Archive for June, 2011

If you’re a fan of big names and surefire superstars running out their first blocks in the NBA, this draft isn’t for you. However, if following the most wide open NBA debut night in many, many years intrigues you, this is a great year. The talent pool for tonight’s NBA Draft is devoid of any John Wall, Blake Griffin or Derrick Rose type of definite impact debuts, but there is a ton of movement around a group of well known college stars that makes this one of the NBA’s best soap opera nights in sometime.

From the Cavaliers having to make not one, but two, tough calls in rebuilding their team early in the night, to mixture of “known”, by name only, college ballers being evaluated nearly equally with international guys, theres a lot of everything here. So before passing judgement or being disappointed by no one player that is already a superstar in a league he hasn’t played in yet, take time and look around what may be one of the purest drafts of all-time.

Irving brings a short resume to a spot with long expectations if his name leads off this draft.

No player has ever earned any top billing in the NBA before they step foot on it’s court. And at least with this year’s class, their image can only go up. Here is my take on what goes best for each club,  with a mixture of what fits, what’s the rumors and where their talent says they should land.

 

1. CAVS: Kyrie Irving-PG-Duke

In today’s NBA, a point guard is the quickest route to turning a franchise’s fortune, outside of a once in a generation-type talent to build around. Well since they lost one of those, and felt the immediate effects, they’ll go around the safest way to build up a franchise otherwise. Forget the Baron Davis is already there talk, if he was so good the Clippers wouldn’t have traded him (and this pick) just to move him out. Having a definite floor leader to influence the game and build around is a solid way to head back up the road to respectability, and Irving is the most balanced option in this year’s pool.

2. T-WOLVES: Derrick Williams-PF-Arizona

Williams is a great talent that can contribute in multiple ways from day one. However, exactly how (and where) he does that is uncertain. What is certain is that he puts the Wolves in a tight spot of needing to add the most talent possible, but having that talent be at a position they are relatively set at already. He could be an insurance item in the case of Kevin Love leaving town, or this year’s Derrick Favors (a high talent selection held on until the right deal presents itself…either tonight or after the season starts).

Whether it is about his position or even his city after being drafted, where he fits has been Williams' biggest question mark.

3. Jazz: Enes Kanter-C-Turkey

More than just a few guys help the Jazz here, as they could use a point guard and some help on the wing. However, taking Kanter gives them something that won’t be available when they pick again at number 12: a solid middle piece to an impressive collection of front court talent.

4. CAVS: Tristan Thompson-PF-Texas

Toughest call yet, and the first true wild card of the draft. Evidently the Cavs love seven footer Jonas Valanciunas here, but he won’t be available to play next year in the NBA, and the Cavs need as much immediate help as possible. They worked on Thompson again recently and liked what they saw, so the move to add another long, athletic talent around the rim could land on him. Since they have said they’ll be staying here, the options could be limited just to him at this point. A few other guys make a bit more sense to go with what they want to build around already though.

5. RAPTORS: Brandon Knight-PG-Kentucky

This a major find here for Toronto. He is a legit play creator that can function in both positions in the back court and would give them an impressive young, athletic backcourt along with Demar DeRozan. They need a body in the post that’s inclined to improve their terrible defense, but passing on Knight’s talent isn’t an option here.

Knight looks to follow in the footsteps of his Kentucky PG predecessor John Wall as a quick impact NBAer.

6. WIZARDS: Jan Vesely-SF-Czech Republic

Vesley gives them a long athletic finisher that can run the floor and continue to better that fast break approach the Wizards have committed to building around John Wall. They need help under the rim, but waiting on Valanciunas isn’t an option here and they love what Vesley brings to the table on potential as a perimeter defender as well.

7. KINGS: Kwahi Leonard-SF-San Diego St.

Tough call here, as they are in need of a point guard since Tyreke Evans is moving off the ball next season and there are several talented ones on the board still. However, Leonard brings an athletic, versatile forward that adds another running mate with Evans in their attack and has the skill to become one of the better shot blocking wings in the League. Management loves Jimmer though, and that could overrule here.

