Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Fox's NBA Rundown

So the big guns here at SH, Tim and Jack, got to trot out their predictions. Now it's my turn...

ATLANTIC division

Where do I really stand on the Celtics? Am I the guy who looks at this team on paper and says, “two of the starters are there by default and the bench is incredibly thin,” or the guy with his jaw on the floor at two preseason games watching the GAP Band slice apart the opposition? Right now – I’m the latter. This team is the best in the Atlantic, and as good as any in the East.
New Jersey is the other Atlantic team with three All-Star caliber players – they just surrounded their high-energy trio with a herd of donkeys. Not saying that guys like Krstic, Magloire, and Collins can’t defend the key – it’s just a shame that a brilliant point man like Kidd is forced to lead a squad that plays classic, brutal Eastern Conference ball. Expect more turnovers and long jump shots from Vince Carter, the man who gets the least out of his God-given talent.
The Raptors are a nice little team – with a healthy T.J. and Bosh, and an underrated supporting cast, they gave Toronto fans a reason to care last year. Unfortunately, their big offseason addition was Jason Kapono, a skilled shooter who got 11 ppg out of a career year. They can get into the postseason with this little-engine-that-could, but until Barngnani turns into at least Mehmet Okur, won’t go anywhere. And we’re talkin’ about a 22-year old kid.
The Knicks can be summed up in one sentence: Isiah doesn’t know what he’s doing. Actually, one word: fail. The Sixers have Iguodala and Miller and a couple of upside young guys but won’t sniff the playoffs for several years.

CENTRAL division

The Bulls go 9 or 10 deep, and as an advocate of bench depth, it’s hard for me not to jump on the Finals bandwagon. As nice as Gordon, Hinrich, and Deng are, this team has no inside scoring and neither of those three carry superstar status. As Lebron proved last year, you need a big-game guy to carry you to the promised land – are Gordon or Deng capable of that? Jury’s still out.
Two names that I like on the Pistons this year: Jason Maxiell and Jarvis Hayes. I could care less about ‘Sheed’s offseason Atkins diet or the human trapeze artist Tayshaun Prince. The four established starters are what they are. They’re going to put Detroit in the hunt. A healthy Hayes is a surprising talent and Maxiell is the Paul Millsap of the East – and the depth they provide could put them over the top.
The Bucks are going to the playoffs. I love their roster. One caveat: Charlie V and Yi combine for an unprecedented amount of multi-lingual whining and destroy team chemistry. Look for Bill’s boy Bobby Simmons in a good comeback year.
The Cavs are garbage. Larry Hughes is looking like he’ll never live up to being shouted out in a Nelly song, Big Z continues to age, and Drew Gooden, despite removing that awful patch of hair from the back of his neck, hasn’t been able to live up to his Kansas pedigree. I’d like to see Boobie Gibson succeed. But honestly, “Mr. Entertainment” Damon Jones? No Pavlovic or “Wild Thing” Varejao? This team will not make the playoffs, and Cavs management should be ashamed.
I don’t believe the Danny Granger hype, and I don’t believe in the Pacers. Hope the fans there enjoy Jim O’Brien’s “Up-chuck” offense. Indiana will of course sign Tony Delk midseason to bomb away with Dunleavy and Troy Murphy.

SOUTHEAST division

Kudos to the Heat for going out and getting Ricky Davis. Sure, they’ve got some great players from NBA Live ’95 but with the injuries and advancing age, they were dangerously close to becoming the Knicks of the Southeast. With a high-energy swingman in the mix to help Shaq and Wade, they will be contenders again.
Magic: I really feel the sky is the limit for Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, and Jameer Nelson. The thing that will push this squad past the other Eastern also-rans will be the health of J.J. Redick and Trevor Ariza.
Arenas, Jamison, and Butler, as always, will log a lot of minutes in Washington. Is the team better than the Bucks, Raptors, or division rivals Orlando? Not so sure I can say “yes.” Staying home this spring.
I can see Charlotte as a squad that could surprise some people – they’ve got some excellent athletes (J-Rich and Wallace) with a physical specimen (Okafor) inside and an emerging point guard (Felton). However, with this team’s injury history, they’re going to need better bench depth, and losing May and Morrisson hurts big time.
Will someone in Atlanta please step up? Joe Johnson has a solid game, and Josh Smith is clearly emerging as a stat-stuffing force – otherwise, you have five(!) nondescript point guards, two unimpressive pivot men, and four guys fighting for time alongside Smith at the 4. It’s time to separate the dimes from the nickels – someone needs step up here (my guess is Law and Horford) or else make a big trade.

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL FOUR:
Bulls
CelticsHeatPistons


The top four teams in the East are EXTREMELY close. The Bulls and Pistons are excellent teams, while stars anchor the Miami and Boston lineups. The Bulls and Pistons have great point guards (Hinrich, Billups) while the other two teams do not. All of the teams possess deadly shooting guards (Wade, Allen, Gordon, and Rip). The Celtics are the only team without a proven center (Perk), but they’re also the only team WITH a dominant power forward (Garnett). It all comes down to matchups. The Bulls are the deepest but do I see them beating the GAP Band in a 7 game series?

EAST CHAMP: Celtics

PACIFIC division


This is the year the Suns make the Finals. I only say this because I’ve been waiting too long for this to happen and I think the cosmic tumblers have clicked into place in Phoenix: a healthy Amare, motivated Matrix, some nice complimentary pieces and as always, Nelly Furtado’s British Columbia homeboy Steve Nash. Go the distance.
Golden State had a successful first-run with Nellie Ball, and even though I really like some of the foreign guys on this team (Pietrus, Biedrins, and Azubuike), pretty much all the American players here are assholes. I don’t root for assholes, and I don’t have to treat them fairly in my season preview. 8th seed.
The Lake Show is over. No playoffs this year in LA, whether or not Kobe is traded. I don’t care to elaborate, because I’m sick of hearing about it myself. More of the same in Sac-town for the Kings – Kevin Martin’s great but Artest and a bunch of guys who peaked five years ago won’t go anywhere. I don’t think the Clippers will be as bad as people think (there’s actually some good vets on this club). But it’s still gonna be pretty bad.

NORTHWEST division

I don’t know if the Jazz will win 51 games again, but I do know this: Boozer and D-Will are the real deal. Quit hating on Booz – to quote Gorilla Monsoon, the man is an irresistible force and every morning Lebron James wakes up from a dream where he and Booz were NBA Champions to find Drew Gooden as his power forward. Okur can at least contribute numbers in the regular season and Millsap is an emerging beast. Whether or not Andrei Kirilenko cares to join that excellent mix is his decision alone. If his head is right, this is a very dangerous squad. If not, they’re a notch from the top rung.
Scoop Jackson thinks the Nuggets could make the NBA Finals. They have ‘Melo and Allen I. A healthy Kenyon Martin would buttress a strong frontcourt. But there are too many ifs and too many big egos involved here.
Love the youth movement in Portland. There will be some hard knocks, but this season will hone a capable roster of young guys when Oden joins them next year. Channing Frye has a chance to make Isiah Thomas look like an even bigger fool.
Seattle: the Hawks of the Western Conference. Maybe the roles are slightly more well-defined, but until Durant becomes a dominant force – they’re an also-ran. Minnesota’s young guns will kind of be like last year’s Celtics. Actually, a lot like last year’s Celtics. Last place. At least Ryan Gomes can finally get some burn.

SOUTHWEST division

The Spurs are under appreciated, a zillion pundits say. I’m sorry – I don’t like watching them. And I hope Phoenix mans up this year to knock them out of the playoffs and about 1/3 of their crusty old roster out of the league. At least Robert Horry. He used to look like Will Smith and now it looks like he ATE Will Smith. Boosh!
Dallas – much like the Spurs, I’m not particularly intrigued by their brand of basketball, other than the electrifying Josh Howard who has made THE LEAP. They solidified their bench (Jones, Hassell) and probably won’t get bounced in the first round this year.
Congratulations, Houston. You’ve built your team around two injury-plagued superstars who can’t perform in the clutch. Your coach is Rick Adelman – a capable guy renowned for playoff failures. Your roster now has Bonzi Wells AND Steve Francis, as well as a variety of similarly skilled stiffs who will be complaining all season about playing time. First-round playoff exit. Write it down.
New Orleans Hornets – hmm. Peja is just 30 years old but has been on the decline for what seems like years. Mo’ Pete is a fine player with uneven output. If Chris Paul can pilot a healthy Hornets squad, they can steal a playoff berth out West.
Memphis - they’ll be better, but not that good. There’s that unresolved point guard situation and the Swift/Warrick power forward combo is brutal, unless Darko can man the middle and one of the pretty-hair twins, Gasol, steps in at the 4.

