Friday, June 29, 2007


So I was half right. Heading into the draft I envisioned a big splash from the Metropolitan area in the form of a trade. But while the Nets stood pat, and snagged Sean Williams at 17, it is not exactly surprising to see Isiah Thomas and the Knicks active in the trade market.

The Knicks roster seems to turnover on a semi-annual basis during the Thomas regime. As expected, NY selected DePaul product Wilson Chandler. Do not expect a big impact from Chandler immediately. He is raw, inexperienced, and probably would benefit from another season in college. Still, it is not a bad pick, Chandler is athletic and can play defense, allowing him to potentially contribute off the bat, while continuing to develop his offensive skills. Only time will tell on this pick.

Over shadowing the Chandler selection, the Knicks acquired Portland malcontent Zach Randolph in exchange for Steve Francis and Channing Frye. On the surface, the Knicks are better than they were yesterday. Randolph is coming off a career season, averaging over 23 points and 10 boards a game, from the power forward slot. In lieu of Garnett or O’Neal, Randolph is the most talented player available at the position. He will team with Eddy Curry to make one of the most formidable offensive frontcourts in the Eastern Conference, and will undoubtedly take some pressure off Curry. Randolph is only 25 years old, just entering his prime, has shown improvement each season, and does comes in without any major injury concerns.

If you are thinking this sounds too good to be true, you are right. Portland really must have wanted him gone to take an albatross like Steve Francis, and disappointing Channing Frye, in return. Randolph has an extensive criminal and disciplinary history, one that would yield a lengthy suspension in Roger Goodell’s league. The trade also presents another problem familiar to Knicks, salary cap issues. Jettisoning the Francis contract, set to expire in 2009, for Randolph, signed at the maximum through 2011, means the Knicks are now four years from digging out of salary cap hell. Based on the NBA salary structure, teams can have two superstars, the Knicks are now committed to building a winner around Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph. The franchise is in the hands of two immensely talented players with lots of question marks and baggage. Given their limited options, I applaud Thomas for making something happen, and nobody can argue the team is much improved. Plus he pulled it of without giving up any personnel. Let’s just hope Randolph can avoid the temptations of New York City, while Thomas can control his personality. The move can work. It can also turn into an NBA version of Pacman Jones.

Across the river, the Nets rolled the dice themselves, to a lesser extent, selecting Sean Williams with the 17th pick. BC unceremoniously booted Williams from the team in January thanks to another marijuana problem. Outside of that skirmish, all signs point to Williams being a good kid. BC coach Al Skinner supports him, claims he is very coachable. Nets GM Thorn even threw out his high SAT score as a positive factor. Not sure when standardized tests started translating into points, but lets go with it. I like the pick. Williams is a good shot blocker with an offensive game, both attributes the Nets current center lacks. With a veteran lineup full of scorers, guards, and small forwards, Williams can move directly into the starting lineup, complementing an ever improving Nenad Kristic to form a solid frontcourt. Of course, if Williams cannot put down the pipe, like his NFL namesake Ricky, the pick is wasted.

In the end, both the Knicks and Nets, left draft day better with better teams than they started with. As always, the verdict remains out until they take the court, but on the surface, I am excited for NY basketball.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Draft Day Excitement

I always remember being psyched up for the NBA draft every year. The last week of school, the excitement of the unknown, and the fact that unlike football where hundreds of players are drafted, I knew every player selected in college. 2007 is a turn back the clock draft. To the drafts of yesteryear, a player pool chock full of big name college stars, with one or two well-known International players thrown in, and two potential franchise players teams are clamoring over. Unfortunately for the NBA, the prelude and the draft are drawing far more interest, and excitement, than the NBA playoffs yielded a few weeks back.

Oden or Durant? The debate started the second the NCAA tournament ended that first Monday in April. Oden is the safe pick, a potential once in a generation franchise center. Durant is the flashy pick, the upside to be another McGrady or Garnett all around individual talent, but as evidenced by those players, not always a champion. Durant is clearly further along than Oden at this stage in their respective careers, sporting a full arsenal of offensive moves, a knack for quietly grabbing double-digit boards, and the ability to take over a game. Oden is still raw, but he possesses attributes you cannot teach, mainly size, defense, shot blocking, and did I mention, size. There is no doubt Portland grabs Oden, and if anyone brings up an inkling of doubt about it, they are looking to argue for the sake of arguing.