8. PISTONS: Jonas Valanciunas-C-Lithuania

A top-3 talent with plenty of strings attached. No team wants to go through a Rubio situation and while Valanciunas’ debut is guaranteed to only last a year, all of these teams need help yesterday. The Pistons are looking for a defensive talent to pair with Greg Monroe around the rim, and Valanciunas’ promise may be worth the wait. This could be a hold pick for the Rockets as well, as they are in love with the Lithuanian big man and are willing to give up several picks to select him.

The impact won't be immediate, but Valanciunas is out to prove he is worth the wait.

9. BOBCATS: Chris Singleton-SF-Florida St.

The Bobcats need everything they lost when Gerald Wallace was shipped away, and Singleton brings many of those same tools to the table. He isn’t the freakish athlete Wallace is, but he is the best defender in the draft and is also quite familiar with coach Leonard Hamilton from college.

10. BUCKS: Alec Burks-SG-Colorado

The Bucks need another attacker on the wing, and Burks is the most aggressive scorer in a weak shooting guard class this year. His shot needs to come a long way, but he can flat score and gets to the rim and free throw line. Instant offense.

11. WARRIORS: Klay Thompson-SG-Washington State

Jerry West likes smart players, and Thompson is that. He is capable of playing anywhere from the 3 to the 1, and gives the Warriors options as they reshape and balance out their roster under their new regime. An athletic big man could also be in play here.

12. JAZZ: Jimmer Fredette-PG-BYU

This is part need pick and part fan pick. Jimmer is a legend in Utah and he is also instant offense for a team that needs to get more off it’s bench. Being paired with Devin Harris for now at the one gives him time to grow, and gives Jazz fans a reason to get excited.

13. SUNS: Marcus Morris-PF-Kansas

The Suns brought nothing under the rim that could provide any sort of threat around the rim after Amare Stoudemire left for New York, and they suffered last year because of it. Morris is a solid big that does some of everything, and while he’ll never be the All-Star athlete that preceded him, he does give the Suns a much need boost in the toughness department.

14. ROCKETS: Nikola Vucevic-C-USC

The Rockets need size around the rim and Vucevic is the last of the legit true centers in this draft. There’s more talent available, but this is a pick to fit and the Rockets learned how small they are last year with Yao out the mix. He’d be one of the quicker to start players in the Draft landing here.

15. PACERS: Kemba Walker-PG-UConn

And the slide ends here. Kemba could take a major hit if the Kings pass on him or another team doesn’t stray far from their needs to snatch him before he gets here. The Pacers made the move to solidify their PG situation with Darren Collison last year, but landing Kemba gives them another offensive threat from the point, which they lacked for a long time.

Walker brings a big name to the Draft, but could he be in for a big slide too?

16. SIXERS: Bismark Biyombo-PF-Congo

The biggest unknown in the field and will be tempting to a number of teams long before this point, starting with the Raptors at 5. However, with so little for sure talent in this year’s pool, some teams may pass on him due to concerns about him having any offensive potential at all. However, he can bang under the rim and he will add a body, which is exactly what the Sixer need to mix in.

17. KNICKS: Kenneth Faried-PF-Morehead St.

The Knicks need defense anyway they can get it, and Faried is exactly the type of guy they need. He can match up with either forward position and has a strong motor around the rim and blocking shots. He is exactly the type of defensively inspired player they need.

18. WIZARDS: Jordan Hamilton-SF-Texas

A long, rangy shooter that can step into the shoes of Rashard Lewis. Hamilton gives the Wizards the ability to stretch the court more and could live on kick outs from Wall alone.

19. BOBCATS: Markieff Morris-PF-Kansas

The Bobcats need more presence around the rim and guys that are able to rebound. The other Morris twin gives them that and is experienced and ready to go now.

20. TIMBERWOLVES: Iman Shumpert-SG-Georgia Tech

A hot rising name in the last few days before the Draft, and there are a number of teams that are interested in him before this point. If he lasts this long he makes great sense for the Timberwolves, who have an abundance of young offensive-minded talent, but need a defense first grinder as well. Shumpert is that guy, and can guard either position in the backcourt.

21. BLAZERS: Tobias Harris-PF-Tennessee

The Blazers need more help on defense around the rim, but passing on Harris may be too hard to do. He can play either forward position and gives the Blazers another tall forward that can stretch the floor with his jumper. Taking a combo guard could be the order of the day here too.