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL FOUR:
JazzMavs – Spurs - Suns


The Nuggets and Houston are teams that could compete at a high level in the East but are first round knockouts here. The final four out West will provide some exciting basketball next spring, but I already stated my reasons why Phoenix will emerge this time.

WEST CHAMP: Suns

FINALS: Phoenix over Boston. As I said last summer, the big moves in Boston were enough to get everyone all excited about the team, but not enough to raise a banner. This would be one hell of a cool matchup, though.

Monday, October 29, 2007

NBA Preview: Fearless Predictions


Jack here. So apparently it’s come to this. The season’s upon us and it’s up to me to recklessly prognosticate what will transpire. Will the Suns break through? Will LeBron average a triple-double? In any event, devoid of any particular formal pattern or appeals to reason (pace Tim), here’s how things are shaping up in my third eye vision:

No I In “Team”

Eight Eastern Conference Playoff Teams (alphabetical order): Bulls, Cavs, Celtics, Heat, Magic, Nets, Pistons, Wizards

Eastern Conference Champs: Celtics. This pick is admittedly a combination of unabashed homerism and complete disbelief at the horror that is the Eastern Conference. Any number of things could derail this, most the asshole who coaches them, but hey, who wants to be negative.

Eight Western Conference Playoff Teams (alphabetical order): Hornets, Jazz, Mavs, Nuggets, Rockets, Spurs, Suns, Warriors

Western Conference Champs: Suns. This could certainly go to the Spurs as well. The Suns almost won last year, though, and honestly, I hate the Spurs at this point. Duncan and Parker are a joy but the Bowen/Horry shenanigans in last year’s playoffs left me thirsty for blood. Suns are the pick.

NBA Champs: What are you, serious? There are four teams in the West (Suns, Spurs, Mavs, Rockets) that would be prohibitive favorites over anyone in the East. Suns in four, Nash eats Rondo for dinner. Thanks for playing, though.

The I’s in “Win”


MVP:
Kevin Garnett, Celtics. I’m tempted to write 30,000 words on why the NBA MVP is the stupidest major award in sports. Last year these idiots gave it to Nowitzki even though you could assemble a starting five of guys are undeniably better than him (Nash, Kobe, LeBron, Garnett, Duncan: there, see?). Everyone acted so shocked when Dirk couldn’t get it done in the playoffs, but was anyone really that surprised? Dirk Nowitzki is not an elite player, and while every middle-aged white dude wants him to be Larry Bird, thrusting undeserved hardware at him isn’t going to make that happen. Also, unlike MLB and the NFL, the NBA has an inexplicable aversion to giving this award to the same player over and over. Remember when Karl Malone won instead of Jordan? Jesus Christ. And do you know why Steve Nash didn’t win last year? Because he’d already won the previous two seasons. Never mind that last year was his best season out of the three, or that his first award should have gone to Shaquille O’Neal but didn’t because guess what? Shaq had already won one! The argument against LeBron is that he’s too young to win, even though last year it became disturbingly obvious that he’s the most valuable player on the planet. So why will KG win this year? Well, the Celtics are looking at a historic one-year turnaround, and that’s just the sort of thing that MVP voters go crazy over (see Nash’s first award). While KG already won in 2003, the fact that he’s on a new team will supersede the idiotic “he’s already won” bullshit. Plus, the League is looking to give it to an Eastern Conference guy so they can at least pretend that the East-West balance of power isn’t laughably disproportionate. I’m not saying that Garnett should win the MVP, I’m merely saying that I think he will.

Rookie of the Year: Kevin Durant, Sonics. Everyone’s talking junk about Luis Scola but Durant is a freakishly amazing basketball player and just had one of the greatest seasons in NCAA history. By January we’ll feel ashamed for even having this discussion.

Most Improved Player: Dwight Howard, Magic. To quote his favorite book, this is the year Howard puts away childish things. All the Celtics fans (myself included) who dreamt last year that Big Al Jefferson might someday rival Howard will wake up and apologize. This kid has Duncan potential and will dominate the Eastern Conference for years to come.

Coach of the Year: I don’t care.

Biggest Disappointment (or, Most Overrated): Eddy Curry, Knicks. This is admittedly a paraphrase, and I’m wondering if anyone else heard it, but last week when the C’s were playing the Knicks, Tommy matter-of-factly declared that Eddy Curry “will never be a player in this League.” Gorman seemed kind of shocked, and asked why. Tommy simply replied that he “doesn’t care enough.” It was an amazing exchange and reminded me of why Tommy is my favorite announcer in sports: because he’s brutally honest enough to not give a shit about hurting some fat fuck’s feelings. Eddy Curry has Hall of Fame talent and a Junior Varsity work ethic. He is a vastly overpaid, chronic disappointment. Enjoy it, Knicks fans.

Biggest Sleeper (or, Most Underrated): Jason Kidd, Nets. It’s odd to think of Jason Kidd as a sleeper, but every year someone talks about Chris Paul, Deron Williams or Mike Conley as “the next Jason Kidd,” as though Kidd’s some sort of ghost story. Guess what? Jason Kidd is still in the League and better than every single one of these motherfuckers. Did you know that last year Jason Kidd averaged 8.2 rebounds per game? Do you know who averaged more on the Nets? Nobody, that’s who. Nenad Krstic was second with 6.8, and is considered one of the more promising big men in the league. Krstic is 7 feet tall, Jason Kidd is 6-4 and can’t jump. Kidd’s so good we don’t even believe it: we lack the vocabulary to describe his greatness and so everyone just ends up mumbling about Vinsanity or some other bullshit.

Season starts tomorrow night, with Portland-San Antonio on TNT (something tells me they scheduled that one before Oden went down), followed by Rockets-Lakers. Break yo'self, fool.



Saturday, October 27, 2007

NBA Preview: Predicted Standings


I now bring you my sprawling predicted standings for every team in the Association, with links to all the season previews already posted, and info as to what the professional oddsmakers are thinking about each team. Jack and The Fox's predictions will be along shortly. Enjoy.

The Western Conference - a place where domination still exists

1. The Dallas Mavericks
Predicted Record: 60-22
Dallas is a team that doesn't interest me, although they will probably have the best record in basketball. Vegas Predicted Wins (VW): 56.5

2. The Phoenix Suns 58-24
I believe these guys will be holding the O'Brien trophy in June. VW: 56

3. The San Antonio Spurs 57-25
Just an awesome team, who I can't see repeating despite the fact that all signs indicate that they should. VW: 55.5

4. The Houston Rockets 55-27
The Champs in 2009, not 2008. Yao Ming wins MVP in one of the most muddled races in recent memory. VW: 53.5

5. The Utah Jazz 46-36
Only the top four teams in the West are elite. People look at the Jazz's success last year and think they will build upon it. Yet I'm leaning the other way. Boozer will probably not be as dominant (think Elton Brand last year as opposed to the year before) and he very easily could get hurt again. Okur, AK 47, Williams and Millsap are all excellent players, but I don't see Utah going over the hump without making a 2 for 1 trade that nets them a big star. I also have soured on Sloan, and would not be surprised to see bad chemistry on this year's squad. VW: 48

6. The Denver Nuggets 44-38
Similar to the Jazz in that many people expect them to make a leap. But the Nuggets have even more chemistry problems than the Jazz, and have proven the last few years that having lots of talent means little in the West. George Karl has seen his better days as a coach; and unless this team actually plays solid defense they are going to underwhelm fans this year. VW: 49

7. The Golden State Warriors 43-39
They reached spectacular heights last year in my mind, and I can only hope they have a little magic left. VW: 42

8. The New Orleans Hornets 40-42
Chris Paul leads the pesky Hornets into the playoffs. VW: 38

9. The Los Angeles Lakers 39-43
A hard team to predict, if Kobe gets traded I actually think they could end up with a better record. What a mess - I would build around Bynum, and not Kobe. VW: 43