As an outsider I can say there is a chance Durant turns out better, and may actually be worth the first pick, but if I put myself in the Portland front office, with my job on the line, there is no way to live with passing on Oden and the potential to watch him collect a fistful of championships in the next decade. So, Oden to Portland, Durant to Seattle. Then what? Checking most of the mock drafts available, and potential trades on the table, put the next ten players in a Yahtzee cup and see where they land.

Noah and Wright could blossom into stars, or be duds at the end of the bench. International stars are always high risk, high reward. Will Yi Jianlian and Mario Belinelli become Dirk Nowitski or Frederic Weis. My theory is to go with experience and athletes. After the top players are off the board, including Al Horford and Mike Conley, both expected to follow the Top 2, I like Corey Brewer, Alando Tucker, and Acie Law, as sleepers. Brewer can do it all on both sides of the court. He was the key to that Florida championship team, and thanks to tremendous versatility, will fit into any number of systems. Tucker is the reigning Big 10 Player of the Year (not Greg Oden) and a four-year college player. Lacks the upside of other players in the draft, Tucker will succeed as a solid role player on a good team in the NBA. The type of hard-working, solid player that every winning team needs. Another 4-year college veteran, Acie Law, knows how to play the game, and is a proven performer in pressure situations. A mid-round gift.

Where are the Knicks and Nets? The deepest draft pool in years, and the metropolitan teams, both in need of varying levels of help, are stuck in the middle. All the Knicks have to show for this draft is Eddy Curry. If Isiah is successful at one front office task, it is drafting. His solid track record is the only reason to be excited about the current Knicks team. There reaches a point where finding another diamond in the rough at the 23rd pick to be a solid role player next to a group of other solid role players, will only get a team so far. Basically, the Knicks need a star to become a winner, and even if Isiah wields his magic wand again, the best he gets is a contributor. All indications are Wilson Chandler from DePaul is the man, an underclassmen with an improving outside shot and good athletic ability. Do not forget the Knicks already snagged Randolph Morris out of Kentucky in a shrewd move by Thomas back in March.

Across the river, Rod Thorn rarely received the accolades that Isiah receives for draft success, but he quietly churns out solid players annually. Last year, I think the Nets pulled a coup grabbing Marcus Williams late in the first round. Williams is heir apparent to Jason Kidd and will be a border line All-Star with the right team around him. The house money is on the Nets snagging a big man, clearly a gaping hole in their starting lineup currently occupied by the human brick, Jason Collins. Depending on how the chips fall, Jason Smith from Colorado State and Sean Williams of BC are the names we hear most. Williams is a wild card due to off the court problems. He is the classic risk/reward pick, if he stays out of trouble and works hard he will be a sleeper pick. If Williams cannot harness his personal problems, he becomes a wasted pick. Deep down I have this feeling that Thorn may pull a big trade off this summer. Things have been quiet on the Vince Carter front, Kidd is not mentioned in any rumors, and the Nets are not in the Garnett/Kobe sweepstakes. The sleeping giant is likely working the phones behind the scenes, so do not be surprised.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Kobe Creates Stir

I am going to vomit if I hear one more fan call New York talk radio with a proposed Kobe Bryant to the Knicks trade. A few nights ago I heard no short of ten proposals in less than two hours. Memo to New York: The Knicks have no players the Lakers want. David Lee and Ronaldo Balkman are nice young players with good upside, particularly Lee, but first of all their contracts do not come near matching up with Kobe, and from the Lakers perspective, is David Lee a player you can rebuild around? Answer that for yourselves.

Mitch Kupchak is already notorious for breaking up the dynasty and trading Shaq. Critics say Kupchak got taken by the Heat in the O'Neal exchange, but the Lakers did acquire Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, and Brian Grant, a little better than a bag of balls. Butler and Odom were young talented scorers, something absent on the Knicks.