22. Nuggets: Marshon Brooks-SG-Providence

Brooks is a multi-talented guard that can slide between shooting and point guard with little effort. Since J.R. Smith most likely will not be returning and Raymond Felton could be on the move, he fits in in a number of ways here.

23. ROCKETS: Dontas Motiejunas-PF-Lithuania

Once again, more size for a team that needs it, but this time with an offensive touch. While the Rockets could be packaging this pick to move up for his countryman Jonas Valanciunas, if they don’t make that move they don’t lose out completely landing this 19 year old with definite offensive skill to be developed.

24. THUNDER: Kyle Singler-SF-Duke

Singler is just a solid, do everything needed type and fits in well with the Thunder, who don’t have one glaring need. They are said to be in love with his work ethic and ability to do what is needed between the lines. We’ve seen his kind before, and if given a manageable role, he’ll be a good asset.

25. CELTICS: Tyler Honeycutt-SF-UCLA

The Celtics are building up their bench for the soon-t0-come roster turnover due to the age of their stars, and having Honeycutt on staff helps them out at either the SF or SG spot down the road. It’s all about versatility here.

26. MAVERICKS: Reggie Jackson-PG-Boston College

Jackson hasn’t worked out once due to a knee injury suffered just before Draft camps and workouts began, but for a team that can afford to take a risk to get back a sure fire contributer, he’s a good pick. The Mavs have the depth in the backcourt to support such a pick and he makes some of their impending free agent decisions a bit easier to confront.

27. NETS: Jimmy Butler-SF-Marquette

The Nets are weak on the wings, and need a solid overall player that can step in and help immediately. Butler is that guy and can knock down the long range shot at a plus rate as well.

28. BULLS: Jajuan Johnson-PF-Purdue

Another body never hurts, and Johnson is an experience veteran that is committed to defense around the rim and is an athletic finisher to boot. He fits in perfectly with what the Bulls emphasize.

29. SPURS: Nikola Mirotic-SF-Serbia

The Spurs collapse at the end of the season and rapidly aged roster says on the surface that they need to get an immediate youth boost with this pick, but if they are anything as a franchise it’s patient and Mirotic is an investment in that philosophy. He won’t be available to come to the NBA for at least two years, but could be well worth the wait (he’d be approaching Lottery consideration if he was free to play next year) and would give the Spurs yet another international first round theft.

30. BULLS: Nolan Smith-PG-Duke

Smith is a polished contributor and ACC Player of the Year that proved over the course of his career at Duke that he was capable of filling any role needed, including defense first guard, to off ball shooter to offensive center piece. He is perfect for a Chicago team that needs help at both guard spots off the bench and needs a steady ball handler behind Derrick Rose.

The word following up the NBA Finals hasn’t been in the spirit of celebrating the victors; rather it has been towards the promise unfilled by one LeBron James of southern Florida fame. There has been a world of talk and example made about his shortcomings, and I’ve already addressed that here, so I wont’ go any further into that. Rather lets take a look back at some the fails that took place over the course of the entire season here.

Jennings couldn't recapture his rookie magic, and the Bucks couldn't continue to grow either.

From the a much discussed free agent carnival in the summer of ’10, all the way through a quite unpredictable season on the court, the 2010-11 NBA was full of all sorts of highs and lows, deliveries on promise and M.I.A. missions as well. While there were a few teams and players that came up short on what was called for them this year (the Bucks, Rockets, David Lee and Deron Williams/Jerry Sloan to mention a few), below are what I see as being the biggest “WTF?” moments and performances of the season. On Monday, we’ll take a look at the biggest surprises and overachievers from the year past as CSP moves into NBA Draft week….and perhaps some off court struggles that could be the #1 moment on this list next year.

 

5. Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers seemed like they were on cruise control all season and never really showed the flare to have the push that everybody was waiting to see out of them. Even Kobe kind of seem to go through the motions this year (which still lead to him being a top 5 MVP finalist). In the end, they caught a sweep in the Western Semifinals, and ended it in a classless manner that proved they were only the team they had been the previous two seasons in appearance only.

In the end, even Bryant couldn't will his Lakers to finding their stride for long this year.