10. The Memphis Grizzlies 35-47
A totally awesome team, we'll all be hoping they make the playoffs. VW: 33

11. The Sacramento Kings 34-48
The thing is, I always thought Eric Musselman was a good coach. I know he got a DUI and supposedly was going to strip clubs with Artest - but still, I never thought he was a bad coach. And I know Reggie Theus is supposed to be a hard worker and has that flashy smile. I guess what I'm saying is that the Kings really haven't improved at all, unless acquiring Mikki Moore and his snakes counts for something I don't know about. Bibby getting hurt isn't gonna help matters. VW: 33.5

12. The Los Angeles Clippers 30-52
Ah, now this is more of what Donald Sterling had in mind. This team is much older than the normal sub-adequate Clippers squads, but the results should be about the same. There are enough veterans to probably keep the boat slightly afloat for a while...but they'll be sinking the whole season. VW: 31

13. The Portland Trailblazers 28-54
If Brandon Roy goes down they're cooked, and Roy has a tendency to go down. Not that I feel bad for Paul Allen, they'll just end up with Derrick Rose next year. VW: 30.5

14. The Seattle Supersonics 23-59
A youthful team finding out that going in the right direction means nothing in year 1. Durant plays in only 60 games but wins Rookie of the Year. VW: 27.5

15. The Minnesota Timberwolves 17-65
Christmas came early for Ricky. Should be one of the worst teams of the past decade. VW: 20


The Eastern Conference - a generally displeasing study in parity

1. The Chicago Bulls 50-32
I've gotten a lot of flack for knocking John Paxson's vision. When all's said and done I still think this team is too young and starless to make it to the Finals. VW: 49

2. The Detroit Pistons 48-34
This could be a pretty awesome team, too bad they have the wrong coach. Second best talent in the Conference behind the C's. VW: 50

3. The Boston Celtics 47-35
Turns out Glenn Rivers isn't that good of a coach. VW: 49

4. The Cleveland Cavaliers 46-36
They looked terrible against the C's Friday night. Mike Brown, despite being a horrible coach, usually gets his guys to play solid D. The offense was disgusting last year, and the laws of sanity suggest that it has to be a little better this year. LeBron has basically been playing nonstop the last few seasons, and it might catch up to him in some form of an injury, in which case the Cavs are fucked. Expect a first round exit and Brown's subsequent firing. VW: 48.5

5. The Miami Heat 45-37
Watch Dwyane Wade absolutely decimate the Eastern Conference on the way to the Finals, where Miami falls to Phoenix four games to one. VW: 46

6. The Indiana Pacers 44-38
Apparently Vegas isn't aware that Obie is coaching the team. VW: 31.5

7. The Philadelphia 76ers 42-40
Mo Cheeks wins Coach of the Year as the Sixers surprise the naysayers. Jason Smith could be a big rookie surprise. VW: 32

8. The New Jersey Nets 41-41
Rod Thorn finally admits that he worships Satan. VW: 43.5

9. The Orlando Magic 40-42
Dwight Howard is coming into his own. Rashard Lewis should have a big year if he is healthy. Stan Van Gundy is a damn good coach. All these things considered, and I still don't feel great about this team. Maybe it's their lack of bigs aside from Howard. VW: 46.5


10. The Milwaukee Bucks 39-43
You'd think Mike Redd, Andrew Bogut, Mo Williams, Charlie Villanueva and Bobby Simmons would be enough to get you into the playoffs. Actually, maybe you wouldn't. VW: 35.5

11. The Toronto Raptors 39-43
It is a unique thrill to watch these guys, particularly when it is all flowing well. That said I don't see it all working, especially if Bosh misses much time. VW: 42

12. The Washington Wizards 39-43
Ernie Grunfeld has run out the same team the last few years, and it's about time he got criticized more strongly for it. Gilbert and Jamison are playing for new contracts, but I doubt that will make them better defensively. VW: 40

13. The New York Knickerbockers 35-47
You can contextualize, you can analyze, you can observe. But you cannot comprehend. We are heading towards a very special 35 win season. VW: 36.5

14. The Atlanta Hawks 34-48
There are many more foolish things you can do as a GM than offer Josh Smith a max contract come next summer. Everybody should be able to appreciate this guy some. VW: 38

15. The Charlotte Bobcats 32-50
Last in the Conference with 32 wins, now that's parity. I was almost ready to ride the Sam Vincent bandwagon before May and Morrison's injuries, but now I'm afraid I'm off. Felton, Richardson, Wallace, Herrmann and Okafor make up a pretty awesome five, though. They could very conceivably win the Southeast with this much parity, and that is pretty amazing. And probably disturbing. VW: 35

Friday, October 26, 2007

Imposing Power

Well, that was an old fashion shit kickin'. Pass like that, you will succeed. This was the first game KG really had a KG game, and you see the dividends. Rondo and Perk also were great; I feel good about the starters as long as they can stay on the floor. They protect one another; I mean Pierce played like shit and it hardly mattered. So now let me get negative. The bench, until the steamroll was on, was hardly cohesive. What was interesting is that when KG was in with the subs they all seemed to immediately feed off of him. But the only reason the game was close in the first half was the bench's lackluster play. That's nitpicking tonight, though. What is more important, and has far more ominous implications, is Glenn's decision to play Posey at power forward. I mean I'm really surprised; Drew Gooden can hardly be confused with Shaw Marion, he's a big load in there. So this week we have had Posey guarding Zach Randolph and now Drew Gooden. Eek. This, my friends, is a Glenn Rivers special. It is an absurd substitution, especially when you have the live bodies of Powe and Baby on the bench. I don't know what is up with Glenn and Powe, but if Glenn does not realize that Powe is almost always a better option than Posey or Scal at the 4 he is an idiot. Powe played four minutes tonight. In fairness at least Baby got 14, and looked good. But if you think that this Posey thing is going away, I'm afraid you're mistaken. We will get pounded on the glass and inside in general with Posey at the 4. Those are my negative thoughts, sorry to be at all melancholy - it was a great game, it's just I got a whiff of the real Glenn Rivers.

Shortness and Tallness

I have a couple of quiet rumblings I want to get out of my head. Firstly, KG admitting he hates matching up with Eddy Curry should surprise no one. And it brings us back to the importance of Perk, and how critical it is that KG doesn't get the shit beaten out of him by playing bigger centers every game. It's nice that KG will do whatever the coach wants him to do, but with Glenn in charge we are only a sprained ankle away from KG logging 40 minutes a night at center.

So Perk best be healthy. The prospect of bringing Antoine back is intriguing, but the NBA "waiver wire" might have some more suitable pieces to be snagged by the time Monday rolls around. If Doleac is bought out, for example, you could have another real center on your roster. Or how about if Jackie Butler gets waived by Houston? A decent big could be out there, and help to assuage this center issue.

That said, I am most flabbergasted by Earl Boykins still being on the market. Even though at the present moment center might look like the most needy position, how the heck can you not add Earl if it is for the veteran's minimum? Earl Boykins is fucking good. I recall reading an article a few years ago where Earl essentially said that because of his size he has to prove himself every year. I guess he was right; although it is absurd that at this point he has to prove anything. The criticism against Boykins this past summer was that he was not a good chemistry guy. Frankly, I don't believe it. Earl could light it up for the C's second unit; the guy is some of the best instant offense in the league. His unemployment this late in October shows just how foolish many GMs can be in the NBA. It's what keeps Eric Snow smiling.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Antoine - The Third Act???

Jones and Manuel were just cut by the Celtics. Antoine supposedly is in the process of getting bought out. Is he coming back? This is a fully loaded question. I really can't even comprehend Antoine returning, but at the same time I feel like it could easily happen. It would be truly bizarre, wouldn't it?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Minnesota Must Really Want Derrick Rose

The Minnesota Timberwolves' explosion of suckiness continues. Marc Stein is reporting that the Wolves are close to a deal to send Ricky Davis and Mark Blount to Miami for Antoine Walker, Michael Doleac and Wayne Simien, the latter two being guys who may or may not even play in the NBA. Seriously, Minnesota would be better off asking for the Dolphins' Trent Green than Doleac or Simien. Or maybe Gloria Estefan. In any event, sorry, Antoine. There was a period when 'Toine looked to be a perennial All-Star, and now he's basically just a cap-friendly contract. How does this happen? I mean, Antoine was always a wildly inconsistent player who made questionable choices on the court, but he's also hugely talented and clearly loves to compete. Also, Ricky Davis + Miami = Worst Idea Ever? My goodness. I also love the bit about Minnesota wanting to get rid of Mark Blount because Big Al can't stand him. I continue to respect Al's tastes.