LA, and the rest of the NBA, wants nothing to do with Steve Francis or Stephon Marbury given their age, performance, and current contracts. Jamal Crawford is a nice player,and helps get the salaries closer to matching up. He is a nice supplement in the trade, the Lakers still need a star in return. Nate Robinson appears to be a ticking time bomb of off-the-court headaches. Jared Jeffries is another overpaid, underperforming role player, and Quentin Richardson is hurt. Clearly the Knicks need Kupchak to get hit over the head with a mallet before agreeing to take any Knick players.

Then there is Eddy Curry. I have read a few noted NBA analysts say Curry is the only player the Knicks would not trade. Did Curry all of sudden learn how to rebound and play defense? Curry should not be the lynchpin that prevents a Kobe trade, at least from the Knicks perspective. While Curry is proving he can score, the Lakers have Andrew Bynum ready to the man the middle for future. Curry still has lingering health risks surrounding that $17 million contract. If anything Curry is helping prevent the Knicks from improving, or making trades, since they gave Chicago their draft to get him.

We can argue the merits of trading Kobe Bryant until the cows come home. Will LA be better positioned to contend if they trade him, will another team hold on to enough value to field a contender around Kobe? Its tough to envision the Lakers improving without Bryant, unless they acquire equal talent, like say, Jermaine O'Neal or Kevin Garnett, however unlikely. On the other side, go get Kobe if you can. He is still the best pure scorer in the game, has a well-rounded game, and has proven he can win with a team around him. Plus, after a few years of losing, I think he will come with a renewed tenacity and less interest in being "The Man".

Are the Lakers dumb enough to trade Bryant to Pheonix?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Bottomed Out

Now LeBron James knows how kids on the high school teams he manhandled felt. Pimple faced 16-year-olds against future NBA hall of famer’s has one thing in common with Spurs-Cavs, mismatch. Nothing short of James repeating his heroic Game Five performance against Detroit will make this series competitive. This is 49ers-Chargers, Bills-Cowboys, Lakers-Nets, a total blowout. This years NBA Finals is the epitome of team over player, the Spurs legion of team defense and unselfish offense totally outclassing King James and his minions.

On the court, put this NBA Finals on the list of least competitive ever, and Cleveland as one of the worst Conference Champs. Off the court, despite the marquee face of today’s NBA, the 2007 is on pace to be the lowest TV-rated NBA Finals, continuing the trend of public media struggles for the NBA and NHL.
I often wax poetic about TV ratings, but I think it is a telling stat as to the quality of the product and the complete package a league delivers to the fans. David Stern publicly admitted the games stunk. Who wants to watch an NBA struggle to reach 70 points? The NBA’s biggest problem this season is the two best teams played in Round 2, Phoenix and San Antonio. That series crowned the champion. The last few weeks were more a coronation than a competition, not exactly compelling TV.

Always the spin doctor, Stern mentions the numerous alternate media outlets and television choices as a cause for the ratings decline. He is on the money, people have lower attention spans, more options, and will go elsewhere if not compelled.

How does the NBA fix this? First, do not change the playoff system too drastically. The Eastern Conference stinks, but competitive balance is cyclical. Recall the 11 straight Super Bowls by the NFC, when the NFC Championship games crowned the de facto champion. Looks like the NFL survived. Find a way to market the Spurs. The NBA was unprepared to make an NBA Finals with two mid-market cities a ballyhooed event. They needed LA, NY, or Miami. The Spurs, and Tim Duncan, are all-time greats. They play a boring, methodical, efficient brand of basketball, but they are great. Find a way to sell it to the whole country.

My other gripe is the scheduling. It is not solely an NBA problem, baseball and hockey suffer from it too. Do not start games at 9 PM EST on weeknights. You automatically cancel out a large part of your audience. Children, the lifeblood of the leagues future, will not stay up late, and it is a harder sell to East Coast adults to hang with a 20-point blowout with one dreary eye open. The NBA also struggles with spreading out the series too much in the early rounds. The lack of continuity early in the playoffs prevents any momentum from building. Who wants to wait out two or three days to see what happens next? Today, there are too many alternatives to care. Casual fans lose interest early in the playoffs, and obviously are not tuning back in.

