beijing Olympics.

Rather than answer back by getting to the basket himself, Bosh launched a three-pointer. It clanked off the rim and Toronto’s fate was effectively sealed.

Just moments earlier, Paul, in total control had confidently confirmed his teams’ advantage. Bosh, unsure of himself, opted for hope and luck. Unsurprisingly, he came up short.

This game was decided on Paul’s watch.

The next possession Paul completely killed off the Raptors. He found Rasual Butler who drained his fourth three-pointer and the Hornets’ 12th.

It's no surprise that Paul’s team mates always seem to be ready. Even if they don’t know that they’re open, he lets them know that they are.

Back on November 27 after finishing practice for the day, a sweaty Chris Bosh told reporters that one of his goals for this season was to win the leagues Most Valuable Player award.

Bosh was playing at a high level and was posting career high numbers in scoring (27.6 points-per-game) and field goal percentage (55.1-percent). The Raptors were at the .500 mark with seven wins and seven losses.

From a statistical point of view, Bosh was posting MVP type numbers.

Since then however, Bosh has been very un-MVP like. Toronto has lost six of nine games and during that dip, Bosh has seen his numbers plunge. He is only averaging 19.6-points-per-game and shooting the ball at 46 percent over those nine games.

The Raptors have also lost their coach Sam Mitchell and after a strong start, Toronto once again finds itself in familiar, disappointing territory.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Maurice Cheeks Squeezed Out of Philadelphia

Mo Cheeks got the flick this afternoon as head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers. This move isn't a huge surprise seeing that the rumours had been swirling about Cheeks demise in the last couple of weeks.

Mo might have been a victim of his own success. The Sixers weren't supposed to make the playoffs last season, but they did and almost knocked over the heavily favoured Detroit Pistons in the first round. Philadelphia led that series 2-1 and should have gone 3-1 up before Detroit regained control and took the series in six games.

The surprise addition of Elton Brand in the summer gave Philadelphia the low-post scorer and genuine inside threat that they lacked last season. Big Samuel Dalembert isn't capable of doing that job. However, Brand has struggled with Philadelphia and the Sixers are 9-14.

The real problem in Philadelphia this season has been Andre Iguodala. Iggy oozes talent and has long, strong arms yet he simply doesn't utilize his strengths enough. Like a lot of "franchise" players, he is undisciplined and settles for too many jumpshots rather than attack the hoop and getting to the free throw line.

His scoring numbers are down across the board. He is averaging 14.9 points-per-game and is shooting a career low 43.9 percent from the field. Certainly some of the reason his scoring is down is due to the presence of Brand and the emergence of Thaddeus Young, but that's no excuse for his lazy field goal shooting.

Philadelphia need Iguodala to forget about the jumpshot and get to the paint.

Look for 76ers GM Ed Stefanski to try and grab former Wizards coach Eddie Jordan to fill the void, though it probably won't happen before next season.


The Toronto Raptors won for the second time in a row last night. Interim head coach Jay Triano's team blew the New Jersey Nets apart by 22 points. Since Triano took over from Sam Mitchell, the Raptors are 2-3, although the wins came against Indiana and the Nets.

It's still too early into Triano's reign to see what sort of coach he'll be and considering that in two of the three losses he's coached, Toronto was ripped by Utah and Cleveland, but the team does look to be playing a bit 'looser' than they were under Mitchell.

Andrea Bargnani's wildly inconsistency continues, but he doesn't look like he's looking over his shoulder all the time, waiting to get yanked at the first error. Raptors General Manager Bryan Colangelo will probably never admit it, but if he could have that 2006 draft all over again, there is absolutely no doubt that he would take Brandon Roy first overall.

Back to Triano and the Raptors and we'll get a better idea of Triano's coaching abilities Sunday afternoon when Toronto hosts Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets.

Regular readers of The Daily Hurt know that I believe that Paul is the BEST player in the world right now, ahead of Kobe, LeBron and anyone else.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Usain Bolt Beats Out Michael Phelps as 2008's Best Athlete

It only took 9.69 seconds, but Usain Bolt managed to steal Michael Phelps thunder at the Beijing Olympics. Despite Phelps winning a staggering eight Gold medals – five more than Bolt - none of them were individually more spectacular than Bolt’s pulsating sprint in the 100 meter dash.

Memories are built on moments, not numbers.

In the primest of prime-times, Bolt put on a show to give the Olympics blue riband event its deserved platform. The men’s 100 meters is the one race that every Olympic fan waits patiently for and hopes for a special moment that they'll be able to talk about forever.

Usain Bolt delivered.

In doing so he returned the initials ‘WR’ next to the numbers 9.69. This is one event that should always have its best result run at an Olympic games. It just seems right.

Phelps, possibly the greatest swimmer ever, is certainly the most prolific Olympic Gold medal winner in history. With a personal tally of 14, at only 23 years of age, he’ll likely add to his haul at the London games in 2012, should he choose to compete there.

However, apart from the jubilation and splashing of fists into the water after he captured his seventh gold by the very tip of his fingernails from Serbian-American swimmer Milorad Cavic, Phelps will be remembered for the total amount of medals he won more so than any of his individual races.

Just days after his electrifying run in the 100m, Bolt came out for the 200m in front of 100,000 fans at the Bird’s Nest stadium. With millions more watching on TV around the world, everyone on them expecting to see another record.

Bolt delivered.

Bolt rounded the bend and roared down the straight and flashed across the finish line in just 19.30 seconds after exploding out of the blocks to smash the world record of 19.32 set by Michael Johnson 12 years ago.

This Bolt of lightning struck twice.
In two races totaling less than 30 seconds, Bolt upstaged the Baltimore superfish.

Bolt’s run in the 100 was astonishing. In an event where hundredths of a second can make all the difference, he even left a few on the clock. If you didn’t know what the term ‘scary-good’ meant before, if you thought it was just one of those sayings of kids these days, then go on Youtube and watch Bolt’s race.

Watch it again and again and then you’ll understand.

Despite annihilating his own record by four-tenths of a second, Bolt could have crossed the line sooner, had he not begun his celebration about 15 meters out.

Perhaps it was arrogance or perhaps it was immaturity from the then 21-year-old speedster, or maybe Bolt is just an old-fashioned showman.

Whatever it was it, he left everyone salivating, screaming for more.

Rather than be overawed by the expectation, Bolt turned in another scintillating performance in the 200M.

This time, he didn't let up. When it was obvious he wasn't going to be overtaken, Bolt was only chasing the record and he got it. Throwing his arms out triumphantly as he crossed the line, Bolt then went over to the crowd, found his family and draped himself in the Jamaican flag again.