4. Milwaukee Bucks: This was a team a year ago that made a surprisingly strong push behind Brandon Jennings major debut, and even touched the playoffs after some good trade deadline moves around John Salmons. However, a year later after adding to that core and getting a monster year out of Andrew Bogut around the rim, they got worse in a division that got much worse too…very strange.

3. Carlos Boozer: He was brought in to give the Bulls a front court scoring threat for the first time since Elton Brand was jettisoned, but often was more obstacle that asset. Running in the pick and roll based attack Jerry Sloan deployed in Utah, his jump shot based offense was perfect, but he was asked to create more of his own offense this year and struggled to do so against the variety of athletic forwards in the East. Either the Bulls have to tweak their attack or Boozer has to find a way to get new openings because he wasn’t brought over for 17 points and 9 rebounds a night.

2. San Antonio Spurs: It’s rare that you see a veteran team just absolutely lose their way like the Spurs did down the stretch; let alone one that has the championship pedigree this squad does. The Spurs raced out to what remained an insurmountable start to be the best club in the West all season. They lost 21 games on the season, but 10 of them came after March 1. By March that was just by record as they began a collapse that followed them into the Playoffs and showed them an early door. What’s more alarming, yet shouldn’t be surprising, is that the young Grizzlies pushed them to several clutch moments in their first round matchup that should have favored the Spurs, but they couldn’t capitalize on them and became the third #1 seed to lose in the first round ever. Never has a team began to look it’s age so quickly over the course of a season.

1. The 2010 Draft Class: Blake Griffin’s success in his debut masked the fact that his fellow rookies (that he wasn’t even drafted with mind you) did little to nothing. John Wall had a solid debut and shows exactly what he can be for the Wizards, but the rest of the group? It was nothing to write home about if you like to give good news. Of the All-Rookie team, Gary Neal was a free agent signing and Landry Fields was a second rounder. Of all Draft picks from last April, only Wall and DeMarcus Cousins managed to average double figures. While it’s still early to doom them to complete Bustville, they could be the first leg to the worst back to back years of new talent in NBA History. Stay tuned.

Wall showed up all season in D.C., but the rest of his fellow true rooks didn't have the best attendance.

 

 

Don’t see the biggest failure of the season from your seat here? Somebody taking an extra amount of heat they don’t need here? Comment and let me know. Also follow-up over on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan AND @STLSport360

NBA season is a wrap, but taking a look ahead is never a bad thing. So I’m taking in some of the best questions I got sent in from Twitter in the last few days and answering them here today. I may do this again, especially around Draft time next week, so if you have more you want to discuss here in the CHEAP SEATS, shoot me a Tweet over at @CheapSeatFan and we’ll chop it up here.

Until then, let’s get into it.

 

WAS THE MAVERICKS RUN A “ONE AND DONE”?

Hard to say, it will be struggle to get back to that level again for a few reasons. Number one is that they are in the West, and coming out of a division where the eight seed could have nearly 50 wins is a beast. Also they have to resign a lot of their key pieces (Chandler, Barea, Butler, Stevenson, Stojakovic), and coming off of a championship run, they’ll be able to command larger salary demands than usual. Plus the core of Nowitzki, Kidd and Terry are all over 30 and this could have been their great motivated push to justify their careers.

The Mavs took the title in the first year of Dirk's new contract...and perhaps second career peak.

However, it’s always easier to say why it can’t be than why it can. While Dirk’s show was often the big attraction, he Mavs playoff run was the finest overall team efforts in NBA history. The Detroit Pistons of the mid-00’s were written off after claiming their title over the highly favored Lakers, yet that jump started a 5 year run of being one of the best overall teams in basketball. These Mavs display all of those same elements right now. The chemistry this team displayed won’t disappear overnight, and Dirk seems to have found a second prime out of nowhere. They already aren’t the favorites in their own division in Vegas for next year already, so one of the great underrated teams ever already has another chip in place to knock off again.

 

 

WAS THAT AS GOOD AS THE MIAMI HEAT CAN BE?

Actually from a supporting cast standpoint, this was the worst team they’ll be able to field this year….maybe. Under the current (yet very likely to change) salary cap structure, they’ll have more money under the mid-level exception to add greater talent to their long-term core of LeBron/Wade/Bosh/Haslem/Anthony/Miller.