Phenomenal

A friend over at Dime magazine recently directed me to this video of Kevin Garnett discussing his affinity for 80s pro wrestling. Stunning.

Seriously, it wouldn't surprise me if by mid-February Bostonians have overthrown Tom Menino and installed Garnett as mayor. By the end of his time here KG will be one of the most popular athletes in Boston history. We get to spend the next few years with Tom Brady, David Ortiz and Kevin Garnett. Someone pass the charisma.

The Big Cover

People may have already seen this, but the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated NBA Preview features none other than three guys who play for the Celtics, and it's not Perk, Scal and Brandon Wallace. Ian Thomsen's got a pretty decent article on how this crazy offseason went down, though there's not a whole lot in here that C's fans don't already know. What comes through the most is that even going into the Lottery, Pierce was totally ready to be traded. That shaky report from six months ago that he'd demand a trade if they didn't trade for veteran talent now seems to have been pretty spot-on. Also, I didn't realize that the mythical Chris Paul trade--the one that would have sent Pierce to Portland for the third pick in 2005, which the C's would have used to take Paul--didn't happen because Pierce didn't want to go to Portland. Maybe that was common knowledge, but I'd never heard a concrete reason for why it fell through. I guess it makes sense; in 2005, the Blazers were even worse than the Celtics.

Some people really buy into that whole SI cover jinx thing, but I've always thought it was pretty stupid so I'm not going to dwell on that here. Aside from the Thomsen piece, SI predicts the C's to finish atop the Eastern Conference, but also predicts they'll lose to the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals. They've got the Mavs beating the Pistons in the NBA Finals; I'm not ready to make my own predictions (soon) but I don't see Dallas getting by either San Antonio or Phoenix. Other interesting predictions are SI's pick of Paul Pierce for MVP runner-up, and their pick of Luis Scola to edge out Durant for Rookie of the Year. The former is intriguing--Pierce has certainly looked great in the preseason, though KG seems a more likely MVP candidate for a variety of reasons--while the latter pick of Scola over Durant sort of reeks of SI just trying to raise some eyebrows. The batshit-craziest pick of them all, however, is Glenn Rivers for Coach of the Year.

I'm going to take a deep breath.

If Glenn Rivers wins Coach of the Year, he will have two more COY trophies than Jerry Sloan, and one more than Phil Jackson. Glenn Rivers will not win Coach of the Year. It is infinitely more likely that he will be fired by mid-December if the C's go on a five-game losing streak. Glenn Rivers will not win Coach of the Year. He is a very, very, very bad basketball coach. Glenn Rivers will not win Coach of the Year. I'm going to stop saying this now because I can't believe someone's even brought it up. Is this some sort of Karl Rove-ian way for SI to divert attention away from the high-profile Rick Reilly defection? Next they'll be mis-reporting Kobe Bryant trade rumors in order to alter the mid-term elections. SI also predicts Danny Ainge as Executive of the Year, but he pretty much wrapped that up on July 31. Barring some sort of catastrophic injury EOY is Ainge's to lose.

In other Celtics news, the Green lost last night's exhibition contest to the Nets in East Rutherford, 82-71. Ray Allen, KG and Pierce were all DNP-CDs, which to be quite honest is fine with me. Has anyone else noticed that CSN has taken to referring to them as the "Triple Threat?" That is seriously the stupidest fucking thing I've ever heard; I mean, it sounds like something a third-grader would come up with. It barely even makes sense. I understand the impulse to avoid calling them the "Big Three," but "Triple Threat?" Horrendous. On the brighter side, Big Baby blew the fuck up last night, going for 21 points and 6 boards in 33 minutes. This is great news for Celtics fans: if Big Baby can step in and be a productive force this season, that'll be absolutely huge for this team. He does seem to have some problems with foul trouble (5 last night), but most rookie big guys do, and as he continues to get in shape the fouls will probably dwindle. The C's don't play again until Friday, when they host King LeBron James and a bunch of other dudes who happen to wear the same uniform as him.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Raining on the Parade

So last night the Celtics suffered a measure of payback for that 40-point rout of the Knicks last week, losing at MSG, 94-87. This sort of feels like the first real loss of the preseason, since Saturday's defeat came with Pierce and Garnett in street clothes. It was actually a pretty interesting game to watch, since it highlighted a couple areas of potential improvement that had been easy to miss in the earlier, easier games.

-For all the hand-wringing over the point guard situation, this team's lack of size and low-post presence might be an even bigger question mark (Sean the Fox has been all over this one). Perk sat out last night and the C's were absolutely screwed down low for most of the game. It wasn't pretty, and if Perk ends up with some nagging injury like the ones that have plagued him in past seasons, numerous games will be lost on account of this deficiency. Again, I'm not sure why we cut Batista.

-Scal needs to play better. Tim astutely mentioned in his last post that Scal's going to get a lot of run this year, and judging from last night, he's going to get a lot of open looks as well. Also judging from last night, he might drive C's fans crazy with his spotty ability to capitalize on these situations. Early in last night's game Scal received multiple feeds from Garnett for wide open looks on the perimeter, and missed most of them badly. I'm honestly not sure if Scal is used to getting so many shots, but there needs to be more consistency, because guys like him and Rondo and Posey are going to be the ones that other teams dare to beat them.

Obviously it was just pre-season, so we need to take all this for what it's worth, which might be nothing. Everyone knew the Knicks were a much better team than the one that lost by 40 the other night, so that probably has something to do with it. Still, this was the first game in which your 2007-2008 Celtics looked like a highly-beatable team, and that alone made this one an interesting watch.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Bench Speaks In Its Modest Volumes

When not contemplating my increasing misgivings about Red Sox success, or reveling in Randy Moss' paramount greatness, this is what I've been thinking about:

-I'm kind of glad the Triumvirate are taking some time off from playing together; it was more interesting watching Ray out there with different combos on the floor. At this point in preseason it may be more important to mix and match the starters with reserves. I wonder who of the three won't play tonight.

-The C's bench is basically gonna be the main thing to watch the rest of the exhibition season, and whether they can cut it at all. I was mildly impressed with them the other night, they did some good things against an upstart Sixers team. Obviously soon the debate is going to arise whether one of the Triumvirate should always be on the floor, thus guaranteeing some kind of moderate offensive success. For those of us who have watched Glenn's second units the past few years, this seems like a pretty good idea. Glenn has consistently managed to make his second unit be completely flaccid offensively. I blame Glenn for this because often there has been some offensive talent out there in the second unit (ie Jefferson, Gomes, Tony Allen all came off the bench at times) and it just hasn't mattered. The bench offense sputters terribly and there is no flow. Now that we don't have such good offensive firepower coming off the bench it might be even more important to have an All Star in there who can take control. Conversely one can hope that because our bench is now full of veterans, this offensive impotence might not be as bad as it has been the last few seasons. But there have been many moments in all the exhibition games where the second unit has been in there and looks lousy, and "here we go again" whistles through my head.

-Tony Allen looks really good. He's attacking, he's not committing too many turnovers, and if there is one guy who could really instigate the second unit it might be him. He could definitely be a key, as Jack hoped for last month.

-Scal is going to play alot. This hardly comes as a surprise, unfortunately. As Hubie Brown noted, Scal has to hit threes to make his longer stays on the court worthwhile. If he plays only five minutes a game and just hustles around that can be beneficial to the team. But if he is playing between 15-20 minutes a night just hustling ain't gonna cut it. He has to do something offensively, otherwise he is a liability out there. Right now it appears our second unit front line is Posey-Scal-Powe. I'm not exactly excited by that. Hopefully Baby finds some time, and if we play a bigger opponent there is no way it's gonna work unless Garnett puts some considerable time in at center. I don't want to talk about Pollard right now, it seems extraneous.