Bolt’s performance means that he is the only man ever to break the world record in both sprints in the same Olympics.

His frame and body are supposedly too big for 100m, but perfect for the 200m. You can throw that reasoning out the door now.

For so long, this event had been dominated by stocky, nuggety men with tightly packed muscles with a photo the only way to determine who crossed first.

Bolt starts his races the same way all sprinters do, hunched over in the starting blocks. Only then are his opponents are on equal footing with him.

At the sound of the starter’s gun, Bolt begins his charge, unfurling into a perfect running machine. His long, lanky legs search out the track and gobble it up; like a gazelle, his golden trainers seem to barely touch the surface.

The final stretch for the finish line is usually close …Bolt was so laughably ahead that Buz Aldrin was closer to Neil Armstrong than the other plodders were to Usain.

Bolt was so electrifying, that his glorious run has finally given us an image to supersede Ben Johnson’s controversial one fingered salute when he dashed home in the Seoul games of 1988. In a talent laden field that included 1980’s golden child Carl Lewis, the race became infamous. We now know that Johnson was a cheat, but he was unlikely the only drug fueled runner on that infamous day 20 years ago.

Bolt has confined that image to history and replaced it with his own glorious one.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Chris Bosh MVP ? Try Winning With the Toronto Raptors First.

Chris Bosh has set his sights on becoming the NBA's Most Valuable Player." I came into this season saying I'm going to give it a shot" he told reporters after practice Thursday afternoon.
He should concentrate on winning with the Toronto Raptors first.

On Wednesday night, the Raptors were unimpressive in a 93-86 win over the lowly Charlotte Bobcats. Bosh delivered a solid line, scoring 39-points on 15-for-20 shooting from the field and 9-for-10 from the free throw line. He also grabbed 11 rebounds and had a couple of blocked shots. Bosh was clearly the difference between the two teams.

He was at it again Friday night. Bosh’s 30-points, ten rebounds, seven assists and three blocked shots carried the Toronto Raptors past the stuttering Atlanta Hawks 93-88.

Bosh's outstanding play for Team USA at the Beijing Olympics has carried over to the NBA season. In China, Bosh was arguably the teams most efficient player, coming off the bench to lead the powerhouse Americans in rebounding. He liked the taste of winning a Gold medal and playing with the best players every night.

Bosh has been noticeably more aggressive this season and it’s reflected in his numbers. His 27.7-points-per-game is a career high, so are his nine-and-a-half free throw attempts per game. He’s playing over 42 minutes a night and is shooting the ball at a sizzling 55-percent clip.

In short, Bosh is having a career year and from a statistical point of view, he is producing MVP caliber numbers.

While Bosh has raised the level of his own game to superstar status, he needs to understand that while his numbers look pretty, what makes players truly great is their ability to make those around them better.

It helps if your team mates are already good players but it goes further than that. The best leaders are the ones who are able to get their team mates to believe in themselves and to elevate their own game further than even they had imagined.

However, Bosh’s team, the Toronto Raptors continue to plod along with maddening inconsistency.

Part of the reason that Bosh has produced such big numbers is because he’s not getting the support from his team mates. It’s a double-edged sword though. He doesn’t trust them enough and they don’t deliver when they need to and too often, the Raptors lose as a result.

Three wins to the start the season was followed by seven losses from the next 10 games. The defeats largely came about due to the same problems that have plagued Toronto for the past two seasons; soft defense and poor shot selection down the stretch combined with an inability to close out games.

Often the Raptors start off games well and build big leads, but they are unable to maintain a certain level of play. This season, three times the Raptors have led by double figures only to lose those games.

Toronto's worst loss of the season came against the best, but hopefully Bosh took something out of it.

It was against the Boston Celtics on November 10. Then, the Raptors led by 16 points at one stage before losing by seven. It’s true that Paul Pierce had a huge fourth quarter and the Celtics are the defending NBA champions, but a game like that is where an MVP needs to step up and guide his team to victory.

Paul Pierce did.

Pierce, a possible MVP candidate himself did what Bosh should have done. He took control of his team and the game. Pierce didn’t wait for the ball to come to him, he went and got it and told his team mates to be ready…just in case he needed them.

It was a lesson in leadership and hopefully Bosh was paying full attention.
Furthermore, until the Raptors can get past the first round of the playoffs, Bosh won’t garner MVP consideration. In the last two seasons, the Raptors have fallen too early in the post season. Bosh put up good numbers both times but again, that counts for little as his team was eliminated easily each time.

This season, Toronto are not considered a serious threat to win the Eastern Conference by most analysts and their current style of play and 8-7 record will have done little to change those minds.

The only way to do that is if the Raptors can become consistent and that starts and ends with Chris Bosh.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Chris Bosh leads the Toronto Raptors Past the Charlotte Bobcats

TORONTO, ON (LE)- Chris Bosh scored 39 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the Toronto Raptors to 93-86 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats Wednesday night at the Air Canada Center.

Bosh shot a sizzling 15-for-20 from the field and 9-for-10 from the free throw line.

Sparsely used back up Joey Graham added a season high 17 points and had six rebounds off the bench for Toronto. Andrea Bargnani scored 11 points, grabbed nine rebounds and had three blocked shots.

Gerald Wallace had 23 points and eight rebounds to lead the Bobcats and Emeka Okafor had 16 points and 14 rebounds. In the first period, Wallace was struck in the face by Jamario Moon going for a rebound and left the game briefly, but returned less than a minute later.

Wallace scored 17 points in the first half.

Rookie D.J. Augustin had another strong game for Charlotte, scoring 13 points and dishing out four assists, though he did commit seven turnovers.

After suffering a heavy defeat to the Boston Celtics on Sunday, during which Chris Bosh controversially refused to join his team mates during a time out, he came out focused and determined from the start tonight.

“I tell Chris…The great ones, they walk on the floor every night and they think they’re the best player on the court” said Raptors Coach Sam Mitchell.

And tonight Bosh certainly was.

He hit 9-of-10 field goals and all six of his free-throw attempts in the first half, scoring 24 points to take the Raptors into 51-46 lead at half-time.

Despite Bosh’s strong play, Toronto was unable to capitalize and Charlotte kept the game close. When Jared Dudley scored a pair of free-throws with 3:45 remaining in the third period, Toronto’s lead was down to four points, 65-61.

Joey Graham then scored five of Toronto’s next 10 points to push the Raptors lead out to seven points, 75-68 at the end of the third period.

“Joey gave us a huge lift coming off the bench giving us energy” said Mitchell.

Raptors point guard Jose Calderon hit a 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter which gave Toronto its biggest lead at 10, 78-68 with 11:03 to go. It looked like Toronto might start to pull away, but when Okafor hit a jump shot along the baseline as the shot clock expired it closed the margin to a single point at 87-86 with 2:58 remaining.