Everything around just how this team will be able to proceed, however, is up in air, as they have more money committed longer than any other club ($70 million through 2013-14), but they also will be in the position of dropping a lot of dead weight from their roster as well immediately. They may not bring back anybody from the majority of their bench, and if nothing else, they may can adjust and make another run with some more useful pieces acquired with the free money and cap alignment they could have. However, for a team that took a long time to mesh after a complete face lift a year ago, bringing in another vastly different cast could be a major concern once again. The soap opera continues on Days of the Heat…

 

CAN MIKE BROWN LAUNCH THE  LAKERS INTO ANOTHER RUN?

I’ve said it on repeat, but I’ll do it again: there’s no job I would’ve wanted less than this one. The Lakers have a world of expectation that’s in place regardless, but after a season that ended with a sweep to conclude their three consecutive trips to the Finals, the retirement of the greatest coach ever and not to forget the ugly fashion surrounding it all, there’s a lot of clean up that needs to be done here. This all hinges on if Kobe accepts a coach he apparently didn’t favor having guide him, if the team makes the necessary additions to its structure (getting faster and adding some shooters) and if they can synthesize all of this at once. Then yeah, Mike Brown can do it. But best of luck not aging double time in the process my man.

 

WHAT KIND OF IMPACT CAN RICKY RUBIO MAKE?

All eyes will meet Rubio from the moment he takes controls of an NBA game for the first time.

Well it’s the  Minnesota Timberwolves, so any type of boost offers some sort of hope. As for now, the young Spanish sensation has the brightest spotlight of any new NBA-er shining over him. Rubio has digressed some evidently since being the best non-American performer in the 2008 Olympics, but he also hasn’t played with players the caliber of even what the Wolves offer in the NBA to help him capitalize on greatest gift: making himself better by making others better. His fellow draft mate in 2009, Johnny Flynn hasn’t panned out and been able to lead the Wolves to more than 32 wins over the last 2 years, but they probably have more talent on their roster now than they have since Kevin Garnett was at the driver’s wheel, and adding a legit play creating PG to the mix is needed here.

As with all foreign guys, especially young ones, the potential for being lost in translation is always there. And despite his heavy experience at the pro level already, Rubio is still only 20 years old. However, he brings a level of professional familiarity at that age that many other young PG’s that have been saddled with franchises in bad shape upon their NBA debuts (see Wall, John and Rose, Derrick) did not have yet. Plus, in a rare wild card scenario, he’ll be spending time with the perfect example of what NOT to do every day after coming over from Europe with some amazing expectations: Darko Milicic. So maybe it’s not too late for Darko to give something back to the league…maybe. Praise Joe Dumars.

 

ARE THERE ANY FREE AGENTS THAT CAN CHANGE A TEAM LIKE LAST YEAR’S GROUP?

None. Not one whatsoever. And with the entire financial picture of the NBA up for redefinition as well, we could be in store for seeing a holding pattern on all major signings, similar to what is happening in the NFL right now. The top unrestricted, completely available guys on the market are Tyson Chandler, Jamal Crawford, Caron Butler, JJ Barea, J.R. Smith, Shane Battier, Andrei Kirilenko and the high risk, “are you sure about this?” tandem of Yao Ming and Michael Redd. Other names that could throw their hats in the ring with termination options are Tim Duncan, David West, Nene and Shannon Brown.

Crawford is a definite scoring boost, but doesn't bring a franchise direction shift.

With the exception of Duncan (who is going nowhere…we’ve been here before), none of these guys can change the entire direction of team by himself. However, it is a good year for teams that need to pick up that one piece to get over the top. So for the Knicks, Bulls, Lakers, Thunder, Heat and Pacers of the world, it’s a great year, but not so much for any club looking to redefine themselves with one player. Whenever it gets to that point, which brings us to…

 

NBA LOCKOUT: What’s going on with the NBA finances and what’s it all going to lead up to?

The NBA is in a bad place right now financially, competitively and harmonically. There are a lot of things on the table that need some adjustment and all are coming to head at once. Some teams are losing their only attraction and therefore losing money. Other teams are gathering together much of each All-Star team in one place and in a way contracting the competition in the league. Other teams are laughing in the face of the league’s “salary cap” and going around it or flat out paying luxury taxes for going over, simply because they can afford to. Well a change is a-coming to the NBA, and it seems that one half is completely fine with holding off any more tip offs until it is resolved.