-Randy Moss is an archangel on the football field...sorry. It's easy to think about other Boston sports these days.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Waterlogged

Last night the Celtics-Nets preseason game was cancelled at halftime due to "condensation" on the court. The Celtics were up, 36-33, at the point of cancellation. Ray Allen led the way with seven points for the Green. I seriously doubt anyone even remotely gives a shit about this, but seeing as we are a Celtics blog I feel compelled to report it. The C's play tonight, against the Sixers at Mohegan Sun, though I'm guessing most New England sports fans will be watching another game. I wonder if Mike and Tommy will even show up... at this point I suppose we should just hope Mohegan Sun can keep their court dry.

Friday, October 19, 2007

NBA Preview: Everyone's Favorite

I'm still picking the Suns to win the title in 2008. This is in spite of Amare Stoudemire's knee issues, and in spite of Shawn Marion's petulance. It is also in spite of Steve Nash's advancing age, and the team's lack of bigs. The NBA is a league of patience, perseverance, and luck. The Suns have paid their dues, and now I see them finally being rewarded. Of course it was easy to say this about the Kings five years ago, and then Chris Webber blew out his knee, and that was that. It very well could be the Suns fate as well - a great team that never put it all together at the right time (and was never aided by officiating.)

But Phoenix does have the making of a great team. Before the suspensions they were toeing the line with San Antonio like never before. It appears the Suns have failed enough that they are no longer scared of losing. They look like winners; and even if this team does not seem as glamorous as a few years back, they are much more battle-tested. Hell, if Manning and the Colts can do it, then Nash and the Suns can do it.

Many people saw Phoenix as the favorite before the Marion and Amare incidents. Now maybe not so much. Marion's perpetual bitchiness is of less importance than Amare's knees. Amare (and Nash) should be babied during the regular season; there's no need to go overboard just to win sixty games. The Marion situation is touchy, but should pass over, and truth be told, he is only their third best player.

Marion's ranking on the totem pole has been most apparent come playoff time. Nash and Amare have had the essence of their games grow magnificently in the playoffs, while Marion's has generally faded away. You can blame Marion for this, but I don't feel like doing that right now. Instead I'd like to relate Marion's playoff difficulties to what fascinates me most about Phoenix. The Suns are a transition team nonpareil, but they have had no choice but to play a lot of halfcourt basketball in the playoffs. What compels me is that Phoenix is capable of doing this very well. Their success in halfcourt has to do with the greatness of Nash, and the low post flourishing of Amare. Marion then plays his vital role, along with Raja, Barbosa, Diaw and now Hill. What I mean to say is that despite their revolutionary style, Phoenix is a traditional team. And traditional teams win because they have the best players.

Phoenix's true identity was revealed more than ever during last year's Spurs series. Style and coaching methodologies clashed to make it so that both the Suns and Spurs were forced into a corner. The Spurs were cornered because they were playing a team with more talent than any other foe, and had no choice but to try to be both mentally and physically stronger than Phoenix. The Suns were put into an even more astounding and uncomfortable situation: their style was stripped away from them, and they could no longer rely on their transition offense. It was enthralling, as we had to look at the Suns from the inside out; this was the true litmus test: to see if they could succeed without using their system. And it turns out they could. Nash has never looked so determined to win at all costs than during that Spurs series. And everyone followed suit. Then the suspensions happened and the bucket was tripped over.

I'm fascinated about the essential elements of the stripped down Suns. They're just really good; Nash and Amare got something historically beautiful going on. Marion, Barbosa, Bell and Diaw are brilliantly unique players. The maturation from '04-'05 has been documented many a time. But it goes without saying that this team is ready to win now, and I don't know if we could say that in 2005. D'Antoni is swearing Phoenix will run and play smaller than ever before. I have a tendency to believe him. And there is a decent shot that playoff matchups might make it so that the Suns can continue to run wild even in the postseason. They could become the smallest team ever to win a championship. But this team has gone beyond style. Indisputably it can be said that there is now extreme substance to any way the Suns play. This should scare the rest of the league.

To see the entire NBA preview, click here or the label below.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Live from Section 328

At the last minute, my buddy Greg picked up four $20 tickets to the preseason home opener and gave me a ring yesterday – how could I refuse? Here’s 10 observations from my first trip to the Garden for the 07-08 campaign:

I - The rejuvenated atmosphere. There was a legitimate buzz last night walking around the arena. Scores of people wearing #5 and #20 jerseys. Troupes of high school kids. Concessions and bars packed with patrons. A complete reversal from last year when the concourse action included people trying to sell you a Boston Globe subscription in exchange for an Al Jefferson jersey (glad I didn’t take the bait) and drunken dudes in Eric Montross throwbacks with a shamrock tattoo on their bicep looking to use the can.

II – The realization. When it came time to introduce the starting lineups, I realized that I haven’t been this excited about the Celtics since the 1991-92 campaign – Bird’s last. It’s been a long time since the league has been afraid of this team – and that’s a cool feeling. I remember being in awe of ‘Nique Wilkins as a kid but by the time he got to Boston, he wasn’t the same ‘Nique Wilkins. And that was the last time I was excited. And screw you Rick Pitino.

III – The offense. Having KG, Shuttlesworth and Pierce on the floor at the same time is like shooting fish in a barrel. Everything opens up. The presence of Garnett allowed Pierce to get to the cup with ease (7-8 from the field) and whenever the defense doubled, the best shooter in the NBA was ready to fire away from the wing.

IV – Rondo really doesn’t have to shoot to be successful. He was 1-2 last night and 3-4 from the line and it really seemed like he was one of the best players out there with his penetration, ball movement, and defense.

V – KG can dish! Garnett had three assists last night and exhibited amazing dexterity with the rock. His touch pass to Allen for an open jumper and no-look to Rondo were sweet. Quite the change from last year when we watched the 3’s and 4’s on the squad get stripped, dribble the ball off their feet, or get tied up in jump balls ALL THE TIME.

VI – Perk still worries me. He made two buckets on easy dunks, fine, but he logged five fouls in 21 minutes.

VII – The backup center situation. Pollard sat. Greg’s animated “wait, is that Scot Pollard? When did we get him?” comment in the 2nd quarter drew some laughs.

Powe’s hustle is noticeable – it stands out how hard this guy is playing. He even got a steal and threw down a breakaway two-handed jam after some idiot decided to pull on his jersey like he was trying to take down Walter Payton on an open-field run. He’s strong and boxes out exceptionally. But he’s also undersized and has stone hands.

Big Baby looks like ’84 Charles Barkley. When he went to the floor for a loose ball in the 4th I think I felt the impact in my upper level seat. Appearance aside, I wasn’t overly impressed with The Baby on the offensive end. Even against reserve scrubs, he exhibited plodding footwork, forced shooting, and looked miserable turning it over twice. He’s a likeable character who I hope will step it up.

VIII - Eddie House makes me nervous. There were several possessions when Marbury decided to dig into House and Eddie could barely get the ball over the timeline. It was reminiscent of me trying to play one-on-one against our all-conference point guard in high school and having to back him down from 25 feet out. House has a fantastic stroke, and when that second unit can get the ball up with a nice outlet pass, he will be the recipient of a lot of open transition J’s.

IX – Gabe Pruitt is Delonte West-lite. He’s got a nice stroke and an adequate handle, and he’s a tweener at about 6’4”. Seeing Pruitt run around out there makes me feel a little better about losing Delonte.

X – Brandon Wallace! This kid is energy personified. He rose up for a sick block in the 4th quarter and looked alive on the glass. Maybe he’ll be down in the D-League this year, but I’m glad he’s a Celtic. Upside, upside, upside. I hate that term but he’s got it. I’m going to think of another word for “upside” in the next couple weeks. You can tell me what you think.

Postscript: The Celtics crushed the Knicks by 40. Even Doc Rivers makes Isiah Thomas look like somebody’s drunken Dad coaching 5th grade rec. basketball. The Knicks have some good personnel but there’s no way in hell Zeke can manage this team to a playoff berth. He’s a clown and I’m glad the home crowd booed the hell out of him.