The Raptors then scored the final three baskets of the game. Firstly Bosh hit a jump shot and Graham was credited with a basket after Okafor was called for defensive goal tending and Calderon then hit a pull up jump shot to seal the win.

Notes: Jermaine O’Neal missed the game for Toronto with a knee strain and Jason Richardson sat out for Charlotte, also with a knee injury…the Bobcats have lost five of their last six…Bosh picked up a tech foul for arguing a call in the second period.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Bienvenido Manu ! Ginobili Returns, Now We Can Watch the San Antonio Spurs Again

It's great to have Manu Ginobili playing again. He made his regular season debut for the San Antonio Spurs last night and scored 12 points in about 12 minutes of action. The Spurs easily accounted for Memphis Grizzlies 94-81.

Manu is one of the top FIVE players in the league (behind Chris Paul, Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade) and he is always great to watch. He is so tough and never gives up. He is the ultimate team player and the type that gets people (especially me !) through the turnstiles. Bienvenido Manu !

The Spurs win put them at 7-6, the first time they have been over .500 this season. Numbers and wins are funny things. While San Antonio sit just one win better off than the Toronto Raptors, there is absolutely no talk about firings or chemistry problems. The Raptors on the other hand are in disarray. Coach Sam Mitchell is hanging on to his job by a thread and once again the Raptors flimsy defense is being exposed by any and every team that they face.

After an unusually slow start, Gregg Popovich kept the Spurs competitive even with a roster made up of unlikely star players such as journeyman Roger Mason and rookie George Hill. He still had Tim Duncan of course and typically Duncan put up his usual numbers and solid game but still, after losing Tony Parker to an ankle injury, the Spurs didn't make up excuses and allow losses.

That's what makes Popovich such a special coach. Players know what is expected and they perform. Losing happens, but never for extended periods. The Spurs are consistent and epitomize what professionalism is all about.

The Raptors either get smoked by their opponent or cling on for dear life when they win. Mitchell certainly doesn't have the same calibre players as Popovich but in his fifth season as head coach, Smitch has established absolutely no consistency other than total unpredictability and it reflects in so many of his players.

Jamario Moon, Andrea Bargnani and Jason Kapono have all had periods of looking like All-Stars followed almost immediately by extended stretches of looking like they've never played a competitive game of basketball in their lives.

Popovich's Spurs all work hard and get respect even if their name is Matt Bonner ! In Toronto, Bonner was a bit of joke, a burly redhead who could knock down the 3-ball. In San Antonio, he's picked up a championship ring and is in the second year into a 3-year, $9m contract. Who's laughing now ?


The Dallas Mavericks have quietly strung together four wins in a row, including three on the road. They sit at 6-7 but Rick Carlisle is going to have a lot of trouble getting this team anywhere beyond the first round of the playoffs though. They have suffered too many crushing playoff defeats in the three seasons and the Western Conference is stronger now than it was when the Mavs blew their best chance at a championship.

They'll still be competitive though, but really, they are only going to make up the numbers this year.


New Orleans Hornets Chris Paul must win the MVP award this year. He is so dominant it is scary. When you look at the impact Dwight Howard has on a game, a large part of that is because Howard is just so freakin' massive. Chris Paul is barely 6-feet tall yet casts a shadow larger than D-12.

Paul and the Hornets are finding teams gunning for them this year more than they did last year, but after an adjustment period and back-to-back triple-doubles from Paul, the Hornets have won three straight and are looking good.

Monday, November 24, 2008

New York Knicks Preparing for the Arrival of a King

New York Knicks General Manager Donnie Walsh has begun the process of ensuring the Knicks have are in a strong financial position to sign Lebron James in the summer of 2010.

Walsh dealt Jamal Crawford to the Golden State Warriors Friday afternoon for disgruntled Al Harrington and then he sent the bloated contract (and waistline!) of Zach Randolph to the L.A. Clippers for some spare parts in Tim Thomas and Cuttino Mobley.

Harrington being paired with Stephon Marbury will make for an interesting time. Both players are well known for feuding with team mates and coaches so it will be interesting to see how they go together.

Tim Thomas provides no significant value to the Knicks other than not being on the payroll in two years time. Cuttino Mobley probably has a few miles left in the tank but his career has been on steady decline since he left Houston.


What is going to be the most interesting when June 2010 comes around is not where Lebron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh go, rather which team misses out on one of them. You can be sure that they'll be some 'handshake' deals done between agents that don't come to fruition, but you can absolutely see one franchise left with nothing and bitter at their star player having shot through and their former team getting nothing in return.

We've already heard that Lebron is "definitely" leaving the Cavs as much as we've heard that he's "definitely" staying in Cleveland but he naturally won't say anything until a deal is done. For me ? He's already said that he wants to become a billionaire athlete and he's got a better chance of achieving that "goal" in New York, New Jersey, L.A. or Chicago than he has in Cleveland.


Events over the weekend in Toronto would make the Raptors the heavy favourite to miss out on everything. The Raptors once again blew a game that was theirs for the taking on Friday night to the New Jersey Nets and then were humiliated Sunday by the Boston Celtics.

The Raptors were exposed badly on Sunday. Chris Bosh aside, nobody else on the team wants to win badly enough. The normally calm Bosh threw a tantrum. He probably shouldn't have done it the way he did (in full view of 19,800 fans) but the point is that we've never seen this from him before, so something really ticked him off.

Bosh has elevated his game this season to near superstar status. Twice this week he scored 40+ points and both times, the Raptors lost. In both games, Toronto blew a double-digit lead too. The signs are there that Toronto isn't going anywhere further than it did last year.

Raptors General Manager Bryan Colangelo has about 19 months to get it right or else Bosh is toast in Toronto and if he does go, then the Raptors will be back to the dreaded "rebuilding stage".


The Washington Wizards fired head coach Eddie Jordan this morning. At 1-10, the Wizards are clearly struggling but Jordan really is unlucky. Considering he hasn't had Gilbert Arenas for the best part of two seasons, he did an amazing job with that team. He should have been evaluated once Arenas was back in the lineup.

Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler are two stars on the Wiz's squad, but after that there's not too much. Nick Young looks like he'll be decent when he matures but after that ? DeShawn Stevenson...don't think so, Andray Blatche...his game has vanished.

Unlucky Eddie.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sam Mitchell's Soft Toronto Raptors Embarrassed Yet Again

However much longer Sam Mitchell's reign as head coach of the Toronto Raptors is only something that General Manager Bryan Colangelo knows the answer to. Not known to be someone who reacts impulsively, Colangelo must be starting to twitch after the Boston Celtics hopelessly embarrassed his Raptors this afternoon at home 118-103.