There are some drastic playoff changes the league can take, a new marketing approach, or even a different schedule. Some may help ratings and playoff competition, some may not, but the league cannot fix the quality of play on the court. The teams just have to get better. Cleveland needs to look in the mirror and realize LeBron James carried them despite an NBA D-League caliber roster. Get the guy some help, and quick. Remember, he adjusted that contract last season to get out a little earlier. You think the NBA likes the idea of LeBron in NY or LA? That is the quick fix.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Test of Strength

In the modern day information age, sports occasionally suffer from paralysis by analysis. Somehow, Kevin Durant became less of a basketball player without stepping on the court for a minute since March. Durant failed miserably in comparison to his fellow prospective draftees in the athletic tests at pre-draft combine in Orlando, rating last among the 78 players who completed all tests. Tests that include bench pressing, vertical leap, body fat percentage, and agility.

Strength, conditioning, and athletic ability certainly contribute to performance, but last check the bench press champion did not lead the league in scoring, and not many NFL lineman are seen as NBA prospects. Kevin Durant can play, end of story. He is only 19 years old, probably still growing, and has yet to participate in a professional athletes workout and nutrition program. That said, under the appropriate supervision, and natural human progression, Durant should get bigger, stronger, and quicker in time.

With Oden a shoe-in as top pick, if I am the general managers of any team picking third or lower I hope Seattle values athletes more than players and Durant falls. He is head and shoulders better than the rest of the draft class, and arguably a more polished player than Oden at this point. If Durant drops past two, Seattle risks becoming a trivia answer for all-time draft mistakes.

To prove the value of the training combine, here are the top performers of the past four years, courtesy of ESPN's Chad Ford: Troy Bell, Nate Robinson, Joey Graham and David Noel. Not exactly Hall of Fame material. If we used these tests to rate basketball players, how come Michael Johnson or Carl Lewis never got a look.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Ducks Win the Cup, Did Anyone Notice?

The NHL’s low television ratings and popularity in the US continues to be a major problem for the sport, yet just when you think it cannot possibly get worse it does. NBC’s Game Three coverage of the Stanley Cup, sports most hallowed trophy, netted the worst primetime ratings in the network’s history. Put that in perspective for a second. The NHL championship scored lower ratings than any show NBC has ever put on the air. Listing some of those shows would only embarrass hockey more.

All three games broadcast on NBC saw double-digit percent ratings decreases since last year, more viewers watched a rain delay at the Indy 500, and Versus coverage of Games One and Two came in right behind such colossal hits as Food Networks “Build a Better Burger” and reruns of ‘80’s sitcom “Mamas Family”. I thought I was having a bad week, ouch!

Having a Canadian team playing a traditionally Canadian sport certainly does not boost US ratings, but the public almost has to forcibly try to avoid watching for ratings this bad. Thankfully, the Ducks put the NHL out of its misery for now, allowing the league to revisit the drawing board.

How can hockey solve its problem? Should they abandon broadcast television, beg ESPN to take them back, make a major online push, or some combination of the three? Gary Bettman is on the hot seat to respond. There remains more questions than answers for now.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Isaiah At It Again

The Daily News reports the Knicks may pursue Rasheed Wallace. Did anyone watch the past few games in the Conference Finals unfold? ‘Sheed led the Pistons right into the wall. The Knicks do not need any more selfish, potential problem players. They already met the quota in that area. Thomas needs to clean the team up, not bring in more problems.

Besides Wallace, there has been talk about Jermaine O’Neal, Rashard Lewis, and any other potentially available player. My question is, who are the Knicks trading for these guys? Does someone want Steve Francis or Stephon Marbury, at their salaries? The Knicks need to put an end to quick fixes, and rash decisions, and start building a team around the young nucleus. Rasheed Wallace is not someone I want around young players.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

French Fried

One or two losses are expected, the underdogs losing is no surprise, three or four losses is a trend, but all eight men losing in the first round of a major tennis tournament is a disaster. Two of the eight were Top 10 seeds, who rarely lose in the first round of Grand Slams and typically have an easy draw.