Took down a few Octoberfests at The Four’s with my buddy Will after the game and while we dissected the Heisman race, bandwagon Sox fans, things girls do that piss us off, and what people from high school are doing now, a familiar looking guy plops down in the seat next to me and orders a Corona. Ladies and gentlemen: David Aldridge, ESPN! Ok, so now he’s with TNT. But you gotta love it. October 17th and we’ve got the national media checking out a Celtics preseason game. Buckle up.

Enough Exhibition

I hope everybody enjoyed last night's game. I certainly did. The C's came out like a blitzkrieg in the first quarter, implying to what startling heights this first unit could attain when things click. But that said, I've had it with preseason games. Even though this is a totally new team, and even though it is interesting to watch the jelling process - I am ready for the real games to begin. As the Fox pointed out last week, you can only gauge so much from Scal and Perk playing well in preseason. At the end of the day, these games mean nothing. We beat the Knicks by forty, big fucking deal. I'm sure Quentin Richardson had trouble sleeping. We simply have to start seeing these guys in real game settings. I get this antsy feeling every year, and thought it might subside some because of the mass changes this summer brought. But here it is anyway - five more exhibitions to go, and I can't wait for the real stuff to get underway.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ah Esteban

So the Batista era is over before it began. Esteban being cut surprises me - because it seemed like he could play center, and therefore might have some value on this team. It's interesting. His departure does mean the possibility of more playing time for both Baby and Powe, which is a good thing. And the C's should be able to add a more quality big sometime during the season if needed. This route seems prudent; decent veteran help can often fall in your lap come February. Nonetheless, I was not expecting this cut. Now that it has happened expect Manuel and Jones to also be shown the door. Brandon Wallace's intriguing potential is apparently too much to pass up on; he certainly seems to have more value than Jones or Manuel. It is also worth mentioning that we are dwelling on the 14th and 15th man here, a topic often more interesting in theory than reality...but not always.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

This Dickhead

While Rajon Rondo, Eddie House, Allen, and Pruitt are the point guards, Rivers said he is "scared" about how his team would adapt if there is an injury at the position this season. Without Pruitt, the Celtics even used Ray Allen at point guard in practice.

"With Gabe being out, it just shows how thin we are at the position," the coach said. "People talk about the point guard spot and talk about Rajon [as the starter]. Rajon's going to be fine. If he gets in foul trouble, or the other guys can't go, then we're thin."

-October 3, 2007
The Boston Globe

The Celtics' third point guard is rookie Gabe Pruitt. Ray Allen, who starts at shooting guard, and reserve Tony Allen also can play the point. Rivers isn't worried about the lack of a traditional veteran reserve at the position.

"We don't have a point guard-oriented offense where they are handling the ball a whole bunch," Rivers said. "I wasn't that concerned about it from Day 1."

-October 16, 2007
The Boston Globe

Glenn also says in today's article that no team has given House "a chance" to play point guard. Funny thing, but I remember Eddie playing point at junctures throughout his nomadic career. And then there is House's quote from his introductory press conference in August:

"I played point when I was with Phoenix," said House. "I played the point when I was with Sacramento. I played the point when I was with the Clippers, when I was with Miami. The whole time I played the point except for last year [with New Jersey]. People forget. It's just the latest thing on your mind is what you remember, and that's me last year playing the 2 [shooting guard], Jason [ Kidd] running the 1 [point guard], Marcus [ Williams] running the 1. People are always thinking that all I can do is shoot. That's just motivation for me, to go and show again that I can play the 1. I'm not going to bring the ball up and a dude is going to take it from me. That's not going to happen. My role is whatever Doc [ Rivers] wants me to do. If he wants me to play the 1, I'll play the 1. If he wants me to play the 2, I'll play the 2."
-August 12, 2007
The Boston Globe

Don't worry, Eddie, with Glenn in charge you might also get the chance to play the 4.

Monday, October 15, 2007

My Geekiness Is Getting In The Way Of My Nerdiness

Some of you might already be aware of this, but last week marked the launch of Basketball Prospectus, the newest edition to the Prospectus family of sports research and analysis. Most people who read this site are probably already familiar with Baseball Prospectus, but unlike its celebrity big brother, Basketball Prospectus will apparently be free, which means we here will surely be linking to it early and often. Seriously, this is a great thing for hoops fans, since for quite a while now the only games in town for serious statistical geekery have been John Hollinger and these dudes, who wrote the interesting-if-a-bit-opaque Wages of Wins a few years back. This has never made much sense to me: basketball seems like a sport where it'd be particularly useful to come up with cutting-edge ways to measure player productivity, since at any given time there's only five guys on the floor for each team, and chances are that several of them will remain on the court for the vast majority of the game. I mean, just think, now we'll have a vastly improved vocabulary with which to describe how much Eddy Curry sucks. And if you're one of those people who hates statistics, computers, etc., I think Joe Morgan's having a chat at ESPN.com in a few hours, though truthfully I'm kind of shocked you've even found your way onto the internet. Anyways, three cheers for Basketball Prospectus! I'll now allow you to update your bookmarks.



Johnny Be Good

As the main Rondo advocate at Headband, I feel like uttering a few words on his behalf today. Rajon is going to be a huge topic throughout this season, whether he be good, bad or something in between. His situation is such that he will have continuous media attention tossed his way. But I was heartened to read in the Globe that Glenn is planning on letting Rondo not shoot. Hallelujah. Even madness has a limit.

What makes Rajon so spectacular, and so open to criticism, is his complete lack of a jumper. Almost any NBA player cannot be above average with a jumper as pallid as Rajon's. But Rajon can. That's what makes him special. His ability to drive and get good angles against larger opponents in traffic is among the best in the league. Rondo can simply get to where he wants on the court. So let him get to those places and then pass it. If defenders venture off him knowing that he will pass, then Rajon will drive to the hoop and finish himself. Rondo's negative quality is not a liability, it is just a factor that his teammates have to adjust to. Few players can find an open man in great position better than Rondo, a value that certainly outweighs his suspect shooting. I have a feeling the Triumvirate don't care if Rondo can't shoot - because he is going to be able to find them more open looks than most point guards ever could.

My favorite moment in the London game was an instance when Rondo had the ball before the defenders could match up properly. He darted towards the free throw line, where he had a wide open look. This is where he will shoot, I thought. But instead be bulleted a pass out to Ray Allen behind the arc, who buried an open three. This was hardly conventional wisdom, even when you have a shooter of Allen's caliber open. But just because it was atypical did not mean it was a bad decision by Rondo. Rajon will find the open man, even when he himself has a good shot. You can chide him for this, but remember that Steve Nash often does the same thing. And, yes, Nash is a good comparison for Rondo, because they are part of a handful of players in the league that are truly great passers.

So I encourage patience with Rajon, and the fruit shall ripen. It was interesting to read Nash say how important it was for D'Antoni to allow him to screw up. We can only hope Glenn will do the same with Rondo, but I have my doubts. Remember this is the same coach who failed to give Rajon big minutes early last season, even after he had proven he was superior to Telfair in October. So while Glenn might recognize the strengths of Rondo, it is unlikely he can begin to comprehend how devastating he could be given the offensive efficiency around him. But that's fine, as long as Glenn leaves him in there and doesn't scream at him to take the open jumper, we're on the right track.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Fake Observations From The Fake Games


So we've now had a solid week of NBA Preseason Basketball, which I figure is enough time to start making irresponsible conjectures, criticisms and prophecies. Preseason is really only interesting in terms of rookies or other potential surprises, since established stars often don't play for more than 20-25 minutes anyways and coaches are spending so much time tinkering with their lineups that it's pretty difficult to get a read on how a team is actually going to be performing a month from now. But anyways, here are a few notes from various whirlwind trips through box scores and highlights (it's a Saturday morning and I'm bored, alright?):

Kevin Durant is enthusiastic. In the prohibitive ROY favorite's first game, he scored 12 points on 5-9 shooting and picked up 3 rebounds and 4 fouls in a loss to Sacramento. Not an incredible showing, but certainly respectable for a first-timer. In Durant's second game, he scored 15 and grabbed 7 boards in a win over Cleveland, even outscoring LeBron James. He also took 22 shots in a little over 25 minutes, of which he hit five. Now, I'm not sure if PJ Carlesimo pulled KD aside and told him to shoot more, or if he just decided on his own, but hoisting up twenty-two shots in your second NBA game is pretty awesome. I picture Durant with the ball in his hands, looking at an open Wally Szczerbiak and thinking, "fuck it, I'm better than him" and just letting fly. What I do know is that if Durant's got that kind of green light, we might see the highest-scoring NBA rookie in recent memory. We also might see the Sonics lose a ton of games.