Typically, Toronto's main problem again was that they were far too soft defensively and they were deservedly punished for it. No matter how many times it gets spoken about, the Raptors continue to leave shooters wide open and they continue to get burned. Ray Allen is one of the best shooters in the league - EVER - yet he was still somehow left alone far too often today and his line included 5-for-7 three-pointers and 21 points.

The Celtics shot 62% from the field. You won't lose too many games shooting that percentage, but then again, if you get the looks that Boston did, it's almost hard not to shoot at such a high rate.

It's nothing new to Raptors fans. Toronto are still boys trying to compete with men and they are losing. If a man's home is his castle, then the Raptors are the most accommodating of hosts. The problem with that is in sport, it's supposed to be the other way around. Home court, ground or field is supposed to be an intimidating and unwelcoming place for visitors, the Raptors might as well have gotten out the scones with cream today. "Excuse me Mr. Pierce, can I fetch you another cup of tea?".

If the scoreline wasn't enough to humiliate the Raptors, late game footage of Pierce, Sam Cassell and Kevin Garnett among others practising their golf swings on the sideline certainly was. Even Brian Scalabrine contributed.

Yep, the Celtics were so bored by Toronto's pathetic offerring of a "contest" this afternoon that some of their players would have much rather spent the afternoon pursuing other, more challenging activities. The early afternoon stroll around the Air Canada Center just didn't cut it.

Certainly, a round of golf would have been more competitive than what the Raptors offered them. It might have also induced a sweat. At least the Celts have still got plenty of energy left for 18-holes somewhere if they fancy it.

While the Raptors were never seriously in it at any stage today, after a good start to the season, overall they are regressing and fast.

Sam Mitchell simply doesn't know how to close out a game. Look at Friday night against the New Jersey Nets for example. Up 18 points in the third, New Jersey did nothing special to get back into it, Toronto simply let them back in by jacking up wild jump shots and then slacking off defensively.

The Nets got a lucky break on Vince Carter's game-tying three-point bomb but still, New Jersey should never have been that close.

Mitchell's Raptors are undisciplined defensively and they don't stick to a plan. There is no consistency on offense and no matter how big a lead they build, they NEVER look comfortable.

This week has been typical of Sam Mitchell's tenure as coach. Cruising early against the Orlando Magic and up by double figures, Toronto were all over the Magic until, once again, Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu just did what they pleased offensively and weren't put under pressure. Sure, the Raptors were without Jose Calderon but that's no excuse for the rest of the team.

Then, one night later - with Calderon back in the lineup - they managed to see of Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat but not without some incredibly good and lucky three-point shooting from Anthony Parker. It was more that Parker had a night out rather than Mitchell guided his team home. They got lucky and if Wade had any significant help on his team, the Raptors would have been in trouble.

Colangelo now faces an obvious dilemma. He can't be happy with what he's seeing but the problem is, who does he replace Mitchell with ? This is going to be the biggest test of Colangelo's time since coming to Toronto.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Vince Carter Back to Visit Old Friends

Despite being in their 14th year of existence, the Toronto Raptors still doesn't really have a genuine rival. The only player or team who really stokes an emotion amongst the fans is ex-Raptor Vince Carter.

Vince makes his return to Toronto tonight when his New Jersey Nets are in town.(7pm EST, TSN).

There will be plenty of Raptors fans who still booooo VC15 with the same enthusiasm they did when he first sulked his way out of Toronto but for those of us who are over it and have moved on, we are mature enough to appreciate the good days of Vince.

The two fondest memories of Vince's time as a Raptor were the Dunk Comp in 2000 and that amazing seven-game playoff series against Philadelphia. For all Allen Iverson's heroics in that series, games three and six were the best. Vince toyed with Sixers in both those games and Toronto should have won that series. Should haves and could haves mean nothing of course, but it's great to sometimes just let yourself imagine what might have been with Vince.

While there still will be those who can't ever move on from what they felt Carter did to them, there won't be as many boo's as in the past, simply because Vince just isn't the same player anymore. He can still shoot with that sweet stroke and is capable of still going off for 40+, but everyone knows that if the game gets a bit too hard and the Nets drop behind, Vince isn't about to strain anything to try and get his team back into it.

He'll try to shoot his team back into it and that might work for a bit, but he won't just barrel into the line and fight till the death for a victory.

The Raptors on the other hand come into tonight's game on the back of a solid victory over the Miami Heat. The Raptors have been typically inconsistent this season. At times, they have looked well organized and efficient and at others, it's as if they've never even met each other let alone played a game of basketball together.

The inconsistency cost them last year and will do the same again unless Sam Mitchell can eradicate the errors.

The Chris Bosh and Jermaine O'Neal partnership looked the best it has all season against Miami on Wednesday, but then again they were only up against Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony, not exactly beasts on the glass.

Jose Calderon was clearly not totally fit on Wednesday, but a half-fit Calderon is a better option than Will Solomon as the Raptors starting point guard. Solomon had an awful time in Florida and is not a long term solution at backup.

The Raptors need to win games like these tonight and they will, by 10 points.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Toronto Raptors Cool Off the Miami Heat

MIAMI, FLA (LE)- Andrea Bargnani scored a season high 25 points and Jermaine O’Neal had 16 points and 17 rebounds as the Toronto Raptors hung on to defeat the Miami Heat 101-95 Wednesday night at American Airlines Arena.

Anthony Parker made all five of his 3-point field goal attempts, and had 19 points and six rebounds for Toronto. As a team, the Raptors shot 9-13 from the 3-point line and improve to 6-5 on the season. Miami drops to 6-6.

Dwyane Wade scored a season high 40 points, and dished out 11 assists and Shawn Marion scored 20 points and grabbed 14 rebounds for Miami. Wade also had five blocked shots.

Toronto point guard Jose Calderon returned to action after missing the previous two games with a sore hamstring. Calderon had eight points and seven assists.

In what was easily Bargnani’s best game of the season, he connected on his first four field goal attempts and scored ten of Toronto’s first 14 points.

The Raptors jumped out to an early 17-6 lead, but Miami went on a 12-0 run which was capped by a jump shot from Shawn Marion to give the Heat its first lead at 18-17 with 2:28 remaining in the first quarter. Toronto had retaken the lead 25-23 by the end of the period.

Toronto blew the game open at the start of the second half. They connected on all six 3-point tries in the third quarter and then Bargnani was fouled by Marion while attempting another. He made all three of the resulting free throws. That gave the Raptors their biggest lead – 17 points - at 76-59 with 2:02 remaining in the period.