Cleveland's Dan Gilbert is one of several owners that are looking for a way for top talent to stay put.

One thing is for certain, the NBA will not go to full free market, Major League Baseball “buy what you can afford” method. And although they have what appears to be the most orderly method of managing team assets and spreading the wealth around now, recent trends have shown there is much more to it than meets the eyes. Peep:

Currently the NBA has no hard, absolute salary cap. In 2010-11, the cap was just over $58 million per team. While there is a penalty for going over it, there are plenty of ways to get around it. Mid-level exceptions allow players to be signed at the average NBA salary of all other players without it counting against the cap. Bi-annual exceptions can be spread across two years and used on multiple players. First round rookie signings don’t hit the cap. But it gets even more confusing that this: teams can absorb player salaries they trade for even if it takes them over the cap for a year (which makes the “sign-and-trade” deal so crafty) and a basic minimum salary can be signed if it takes a team over the cap, as long as it is for two years. There’s a lot going on here which makes the idea of a “salary cap” transparent as it gets.

Basically, the way things are right now, it’s not overly difficult to sign a few, high talent guys to massive contracts and then figure out ways to budget the rest of the team around them. Especially if the other players, who just want to be surrounded by those main talents, are willing to be creative with when and how they are compensated.

Many owners want to wipe this away and set a hard cap that has little wiggle room, which will keep players from having as many options on where to go get their money from. Which you can obviously see would be a problem from the player’s perspective. However, it could also be used retroactively to break apart high salary teams to a small number of players so that they could manage to field a full team (pay attention Heat and Laker fans), so it would end the potential of future alliances of superstars AND break apart the ones at work right now. Basically, the times are changing and nothing else will probably go into motion until they decide what time zone they want to work in now. We may need to start praying right now for next October.

 

Sorry for the delay in the Power Poll this week, the NBA Finals took a bit of time to wrap up yesterday. However, around that whole mix and mayhem on the court, Baseball had a great week and a good launch into it’s solo spotlight part of the year.

The week started off with yet another statement series atop the A.L. East, and ownership atop it (and CSP’s Power Poll) changed again. The meteoric rise of power of baseball’s hottest team over the last month took them to the top of the N.L. Central and the first coaching change of the season was made to right the path of a one of the main contenders for the Wild Card in the A.L. coming into the season.

Ortiz's continued hot bat help to sink the Yanks and raise the Sox to the top of the East once again.

The times are already a-changin around the league, and also in the Poll again. Here’s how Volume 11 is breaking out…

1. Red Sox (5): With their third sweep of the Yankees under their belt (which ran their record for 2011 against their rivals to 8-1), followed by taking three from Toronto, the Sox rise to the top of the poll for the first time since the debut edition.

2. Phillies (2): Despite playing with their full expected lineup for under two weeks this season, the Phils have not lost a game where they scored at least 5 runs all season. There will be a lot more of those games coming now.

3. Yankees (1): The Yankees started the week by continuing their troubles against the Red Sox, getting swept at home. They finished the week with Joba Chamberlain and Bartolo Colon joining the growing number of their already limited pitching staff on the DL. On a brighter note, Derek Jeter will most likely get his 3,000th hit this week.

4. Brewers (8): The Brewers runaway train ride through the National League met the league’s winningest club, in the Cardinals, over the weekend…and took three games from them in route to taking over control of Central for the first time in two years.

5. Cardinals (3): The Cardinals ran into a brick wall located in Milwaukee over the weekend, and are now (0-6) on during weekend road series against second place N.L. Central clubs, having twice lost control of the division this year in this fashion.

6. Braves (13): They finally found an opening to make a move in the East by sweeping the slumping Marlins and moving into second place. Johnny Venters’ shutdown act (0.44 ERA) has finally been moved to the ninth inning, assuring that many more Braves games may only eight innings from here out.

The Braves have placed Venters at the end of games now, and have went on a run since the move.

7. Giants (7): The Giants traded wins and loses with the Reds and Nationals all week, but retained control of the West despite only managing to bring in over two runs once in the last seven games.