Yi Jianlian's learning curve is astronomical. You may recall my post the other day, speculating that the Bucks might have purchased a lemon in this year's draft. Well, I'm not sure if Yi reads the Headband (I see no reason he wouldn't), but he's apparently out to prove us wrong, as his second NBA game was far more successful than his first. On Wednesday Yi rang up 12 points and 4 boards in a win over the Jazz... at this rate of improvement he'll be hanging 60 on someone by Thanksgiving. Watch out, Durant.

Don't sleep on Kelenna Azubuike. Who's that, you ask? He's the 23-year-old London-via-U of Kentucky shooting guard who's aiming to take Jason Richardson's vacated post in Golden State. In the Warriors' two postseason wins (both against the Lakers) Azubuike has scored 27 and 22, respectively. If he keeps playing like this (and if Brandan Wright manages to contribute anything at all this year), the Warriors will look like geniuses for the Richardson trade.

Don't sleep on the Orlando Magic. Alright, this one might be a stretch, but I've just got a feeling about these guys this year. Maybe it's the 30 and 11 that Dwight Howard threw downthe other day, or maybe it's that a super-young team that snuck into the playoffs last year added (albeit grossly overpaid for) a 22ppg guy in Rashard Lewis, but I just get the feeling that Orlando's going to surprise some people this year, so C's fans should consider themselves warned. Make no mistake: if Dwight Howard puts it all together this year, he has the potential to rival KG for the most dominant big man in the Eastern Conference. Jameer Nelson's a much better PG than most people know, and even J.J. Redick's been blowing up recently (yes, I feel as disgusting typing that as you do reading it).

Anyways, that's it for now. There's other stuff to talk about--one could dedicate any number of words to how well David Lee is playing for the Knicks, leading one to wonder if Eddy Curry might be the odd man out in that vaunted Knicks front line--but it's a long preseason and we'll need more fodder soon. Go Sox and Pats this weekend.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

British Invasion!


I know, it's a pretty hackneyed title for the post. Whatever, you can't win 'em all, unless you're the Celtics, who so far are indeed winning 'em all. The wheels will fall off this perfect season sooner rather than later, but yesterday the C's took down the unspeakably terrible Minnesota Timberpuppies in front of 19,000 drunken British imperialists football hooligans basketball fans. The final score was 92-81, but seriously, who gives a shit, unless you're gambling on the NBA Preseason in which case it's time to start apologizing to friends and loved ones. Marc Spears' recap is available here and contains relevant statistical information, blah blah blah.

I actually missed Saturday's game, so this was the first time I've watched the "new-look Celtics" (over/under on how many times that phrase will be used in the next month?) play. I was pretty excited, though this was diminished by the realization that Tommy hadn't made the trip to Europe and so the game would instead be called by Mike Gorman and Donny Marshall. Nothing against Donny, but my God am I excited to hear Tommy Heinsohn call games this year. He deserves this team more than any of us.

Anyways, it's hard to make a lot of solid judgments since it's just preseason, and I'm sure Glenn is still trying to piece together effective rotations (right? God, please tell me I'm right). As expected, the team looks very strong when KG, Allen and Pierce are on the floor together: even yesterday, when both KG and Pierce were having lackluster offensive games, their mere presence can have a catastrophic impact on opposing defenses. Ray Allen played great, and a good number of his 28 points were off open looks that were the result of the Wolves' D breaking down, just trying to keep track of 5 and 34. I don't believe there's a better spot-up shooter in the NBA than Ray Allen, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. And Tim wouldn't let me live it down if I didn't fail to mention that Rajon Rondo looked good. Not great, but definitely good; he seems like he's not trying to either do too much or too little with his new teammates, which is definitely a good sign. Christ this team is thin at the point, though. And I mean like, laughably, Keith Richards-circa-Exile on Main Street thin.

As for the rest... well, let's just say that "work in progress" doesn't really begin to suffice. By the second quarter we were seeing a lineup of Eddie House, TA, James Posey, Scal, and Esteban Batista, and they've got some work to do. Simply put, scoring is going to be a major issue with the C's reserves, so much so that you have to think that much of the team's "strategy" will rest on the hope of building big leads early in games and then praying the bench guys can hold them with solid defense. TA is certainly an explosive scorer at times but he'll always be inconsistent, and mostly thrives off being a sort of secondary offensive presence. Eddie House can shoot the lights out (I was reminded yesterday what an unbelievably quick release he has) but I'm not sure he can rely on getting a ton of open looks considering the guys he'll often be on the court with. I was pretty impressed with Esteban Batista, although his offensive game is virtually non-existent. He's a hustle guy who's by all accounts a great rebounder, and considering he's only 24 I'd like to see him make the team.

As for the Wolves, well, they're gonna be awful, as expected. It was kind of interesting watching half of last year's Celtics roster suit up for a team that's apparently built around Ricky "Get Buckets" Davis (I mean, seriously... wow), and Big Al had a few nice moves even though Randy Wittman inexplicably didn't start him. Gerald got some run and looked customarily terrible on defense, and Ryan Gomes and Tonz-o-Gunz Telfair made appearances as well. Theo Ratliff looked fantastic. though considering the last time he played a full NBA season was never, the Wolves shouldn't go retiring that jersey just yet. Corey Brewer looked thoroughly overmatched trying to guard Paul Pierce, but mark my words, he's a keeper. Mostly though, Wolves fans are soon gonna find themselves thinking an awful lot about this kid, if they're not already.

So I guess this has been the first actual (fake) game-related "state of the Celtics" post, the first of what will surely be an unnecessary amount over the next, what, eight months? Maybe that's being greedy. In the meantime, the C's have a week off before their next fake game, against the Knicks next Wednesday. Speaking of, David Stern said yesterday that he hasn't ruled out disciplining Isiah Thomas for that whole $11m sexual harassment misunderstanding, so stay tuned on that. Also, Jerry Buss says he's still open to the possibility of trading Kobe Bryant, which gives Tim some new fodder with which to further enrage Bulls fans. I find it pretty unlikely that he's going anywhere. Buss mentions maybe trading him in mid-season, before the trading deadline, which strikes me as wildly implausible. But I guess anything's possible with these assholes.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Frontin’ at Center?

Kendrick Perkins, Scot Pollard, and Esteban Batista.

Of all the teams predicted to make the Eastern Conference playoffs this year, the Celtics are the weakest of the bunch at the 5 position. Whether it’s Big Ben, Big Z, the Diesel, Dwight Howard, Washington’s Fightin’ 5’s – heck – the Celtics may be the worst in the pivot of ANY team in the Eastern Conference.

A lot of you Kool-Aid drinkers out there contend that the Celtics don’t need much from the center position – that having Kevin Garnett in the frontcourt is enough, period. Heck, KG can even play center if he wants. “Big Baby” Davis can come off the bench there, all 6’8” of him. “This is a different NBA,” you say. “Anybody can play the 5 and your team can be successful.”

Granted, this isn’t the NBA of fifteen years ago, stocked with low-post players like Hakeem, Ewing, Shaq, Dikembe, the Admiral, Chief, Smits, Brad Daugherty, ‘Zo, even Vlade. But until everybody in the league starts running small ball and becomes the Golden State Warriors, you’re going to need a center. And even the Warriors have Andris Biedrins – a superior defender who takes and makes high percentage shots.

Preseason reports are that Kendrick Perkins has dropped 19 pounds to get down to 264. Greg Dickerson says he’s at 268. Neither figure puts him at the 255 that he wanted, but it’s enough to relieve some of the pounding those feet took last year when he was hampered by plantar fasciitis. Perk is an affable guy and by all accounts a hard worker. He’s still just 22 years old. But after four years, you’ve got to wonder. He’s played the last two years on a garbage team and hasn’t been able to stay on the court – averaging 20 minutes a night over the last two seasons – Doc yanks him when he picks up fouls or it becomes clear that he has nothing to offer on the offensive end against opposing centers.