Wade responded by making a jump shot for Miami, but on the next Raptors play he was called for a flagrant foul on Toronto’s Kris Humphries. Humphries split the resulting pair of free throws. Toronto led at that stage 77-61. Wade then scored six consecutive points for Miami to reduce the deficit to ten after three periods of play.

Miami then began the fourth period on a 17-6 run which was capped by a thunderous one handed dunk from Wade which gave the Heat an 84-83 lead. Toronto responded by scoring the next seven points including a clutch fade-away jump shot from Anthony Parker to retake the lead for good at 90-84.

Wade scored on a jump shot to get Miami within a point at 92-91 but with 1:20 remaining, Raptors point guard Jose Calderon stole the ball from Chris Quinn and scored on a lay up at the other end to effectively seal the win for Toronto.

Jermaine O’Neal had ten points and ten rebounds at halftime for the Raptors and has now recorded double figures in points and rebounds in five straight games.

One night after playing 45 minutes against the Orlando Magic and scoring a season high 40 points, Chris Bosh had 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in 39 minutes tonight.

Notes: After committing 24 turnovers the night before against the Orlando Magic, the Raptors only had ten tonight….It was Bargnani’s first 20-point game of the season….

Monday, October 27, 2008

Kevin Garnett and The Boston Celtics Need to Prove Last Season was No Fluke

In sport, it’s said that the greatest challenge is not to become a champion, but to remain a champion. Anyone can win something once, but to do it all over again proves to any doubters that the initial success was fully deserved and did not come about by chance or any other mitigating factor.

Right now, the Boston Celtics once again sit atop the basketball world.

Boston’s playoff victory over the Lakers last June gave the Celtics its seventeenth NBA championship. No team has won more.

Winning the title capped a remarkable turnaround. After not making the playoffs at all two seasons ago when they won only 24 regular season games, the Celtics won 66 games last season en route to their first NBA Finals appearance since 1987.

The 42-game spike in regular season wins was the most ever by a team from one season to the next in NBA history.

The change in fortune didn’t come as a huge surprise to basketball followers. Two summers ago, GM Danny Ainge glowed as he announced that the Celtics had acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to play alongside the team's restless All-Star, Paul Pierce.

Ainge still had work to do though. He knew that as good as Garnett, Pierce and Allen were, they wouldn’t be able to win it all by playing 3-on-5 basketball, they’d still need help.

What Ainge did know was that it would now be easier for him to entice the much needed role players to compliment Boston’s new ‘Big Three’. He correctly assumed that there would be no shortage of veteran players who could be lured by the opportunity to play for a championship ring immediately.

This offer would likely outweigh the chance of making a few extra dollars on offers elsewhere.

It didn’t take a basketball genius to figure out that Boston was going to become a much better team, very quickly. Still, not everyone was convinced that the Celtics would return to the Promised Land straight away.

They proved any doubters wrong.

So where does the 2008 Boston Celtics team rank? After one championship win, it’s far too soon to immediately elevate this team to the same status as legendary Celtics teams and players of years gone by.

As a proud basketball franchise, the Boston Celtics have a long history of winning and boast some of the most well-known players and teams ever in the NBA. Most recently was the 1980s squad which featured the original ‘Big Three’. The trio of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish appeared in five NBA Finals series, winning three of them.

Going back a little further into the late1950s and early 60s, during Bill Russell’s time, the city of Boston got used to celebrating NBA championships like it was their own summertime event. Russell won an incredible 11 titles in only 13 seasons as a member of the Celtics.

Those glory days came to a halt in the 1990s and the early part of this decade, but now, they might be on the way back.

That is the challenge now for this Celtics squad. They need to create their own history. Winning one championship means that Garnett, Allen and Pierce at least won’t join the long list of great players who never won the NBA’s ultimate prize.

After watching Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls deny players like Reggie Miller, Patrick Ewing and Charles Barkley even one championship (while his airness hogged six), it showed that no matter how good an individual talent a player was, there is never a guarantee of reaching basketball’s Holy Grail.

It might not be fair, but that’s the way it is.

Any young player currently in the NBA would probably happily accept winning one championship for their entire career if it was offered to them right now.

A funny thing happens too in the NBA though. Occasionally, all winning one championship does is have the team compared to other one-championship winning teams. Sometimes, we’re told, it’s bad teams that can only win one championship.

Instead, it’s only the very best teams that win the title again and again.

With the talent now on the roster, the only way this Celtics team is going to be regarded as true greats is to keep on winning. They need to stamp their authority on the league over the next few years and prove that last season wasn’t just a one-off.

Celtics fans got what they wanted – another championship. They don’t care how it happened, they were just sick of waiting and sick of hearing how their beloved Celtics were constantly ‘rebuilding’.

Now they want more.

The good news for the Celtics is that for the most part, the same players from the championship team are returning. James Posey bolted for the New Orleans Hornets and Boston will definitely miss his presence. Posey was probably the most effective role player on the team last year. His niggling of opponents at the defensive end and his clutch three-pointers leave a huge gap that really hasn’t been filled.

Patrick O’Bryant was the most significant addition after he spent two idle seasons at the Golden State Warriors, but apart from that it’s more or less the same team.

So can the Celtics do it again?

There are many reasons which contribute to make maintaining the level of success such a difficult challenge. Obstacles appear that the team didn’t face during the initial triumph such as the champion team automatically goes from being the hunter to becoming the hunted.

Opponents consider the regular season match up to be a measuring stick of sorts - how you fare against last season’s champs gives you an idea of where your team is at now.

Team chemistry can change. Having secured a championship, sometimes players don’t play with the same level of desperation or commitment. The things that were sacrificed before might not be met with the same effort in the following years.

Sometimes, things and circumstances can just change dramatically - look at the Miami Heat. Two short years ago they were the NBA champs, now, Dwayne Wade aside, there are barely any remnants of that victorious team.

Expectations are elevated and fans are fickle. They want and expect to see winning and exciting basketball each and every season. A championship success might allow for one losing season later on down the track, but anymore than that and it’s open season on everyone and anyone associated with the team. Fire the coach, the players, the GM – anyone, just fire someone.

When it comes to winning championships though, for the Boston Celtics and their fans, it’s never a case of how, it’s only a case of how many.

That is what Ainge hopes for now. When he combined Pierce, Allen and Garnett together, he wasn’t looking for a Las Vegas style elope, rather a long-term marriage.

Whatever happens this season, Ainge just doesn’t want a hangover.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Eight Ways For David Stern to Improve The NBA

I love the NBA. For me, it's the best sport to watch. I love seeing the big dunks, blocked shots and the crazy athletic abilities.
What else I like is that my wife enjoys watching it too. The NHL and NFL guys are too covered up to see who's who, but in the NBA, you get a close up of everyone.