Some other sad numbers, it is the first time in the modern Open era no Americans reached Round Two, and only one of the losses even reached the fifth set, so they all lost convincingly.

US tennis has not bounced back from the decline and retirements of Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. Andy Roddick, who everyone touted as the next great for about five years now, seems more concerned with popularity and exhibits questionable practice habits, preventing him from assuming the throne.

Clay is not the yanks best surface, but without a relevant player to challenge the dominant Federer, or many important tournaments outside the US Open, tennis is at risk of experiencing a similar fall in popularity as hockey.

One suggestion,get some practice before Wimbledon.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Qualifying LeBrons Game Five Effort

In measuring LeBron's Game Five performance, I feel it should be mentioned along with the legendary coming out parties in sports history. The game where a Hall of Famer took it to the next level and never looked back. Obviously, in comparing it only with Jordan's buzzer beater in Cleveland and Magic's NBA finals effort as a rookie playing center, many other exemplary performances were omitted. The discussion was focused on coming of age, not all time great performances. While James was awesome, its was not the deciding game of the Finals, or even the series.

Can It, Kobe

Kobe Bryant clearly needs a hobby. Wednesday he was bored, so he decided to appear on seemingly every radio show in the country, and deliver a new story each time. Was he playing with our infatuation with media, did he just think nobody was listening, or did he somehow change his mind in the course of three hours.

It is a travesty if Kobe does not win this week’s Just Shut Up award on ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike in the Morning. Are we supposed to show pity for a player who chose to sign a new contract with the Lakers last season, who essentially picked the teams $10 million per year coach, broke up their dynasty four years ago, and currently makes over $17 million a year. Sorry, I am not buying it.

If Bryant wants the Lakers to go after a Kevin Garnett, or Jermaine O’Neal, handle it privately. At the very least, think before you talk, and present a unified front. Either request a trade, or keep quiet. I think Wednesday’s actions were to rattle the Lakers cages, and to get some personal attention, making him look like a sympathetic figure.

The other problem with Kobe’s statement is that NBA players of his magnitude can not be traded anywhere because of salary implications. The only reasonable destination is Chicago, since they have the young talent and the salary cap room. But Kobe should realize that whatever team trades for him will probably blow up their current nucleus in the process, and realistically have little chance to compete for a title.

In the end, Kobe wanted to be the man and ran Shaq out of town. Now he realizes big individual stats and personal accolades are not what they are cracked up to be. I hope the Lakers do what’s best for the team (i.e. don't trade Andrew Bynum for an aging star), not for Kobe Bryant.

The King and I

The Pistons were not going to let LeBron single-handedly torch them two games in a row en route to the NBA Finals. Detroit succeeded, holding LeBron to a modest 20 points, on a more humane 3-11 shooting night. However, James again showed he is the total package, snatching 14 boards, burying 14-19 from the line, and dishing eight assists. The assist total does not do justice, as James drew double teams, then dished off, leading to open shots two passes later, or trips to the foul line.

Unlike Game 5, the rest of the Cavs showed up to play on Saturday night. Daniel Gibson rewarded King James’ faith by burying five three’s, and eventually burying the Pistons with a career-high 31 points. Before the game started, if you told Flip Saunders the Cavs offense would hinge on a rookie second-round draft pick that average 4.6 points this season, he would have taken it and started packing up for Game 7. That is before Gibson turned into LeBron’s version of Steve Kerr and John Paxson, burying clutch outside shot after clutch outside shot. If Game 5 was LeBron’s official coming out party, Gibson used Game 6 to tell the world he is proud to be the King’s sidekick.

On the other side of the fence, Detroit simply fell apart. Rasheed Wallace needs to grow up. At 32 years old, with 12 years in the league, Wallace has still failed to harness his emotions, and realize his immense talent. ‘Sheed has to go down as one of the biggest disappointments of this generation. He is Dennis Rodman, except he does nothing but hurt his team with poor behavior. Rodman was an instigator and often forced opponents to lose their cool, and rarely hurt his team in important moments. Not Wallace. After losing his cool yet again last night, fouling out, then proceeding to notch his sixth and seventh technical fouls of the playoffs, any remote chance for a Piston comeback was over. Wallace officially gave up on the Pistons.