8. Rangers (4): The A.L. Central was not as kind to Texas as they were the week before, with Twins and Tigers combining to snatch 5 games combined, yet they held on to control of the West by a game and a half.

9. Indians (6): They have dropped nine of their last eleven contests and have watched the biggest lead in all of baseball dwindle to a tie in the A.L. Central. Josh Tomlin, Fausto Carmona and Mitch Talbot have all lost both of their last two starts in the process. They’ll look to take momentum from a shutout win in New York into Detroit to defend their place atop the Central.

10. Tigers (12): Austin Jackson is tearing the cover off the ball right now (.370 in June) and Magglio Ordonez is returning this week to put the Tigers at full strength for the first time nearly all year…and right as they have pulled to a tie atop the A.L. Central…and they host the Indians this week with the division up for the taking.

11. Rays (10): They remained a powerhouse on the road this past week, adding 5 wins to their A.L. leading 21 road wins on the season in L.A. and Baltimore.

12. D’Backs (9): They have cooled off from the tear that moved them to the top of the West for a week, but took three of four from the Marlins over the weekend, which puts them in position to move back to the top of the division as they host San Francisco this week.

13. Reds (14): The offense keeps slugging, and now the pitchers are getting in on their half of the bargain as well. After getting bashed around for the duration of May, they didn’t allow more than 2 runs in any game last week and finished the team’s first shutout in over month as well.

14. Mariners (15): Don’t look now, but the Mariners are in position to go for the top of the West and only play 3 road games for the rest of the month, starting with the Angels club they passed this past week.

15. Marlins (11): Things probably can’t get worse than are right now in Miami. They’ve dropped 10 of 11 contests to fall seven games back of the Phillies and still have no date for the return of Josh Johnson or Hanley Ramirez.

16. White Sox (19): After starting 0-8, John Danks won twice last week and surrendering 2 runs across 15 innings in the process.

17. Blue Jays (17): In the ever changing A.L. East, despite finding themselves in the best condition of any East club, are still just a half game out of last place all of a sudden after dropping three to the Red Sox over the weekend.

18. Mets (21): Even though their rotation is far from in the condition it projected as, over the last 17 games they have the lowest ERA of any team in baseball.

19. Pirates (20): Despite a growing Disabled List (which 2010 All-Star Evan Meek joined this past week as well), the Bucs are staying in the middle of the mix, thanks to the continued improvement of Andrew McCutchen.

McCutchen has put together another step forward season and is bringing the Bucs along with him.

20. Dodgers (18): Clayton Kershaw proved to be mortal briefly this past week, giving up as many runs (12) in his last two starts as he did in his previous seven combined.

21. Angels (16): The Angels offense is still stuck in it’s slump from last season (if that’s possible) and Vernon Wells’ return offers some hope for a turnaround, as they have fallen into the bottom three in the A.L. in runs scored.

22. Rockies (23): They had more success this past week than they have in a while, but despite scoring 30 runs over the weekend, they still split the series against the Dodgers and didn’t have a single game decided by more than four runs.

23. Nationals (26): Drew Storen’s first full season as a closer continues to be the highlight of the National’s season. He closed out three consecutive wins for the club over the weekend and is 15 for 16 overall in save situations this year.

24. Orioles (25): They showed some life during a a four game winning streak kicked off the week, before dropping an extra inning affair to the Rays on Saturday. They continue their all or nothing ways this season.

25. Royals (27): While their successes have continued to turn down, their prized prospects have continued to turn up. Most recently 2010 Minor League Player of the Year Mike Moustakas joined the mix in KC, and hit his first career homer in his second game up.

26. Padres (22): A sign of the difficulties in San Diego: Chase Headley’s homer on Thursday was the first out of the three slot in the lineup the entire season. The promotion of prized prospect Anthony Rizzo could help change things here by the end of the year.

27. Twins (29): Francisco Liriano returned from a brief stint on the DL, and the rest appears to have paid off. He has struck out 16 in 13.1 innings since in two starts: one being a 1-0 loss and the second being nearly his second no-hitter of the season in a win on Sunday.

28. A’s (24): Manager Bob Geren was fired after the club’s losing streak hit 9 games and Bob Melvin took his place for the remainder of the season…and has gone 1-4 since taking over.