It's also an easier game to follow, understand, and explain. I'm not dissin' the other sports or their players, but the NHL is a bit of a blur and the NFL has heaps of zany calls and rules that make it too stop-starty. But that's just me.

Most aspects of the NBA are pretty good. The salary cap and draft keeps the league relatively even, and at the start of each season, you can only really write off a few teams that are likely in for a bad year. This year we'll say those teams are Minnesota, New York, Indiana and the Clippers. (Oh, the Clippers!)

Most other teams could—could—have a winning season. Anyway, the point of this article is that while the NBA is great, it's not perfect. Here are eight things that I think the NBA should do to maintain its status as the world's best league:

1. Floppers needs to be punished
Basketball is a physical game. Floppers might as well admit “I’m not good enough to play D properly, so I’m going to ask the ref to bail me out.” MAN UP.
Real defenders play real defense. Tough defense. You can defend a guy hard without being dirty and without being a flopper.

If you can’t defend like a man, then you don’t deserve to be guarding the player you’re on.
Soft players—who fall over as if they’ve just been shot, then pump their fist as if to say “what a great player I am,” when all they did was con the ref—need to be punished.

In soccer we see it all the time—players diving and falling all over the place trying to "win" a penalty or a free kick. It sucks in soccer and it sucks in basketball.

So what’s my solution? Assess floppers with a non-unsportsmanlike T. Embarrass them.

2. Cut the amount of time-outs in the last two minutes of the game.
If a game is tight, let the players use their brains and talents to try to figure something out. The stop-start nature of trying to orchestrate every last play takes the spontaneity out of the game.
Two time outs—MAX—per team in the last two minutes. Let the multi-squillionaires think on their feet for a change.

In fact, while we're on this one, lets scrap the TV time-outs too. I know this is a business and these time-outs make the league a lot of money, but the league is very healthy financially right now. They could afford to stop milking the fans for every penny.

3. It's time the NBA acknowledges that star players get star calls from refs.
Nothing bugs me more than watching a game when the refs don't call a foul on johnny-no-name, only for All-Star *insert name here* to just look at the hoop and get the call.Dwayne Wade in particular gets a free ride from the refs.

Now, don't get me wrong, D-Wade is a tough guy who attacks the rim a lot, but sometimes the whistle gets blown if he just thinks about going to the hoop.
The NBA continues to deny it happens, saying they have evidence to prove otherwise—but any real fan knows that it whatever the name says on the back of the shirt affects the way some calls get made.

KG set about a million moving picks at the top of the circle during the Finals last year and the refs always ignored them. All I'm hoping to see is that fouls get called the same for everyone. These players are good enough, they don't need any favours.

4. Any pre-arranged trade side deals should void the whole trade.
I believe the NBA were going to do something about this in the summer anyway, but I'm not sure if they have done or not yet. The whole saga with Jason Kidd going to Dallas last season, part of which had Jerry Stackhouse going to New Jersey only to be waived to enable him to return to the Mavs, sucked.

It just makes the league look tacky—and David Stern doesn't like tacky. While we're on this, including players who have obviously retired (Van Horn, McKie) in trades shouldn't be allowed either. It doesn't matter who holds who's rights—if you're not actively playing anymore, you can't be traded.

David Stern should have voided Kidd going to the Mavs for at least two seasons as punishment.

5. Anyone who plays in the All-Star game must have played at least 30 games during the season.
This wasn't so much of a problem last year—more the year before when Shaq, was voted in when he had barely touched the ball. It's not an anti-Shaq rant—I love Diesel as much as anyone—but being selected into the All-Star game isn't a right, it's a privilege.

6. Qualifying for the playoffs and the structure.
This is the area that requires the most change of all. Last season, out West we had the Golden State Warriors at 14 games OVER .500 which would have had them in fourth place in the East, yet they missed the playoffs altogether!

In the East, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Atlanta Hawks were both under .500, yet were in the postseason. Atlanta won ELEVEN games LESS than the Warriors. Atlanta by no means disgraced themselves in the playoffs, and pushed the eventual champions Celtics further than both the Pistons and the Lakers did, but that's not the point.

The point is that if a team won that many more games during the regular season, then they deserve to be in the playoffs.
Something needs to be done, because it sucks to see such an exciting team like Golden State miss out just because of where they are geographically located. It really shouldn't matter.

I'm all for making it the best 16 teams into the playoffs, then setting it up like a Tennis Grand Slam format. Seed and rank the teams based on the amount of games won. If there's any ties, go by the margins of victory.

I know that there will still be some un-evenness with the schedule, but I still think my way is better than the current set-up.

If it means that an East Coast team—say, the 76ers—have to play a series against a West team like LA in the first round, then so be it. There is no sane argument to say that a team can qualify to make the playoffs eight games BELOW .500 while a team 14 wins OVER doesn't. And make the first round best-of-five again.

7. Taunting on dunks should be allowed.
If someone like Andre Iguodala crushes one over somebody, then he should be allowed to let that player know about it. The game needs it. Like last year, when Rodney Carney smashed one on Dwayne Wade and then Wade came back and hammered one on Carney. That was great to watch. More of it please!

8. Players should be banned from kissing the centre court logo of their former or current team.
When Allen Iverson bent down to smooch the 76ers logo on his first return as a Denver Nugget, it was cool and a sign of respect, a "no hard feelings guys, but my time here was up" type statement.

Unfortunately, it started a trend that became cringe worthy. Morris Peterson did it on his return to Toronto and then Kevin Garnett did it—in Boston. Now, KG is a classy guy in almost every other way, but if he was going to do it anywhere, he should have done it back in Minnesota as a sign to the fans that he still loves them, in the way that AI did.

By kissing the Celtic Leprechaun, he was kinda sticking it to the Minny fans in a way. As Mark Jackson would say, "KG, tou're better than that." And he is.

So those are my suggestions to improve the league. Am I right or wrong? Did I miss something? Any other rules that we could change to improve this great game? Let me know.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mike D'Antoni - Wrong Coach at the Wrong Time For the New York Knicks

New York Knicks General Manager Donnie Walsh has long been a fan of Mike D’Antoni. When Walsh was GM of the Indiana Pacers, he wanted to add D’Antoni to the teams coaching staff, only for then Pacers’ head coach Isiah Thomas to block the move.

It took eight years and a move to New York City, but Walsh finally got his man in the summer when he hired D’Antoni to become head coach of the Knicks.

D’Antoni’s arrival in the Big Apple comes after just over four seasons with the Phoenix Suns where his record was 253 - 136. He was coach of the year in 2005 and twice took the Suns to the Western Conference finals.