Chauncey Billups was not far behind. We need to revisit his “Mr. Big Shot” nickname. In Game 4, with the Pistons clamoring for a big bucket to finish off the Cavs and go up 3-1 in the series, Billups not only misfired down the stretch, he made rookie mistakes, throwing the ball away, giving up bad fouls out of frustration, and forcing up three pointers with plenty of time left of the clock. Rather than responding, Billups faded. After publicly calling out the Cavs after LeBron’s mammoth performance, Billups posted a whopping 9 points and 1 assist in the deciding game. I watched the whole game, and barely knew he was on the court. One questions teams must ask this off-season, is this the player you want to dedicate your salary cap to? I do not think so.

This series holds bigger implications. The Pistons run as the Beast of the Least in the weak Eastern Conference is over. Bill Russell handing the trophy to LeBron last night is the official passing of the torch. Rewind to 1991, Jordan’s Bulls finally got past the Pistons, then dominated for close to a decade. Only problem for the rest of the league, Jordan was a 27-year-old seven-year veteran, the King is a 22-year old four-year veteran. This run may last for a long time.

Even though the Cavs are heavy underdogs in the finals, it is great to see a young, determined group make a run, and a passionate city of fans finally win something. Its amazing to look at Cleveland’s ineptitude as a city. They have never been to the NBA Finals, no World Series since 1948, no Super Bowl wins, and countless legendary playoff failures. Finally, Cleveland Rocks!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

The LeBron Game

Twenty-five straight points. Twenty-nine of his team’s last thirty points. That is impressive in a pick-up game at the West 4th Street courts, but in Game 5 of the Conference Finals, with the season on the line, that is the stuff of legends. King James lived up to his name, the hype, the pressure, and gave his outspoken detractors, myself included, a deserved stare down after the last of eighteen dazzling field goals, finally putting the Pistons away.

The list is well-documented, Magic playing center against the Sixers in the 1980 finals, Jordan over Ehlo to beat the Cavs, the Bird-Dominique showdown, star players taking their acts to the next level in big spots, career defining performances. Years from now James’ ungodly effort may top the list. Consider this, LeBron was a one-man show the entire game, not one other player on Cleveland was even a threat to take a shot, the Pistons are the best defensive team of this era and arguably built specifically to stop a LeBron James, and James did it every way possible. He shot the three ala Bird, hit Jordan-esque off-balance fade-aways over two defenders, sliced to the basket with Dr. J like finesse and grace, and threw down dunks with the same rim rattling power as Shaq. Did I mention he did this on the road.

James showed glimpses of greatness since coming into the NBA, finally took a big step forward by carrying Cleveland to big wins in Games three and four, but in Game Five he put it all together and the Pistons turned into unfortunate bystanders of the best NBA performance most of us have ever seen.

The job is not complete by any means. How the series ends plays a major role in James’ place in history. Cleveland, or better yet, the LeBron’s, need to close out Detroit to put the gold frame around the Game Five Picasso. Blow another 3-2 lead and there will always be the, yeah, but… associated with the 48-point deluge.

Do not count the Pistons out. They have clawed out of this same 3-2 deficit multiple times over the past five years. There is little chance LeBron can carry the same load again, or that the Pistons will allow him to dominate without more physical resistance. Maybe the rest of the Cavs can show up tonight. If not, I put my money on Detroit returning to the Bad Boys days and putting James on his back a few times, tightening the screws, and taking it to Game Seven. If the Cavs role players can, well, fill their roles, and take some pressure off James, they can ride the momentum right to San Antonio.

All eyes will be on Game Six. How do the Pistons respond? Does King James get any help? Is LeBron still in that unexplainable mental and physical zone? Saturday brings all the answers, more historical perspective on the developing legend.

… Lots of people will not forget where they watched “The LeBron Game”. Thursday’s night epic double-OT game nabbed a solid 4.8 national cable overnight rating, pulling a dominant 19.6 and 17.4 respectively, in the Cleveland and Detroit markets. Yes, that was David Stern thanking the good Lord for LeBron James, and begging for one more win.