Since 2003 we’ve found this out about Perk: he’s awfully slow to the ball and makes Dikembe Mutombo look like George Mikan. Hook shot, hook shot, hook shot, hook shot. This Celtics team is going to need a steady hand at the 5 spot. Someone who is aggressive but also intelligent. That person doesn’t have to be a superstar, just avoid critical mistakes and keep the other team’s big man off the glass and the score sheet. And if you think KG is going to log minutes getting bashed around in the paint every night; you don’t understand the game of basketball. Perk has always said “I wanna play,” and this year, the ball’s in his court.

I was watching the game against McHale’s Navy today and he did some things he’s going to need to do this year: keeping the ball above his head and squaring to the basket at the top of the key and looking for a duck-in. Dishing out to a guard and moving from the high block to the low block to establish position. Hitting a fadeaway J in the paint after a power dribble. Grabbing a board and making an upfake instead of going back up and getting stripped. Maybe Garnett, or somebody, has finally gotten to Perk and showed him that there’s more to life than the righty hook. If this is the case, I’m elated. But after watching Perk the last few years, I’m not going to jump on the train, just yet.

Looking down the bench for relief? Scot Pollard is hurt already and is about as reliable as my 1993 Ford Tempo (a car I sold 3 ½ years ago for 700 bucks). Batista works hard, has good footwork, and can box out. He gets open too, which would be valuable if the entire second unit (Mr. Allen, Mr. House, Mr. Posey) wasn’t dribbling with their heads down.

But preseason games are also where Brian Scalabrine fires away from 3-point range and evokes memories of Detlef Schrempf. I need to see Batista get some real action. Same with Perk. Until I’m proven wrong by these two big men, I’ve gotta voice my concern.

...Milk Was a Bad Choice



It's still early, but one might speculate the same about Milwaukee Bucks rookie Yi Jianlian. Readers might recall, way back in June, the frenzied speculation/consternation that the C's were eyeing Yi with their fifth pick, although truthfully it still seems implausible to me that Ainge was even remotely considering this. Fast-forward a few months, and, well, even though he's only played in one game, let's just say it's a good thing he landed in Milwaukee. Simply put, he looks awful. Furthermore, after his first performance, in which he scored three points and fouled out in 15 minutes, he took the opportunity to acknowledge/gently complain about the "pressure" which felt playing a pre-season exhibition game in La Crosse, WI. This from a guy who recently was threatening to not play for the Bucks because Milwaukee wasn't a big enough market. Yeah, this is going to turn out well.

Anyways, all the relevant info is contained in this ESPN.com recap, but really you need to watch the video in order to get the full effect. I mean, he just looks terrible... rookie Darko looks like rookie Duncan in comparison. The announcers totally savage him when he gets dunked on by the Bulls' Thomas Gardner, but in fairness to Yi, Thomas Gardner is a legitimate NBA superstar and is in no way a 6'5" undrafted rookie. Wait, maybe I should run that by our fact-checker. Anyways, this should be a fun season, especially if the rumors are true and the Bucks have promised him significant playing time. This kid seems years away from even resembling an NBA player.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

NBA Preview: Your Minny Celtics Will Be Appreciated More From Afar

It seems appropriate to bring up the Timberwolves on the eve of THE BIG SHOWDOWN ACROSS THE POND. Seriously, though - Minnesota is probably gonna be the worst team in the league this year. It seems almost unavoidable, and when people say otherwise I always laugh. It's easy to laugh when there are seven recent Celtics on the Wolves: Blount, Davis, Gomes, Green, Jefferson, Ratliff and Telfair. With names like those, and little else to show, how can this team not be bad? I mean Craig "Rhino" Smith, Randy Foye and Corey Brewer combined don't make one Pierce or KG. And even with those two respective stars, both Minny and Boston have struggled mightily the last few years. Sans KG and Pierce - well, this group in Minnesota is gonna have a long season.

Which doesn't mean they won't be entertaining. It will often be like watching the C's with Pierce injured in the dead of winter last year - some exciting, optimistic elements, just shrouded with northern basketball morbidity. But the team does have Ricky D to brighten their spirits (who should, for the love of God, be in a place like Miami by the spring.) Also everybody is free to discuss port with Blount. And Mark Madsen and McCants are around - so yes, this definitely will be a fun team to watch in doses. But for Timberwolf diehards - well, you have my pity.

Minny's problems are twofold. One problem is management - the Glen Taylor/ McHale reign can be considered nothing short of disastrous at this point. To add icing on the cake, the Wolves are coached by Randy Wittman, he of a career 74-132 mark. So the people calling the shots are, in short, morons. Compounding this problem is a larger dilemma that faces this year's Wolves: youth. It is basically impossible to win alot in the NBA unless you have at least one really good veteran leading with a shining light. Neither Ricky, Blount or Juwan Howard come close to qualifying in this regard. And with most of the remaining roster of consequence being in their early twenties, it is a fundamental truth that the Wolves will struggle.

I expect this to be one of the most out of control teams in the league - bad coaching, youth, Ricky and Blount almost guarantee it. Needless to say I'm looking forward to it, certainly it should be more interesting than watching Cleveland on a cold January evening. But one can't get too worked up over a team that should not win twenty games. Still, the talent is enticing - Jefferson, Rhino, and Gomes make up an imposing frontcourt; and Green, Foye, McCants and Brewer are all pretty exciting. I guess if all these pieces flow together, and Wittman stops impersonating Glenn Rivers, the Wolves could end up with...thirty victories. It's more likely, though, that Blount sets a new record for most three pointers attempted by a seven foot port aficionado. Ah, what a season to look forward to. Mr. Taylor, I hope you like the smell of Hell.

To see the entire NBA preview, click here or the label below.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Columbus Day Questions

Finally I have a few reflections from Saturday's game. The main one is what I mentioned yesterday - that it is much too early to draw any serious conclusions regarding how this team will play. But the Rome game does bring up several questions that need to be monitored throughout October. First, the pace thing. People are all over the map with this; Glenn himself has professed an uncertainty as to what the pace should be, indicating that the Triumvirate will dictate that. In his comments after the game he said that he would like Rondo to push it more than he did, implying that there is more of a need for transition points.

The pace element warrants continued monitoring as these early games go on. Glenn has never in his reign as C's coach been able to actually impose a pace upon the team. I see no reason as to why he will be able to now. Rondo is an excellent transition player, and one can make the case that Allen is as well. I don't know if I can say that for KG, and I know that the transition game is not Pierce's forte. It would be one thing if all the Triumvirate were 'run and gun' types, but that is hardly the case here, and therefore the fast break basketball we are likely to see is going to be opportunistic, but not overtly aggressive. The issue, then, will be whether the starting five can continually be opportunistic, or whether they will be too prone to let the halfcourt game develop and avoid transition when it is a good option.

Pierce has persistently showed habits of avoiding transition the past few years, and with good reason, as he is a much more dominant halfcourt player. But in this setting he hopefully will be willing to run more. The key will be the C's willingness to consistently look to get the ball up the floor, but not to be unruly with it. I am not worried that they will be sloppy, however I am concerned that they will not push the tempo nearly as much as they could.

A fundamental advantage of being quick down the court is to set up easy shots before the defense can match up appropriately. We can already see how devastating this can be with KG, Pierce and Allen all on the floor at once. There is simply too much firepower to contain when a defense is not properly set up. Conversely, if the D can slow down the Celtics and create a halfcourt game, a potential flaw is revealed.

As big as KG is, and he is huge, he is no center. Because of his relatively lithe frame, Garnett is never going to be the deep post player that a Duncan or Yao can be. KG is going to habitually skirt inside, but to expect most of his offensive game to flow within five feet of the hoop is unreasonable. And KG is really the C's only inside offensive threat, barring a Big Baby explosion, or Pierce really going inside alot.

If KG can be pushed slightly outside of his comfort zone inside, and the C's stay stationary in the halfcourt, then they suddenly become a perimeter oriented team. This is undoubtedly what other teams want the Celtics to be. They want to play good defense and have the C's settle for jumpers. This is how to beat them. So these are the things I'm thinking about, and there were no easy answers given Saturday, and there probably will not be on Wednesday either. But it is interesting to see these hypotheticals actually play out on the court.