Despite what sounds like an impressive resume, his hiring is still a surprise move by Walsh because of the style of game D’Antoni plays. He’s an offense first coach who pays about as much attention to defense as he does the 24-second shot clock.

After years of chaos and turmoil at Madison Square Garden, the Knicks need a coach with a firm hand, someone who preaches defense and discipline first. Any basketball coach will tell you that a good offense is only good if it has a solid defense to back it up.

D’Antoni’s Suns breezed through the regular season while he was in charge. In the four full seasons he was coach, his team never won less than 54 games during the regular season and had a winning percentage of .707.

Come playoff time though, it was a different story and when Phoenix was forced to play defense, D’Antoni either refused to, or simply didn’t know how. His win percentage dipped to .510, showing that it’s not how many games you win, rather when you win them that counts.

To exemplify the point further, under D’Antoni the Suns were eliminated by the NBA’s benchmark for defensive standards, the San Antonio Spurs, three times in four trips to the post season. The only time San Antonio didn’t knock Phoenix out was in 2006 when the two teams didn’t face each other.

It was the same again last season when the teams met in the first round of the playoffs. The supposedly re-tooled Suns with Shaquille O’Neal, would finally be able to compete with teams like the Spurs at both ends of the court. The addition of O’Neal proved only to be a band-aid solution as his impact was minimal and the Spurs prevailed yet again, easily in five quick games.
Ironically, it was the only time San Antonio defeated Phoenix in the playoffs, yet didn’t go onto win the NBA crown, which suggests that the Suns were actually weaker with O'Neal last season than previous years.

D’Antoni just didn’t get it; sure his offense was fun to watch, but defense always won out in the end.

And there is no doubting that D’Antoni’s made watching basketball fun. Phoenix’s games were often high scoring contests, full of highlight reel dunks & alley oops, offense without a conscience - it was real life Playstation.

With Steve Nash at the point, it was easier for D’Antoni to implement his so called ‘Euro-style’ game. Quick ball-movement and quick shots was the order of the day and if in doubt, just shoot the ball anyway.

Like two greyhounds chasing a hare, Nash didn’t even need to look up to know that he had either Shawn Marion(for most of the time) or Amare Stoudemire racing down the court to finish the fast break.

With this New York Knicks roster, D’Antoni will find it difficult to play the same way he did in Phoenix. Instead of Nash, Marion & Stoudemire, he now has Chris Duhon looking up to see Zach Randolph or er, Eddy Curry. We know that Eddy isn’t the most agile big man in the league & has difficulty handling the ball at the best of times. His lofty 285lb frame makes it hard for him just to make it from one end of the court to the other, let alone trying to finish a fast break.

For Curry, playing D’Antoni’s high speed offense will feel like he’s being sent to the NBA’s version of a training school for fat kids.

D’Antoni might be able to employ his fast paced game if he can bring in some players more suited to his style and he’ll be hoping Donnie Walsh can unload some of the ugly contracts the Knicks took on during the Isiah Thomas shipwreck era.

This figures to be the toughest job of all though for Walsh. It’s hard to see him being able to convince anyone to take on the $22m remaining owed to Stephon Marbury, so barring a buy out, he’s probably stuck with him. Zach Randolph has shown that he can score & rebound well enough, but his attitude and an apparent allergic reaction to playing defense makes the almost $50m owed to him over the next three seasons a tough sell.

The most attractive asset the Knicks have on their roster is probably the one guy that both Walsh and D’Antoni want to keep most, Jamal Crawford. He was one of the few positives to come from the Knicks last season. Along with David Lee and the energetic Wilson Chandler means that it’s not all doom and gloom in Manhattan, but equally, there’s no need to think the Knicks championship drought is about to end either.

So D’Antoni’s high-speed, highway game descends on the horn-honking traffic jam of Manhattan. Despite what’s gone on there in recent years, Madison Square Garden remains basketball’s biggest stage. The Knicks have that special appeal that oddly, teams would rather beat a good Knicks team than beat up on a bad one.

The fans there have endured a lot of losing lately and are desperate to see a winning team again. If he can survive his first season, D’Antoni should at least bring excitement back to the Garden, but he won’t last long if the Knicks are scoring a lot, but ultimately still losing.

Mike D’Antoni has said before that he loves a challenge, so he’s certainly got his wish in New York….but as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for Mike !

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Rocky Time Ahead in Denver

The Denver Nuggets are playing the NBA's version of "Survivor". The contestants are Coach George Karl and players Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson. At least one of these guys WON'T be with Denver at seasons end. Guaranteed.

Tension has been building between Karl, Anthony and Iverson for a while now and it will only be a matter of time before it boils over.

The Nuggets have a team loaded with offensive weapons and are always fun to watch, but come playoff time, Denver's defensive shortfalls get exposed and we all know that defense always wins out in the end.

Teams that rely too heavily on offense get found out in the playoffs. Just ask the Phoenix Suns.

And when it comes to losing in the playoffs, Denver are the team version of Tracy McGrady, boasting a pitiful record of five first round failures in a row. It's time to shake things up in the Rockies.

There has always been something that seemed out of place with George Karl coaching this Nuggets team anyway. He's an old school coach, who preaches team fundamentals and basics first and above all, respect for the game.

A quick glance at the Nuggets roster and it's all tattoo's and earrings, selfish players with me-first attitudes, but, that is typical of what basketball and a lot of sports are today.

Denver has only made one significant change since last season....they gave their only real defensive presence - Marcus Camby - to the LA Clippers under the pretense of a trade. It was a salary dump and nothing more.

It now leaves Denver with a gaping hole in the middle and robs them of a player who had overcome an injury-prone career to push for All-Star selection. The Nuggets will miss Camby and should have brought someone to provide support for him, rather than get rid of him because of his salary.

I suspect it will be Coach Karl who gets the chop first. It's easier to boot and blame a coach for a teams shortcomings, because a team doesn't need to find a taker for him. Iverson would be next most likely to go as he is in the final year of his contract whereas Anthony is still owed about $65m over four years.

Whatever happens, Denver's opening night roster will be vastly different from its roster at the final game of the season. The Nuggets will battle for that eighth playoff spot out West again and might just sneak in again, but given their struggles in the last five years once they get there, it's probably better that they don't.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Finally, Some Sizzle From the Grizzle

The Memphis Grizzlies haven't really done justice to their team nickname. "Grizzlies" normally conjure up thoughts of huge, fearsome beasts. Not exactly the kind we've seen in Memphis in recent seasons. Instead we've seen a timid group of NBAers that were toothless and anything but scary.

This year should be different and the Grizz should start winning. I say "should" because this team is very, very young and more often that not, young teams lose a lot before they figure out how to win.

There is SIX rookies and only three guys with more than five years of NBA experience and the ones that have been around the league for a while are Marko Jaric(six), Greg Buckner(nine) and Antoine Walker(12). These guys are really only there because of trade throw-ins too and don't exactly get the turnstiles turning by themselves !

In Rudy Gay, Memphis has its genuine star. Not a superstar just yet, but Gay doubled his scoring average last year and in doing so cracked the coveted 20 point mark. He should have won the NBA's most improved player too, but that went to Hedo Turkoglu. ppphhh - Turkoglu, he won the award because of other players on his team (Howard, Lewis) where as Gay improved because he is a good player and became the man.

Memphis has made some good moves since last season. They swiped OJ Mayo from Minnesota in a draft day deal and added former favourite son Pau Gasol's hermano Marc as a part of the deal that sent Pau to the Lakers last January. They also wiped their hands clean of Kwame Brown, not that KB was ever part of the long-term plans in the first place.

Point guard Mike Conley struggled in his rookie season with injury, but all reports are that he's fit and ready to go this year. He'll compete with Kyle Lowry for the starting spot, but Lowry's poor shooting lets down his otherwise solid game. Conley is the guy Memphis want running the show.

The Grizzlies also added the intriguing Iranian giant, Hamed Haddadi in the summer. Iran isn't known as a country that produces top quality NBA talent, but they did make the Beijing Olympics so basketball must be on the rise in the Arabic state. Haddadi stands at 7'2" and his numbers were solid in five games at the Olympics averaging 16ppg, 11rpg and an impressive 2.6 blocks per contest.

The Grizzlies young guys will be fun to watch this year, even though there will still be more losses than wins, but only just. For the punters out there, here's your smokey to slip into the playoffs out West.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Still No Heat On South Beach

Don't expect things to Heat up anytime soon in Miami.

Last year, the Heat were a woeful 15-67. Two seasons prior and Miami was NBA champion. Last year was a good, old-fashioned tanking by the Heat. For a Pat Riley led team, it was a surprise. His teams never used to quit in the past but that all changed last season.

They had some injuries - but all teams do - so that's no excuse. Phoenix Suns rookie GM Steve Kerr did throw Miami a lifeline when he bailed them out of Shaq's monsterous $40million contract and in return, gave up the springy Shawn Marion-and-only-a-year-remaining-on-his-contract.

Riley must have had some incriminating photo's of Kerr.

As active and energetic as Marion is, his contract was what Miami was after. The Matrix makes the most of his talents. Considering he can't create his own shot, he's averaged a tidy 18ppg for his career. Most of those points came from hussle on the offensive glass through tip-ins, alley-oops & fast-breaks, with a few, wide-open 3's thrown in.

But Miami need someone who can take the er, heat of star Dwayne Wade. They need a guy who can score and give D-Wade support at the offensive end.

They drafted Kansas St big-man Michael Beasley 2nd overall last June. Riley wasn't sold on Beasley, but neither could he pass him up. Beasley should be solid this year, but he can't be expected in his rookie season to be consistent or to instantly become a consistent scoring threat.

The Heat also took PG Mario Chalmers. Again, he should produce solid numbers in a few years time, but this year he'll struggle for the consistency that all rookies do.

If that wasn't enough, Miami then signed journeyman C Jamaal Magloire. Magloire's career has come to a halt. From being an All-Star in 2004, Magloire was just hoping any team signed him. He got his wish with the Heat. He'll have no significant impact this year or ever again in the NBA.

To top it all off, Pat Riley has handed over the coaching reigns to former fitness trainer - Erik Spoelstra. Who ? I say again - Erik Spoelstra. Even Larry Brown or Isiah Thomas would have been a better option for the Heat.

A lot of talk is about the 2010 year of free agency when LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Wade are all eligible to sign elsewhere. Riley has no doubt got his eye on trying to grab James or Bosh then but he might be forgetting that Wade might have had enough of losing by then and decide to bolt somewhere else himself.

Whatever happens in two years time, the Heat are going to struggle again this year. Wade showed during the Olympics that he looks healthy, but his body is fragile and it won't last long if he has to carry Miami all season.

Wade does get a free ride from the refs, but he'll need his team mates to help him if Miami is to get back to the playoffs, but it won't happen this season.

As much fun as it must be to play in a city like Miami, losing still sucks and Miami is going to do plenty of that this year.

Houston.....You Have a Problem

There's good news for Houston Rockets and Tracy McGrady fans - there will be no first round playoff exit this year.

Simply put, Houston won't make it that far. The Rockets championship window of opportunity has closed. Slammed shut. Bolted, locked and then sealant has been put over the frame, just to make sure that no air of hope can breeze in.

With a suffocating 0-7 playoff record, Tracy McGrady has shown - beyond doubt - that he simply isn't capable of taking his team to the next level.

McGrady's best days are behind him. He lacks the explosiveness he once had and while he still has a smooth jump shot, his body is worn out. Hell, he's already booked in for surgery on his shoulder NEXT summer !

Entering his 12th year as a pro, McGrady has never played in a full 82-game season. The closest he came was four years ago - his first in Houston - playing 78.

Then there is Yao Ming. No athlete in the world - including Tiger Woods - has as many demands placed on him as Yao does. He always handles himself with class and dignity, but his body is also succumbing to injury. In the last three seasons, Yao has missed 82 regular season games with various ailments.

Yao will battle again this year. He's 28 now and each year, he recovers just a little bit slower than the last. Certainly 28 years old is not over the hill, but because of his unusual height and size, his 'real age' is probably closer to 32 or 33.

Houston then went and added Ron Artest to their roster in the summer, believing that his experience and toughness was what the team lacked last year.

Bad move.

The Ron Artest act has worn thin. Yes he can defend and yes he can provide an offensive punch, but he is not the guy the Rockets need.

Before he even arrived in Houston, he was jawing with Yao.

Artest's downside heavily outweighs his upside. He is never too far from saying or doing something that distracts himself or his team. Signing him is a desperate move but one Houston was prepared to make because he is entering the final year of his contract, so they aren't stuck with an ugly, heavy contract if (when !) things go wrong.

The Rockets tried to re-energize former star man Steve Francis last year by bringing him back to Houston. I for one, thought he still had some miles in the tank, but apparently, he doesn't. Sure he had some injury concerns again, but even when Francis was healthy, he just has forgotten how to play the game of basketball.

It's been sad to see him fall so far, but one has to wonder if karma has played a part in his career after seeing Francis' reaction when he was drafted by the Vancouver Grizzlies in the 1999 draft.

So that's it Rockets fans, no need to fret about failing in the playoffs this year, your team isn't good enough in the tough Western Conference to even make it.