29. Cubs (30): Teams are hitting .267 against the Cubs, 28th worse in baseball…which is a point higher than they are hitting as a club at .266 (third best in baseball). Pitching wins ballgames.

30. Astros (29): A rough week facing the Cardinals followed by the Braves was concluded by their best pitcher in Wandy Rodriguez landing on the DL. These are the breaks on this end of the poll.

Follow me on Twitter for more and more baseball coverage with the summer wiiiiiide open now at @CheapSeatFan and @STLSport360

One of the greatest NBA Finals is in the books, and the Dallas Mavericks finished up business in a manner that belies how competitive of a series it began as. By the second half of game 6, the Mavs were in sync so well that it seemed like the everything that left their hands was dropping straight in, “Pleasantville” style. There was so much to this series that it can’t possibly be summed in just a few sections here.

But here you have it, the CHEAP SEAT’S final word on what all took place between the Mavericks and Miami Heat, and why the name with the brightest lights means nothing if it doesn’t have something behind it.

In the end, the numbers game was too much to deny the Mavericks their first world title.

TRUTH #1-ALL FOR ONE, PLUS ONE: From the outset of these Finals, my word has been that the Mavericks where the better team, however overcoming the high ceiling All-Stars on Miami would be too much of a task. Well the last two games of the Finals proved the greatest truth of the NBA: superstars shine, but the better team always wins. In the course of this series both elements proved true on repeat, with the names on the marquee taking their time shining, but it took the total team K.O. that the Mavs gathered up that in the end made the series look like a major mismatch. This was the best total team win for the ring since the Detroit Pistons took out the Lakers in 2004. Simply put, 10 determined players with a mission will always beat out three high ceiling players every time. When you combine that with an amazing run by Dirk Nowitzki, they had every element needed to take the series. Most importantly, they And while nobody picked the Mavericks coming into the season, and even headed into this series, in the end it makes all the sense in the world why they are where they are now.

 

TRUTH #2-MIND OF MATTER, MATTERS: Outside of failures to protect leads or close out, the Heat on repeat defeated themselves in another way as well: they continued to feed the Mavericks with more and more reasons to want to beat them. There has been no team that has had a bigger target on its back this season, even the formerly defending champs in L.A. But what became increasingly evident and just became laughable in the end is that the Mavericks not only were not scared of the Heat, they were driven into not even respecting them. What’s the worst part about this is that it was created by the “team leaders” of the Heat in LeBron and Wade. The Mavericks stayed in their ears while they gave them their best shot, and took the slaps across the face like Hulk Hogan going into manic mode. It just made them stronger. Jason Terry, Shawn Marion and DeShawn Stevenson basically told LeBron he wasn’t going to beat them, and in the end, it seemed like they convinced him of just that.

Nowitzki used fewer words than his opponents, but turned theirs into his advantage.

And that plays into exactly what happened in the end: one half talked the walk…and then got walked all over. On the flipside, Dirk Nowitzki, the target of much of the antics and shenanigans around the series said little to nothing and just went to work. He followed that model all the way to the end of his work year and walked right off the floor after washing his hands of LeBron, Wade and their sideshow antics…and didn’t extend a hand to either after defeating them. The example for everything the Heat need to learn was right in their face the whole time, until he was done with them. Then he had no words for them, just a few more trophies and a winner’s legacy to redefine his career. Pay attention kids.

 

TRUTH #3-WHAT ARE WE WITNESSING? Inevitably, in the end it all comes back to LeBron. Such is his place in the game that he even takes the spotlight from one of the great Playoff performances ever from Dirk and one of the most impressive runs ever to a title by the Mavericks. What was proven without a doubt is that LeBron James is not ready to win right now. His debut trip to the Finals with a team designed from the floor up around him will be characterized by perfect non-attendance in the fourth quarter, a playing up off-court rumors and the largest overall fall off in points production from regular season to the Finals in NBA history (-8.9 points difference). He looked out of it, like he couldn’t bring together all of the skills that have twice made him the best player of the first 82, and worse…it looked like he didn’t know how nor want to even.

This series made me thinking about the part in Superman II when Superman lost all of his powers and got his lunch handed to him in the bar by some trucker guy. Even saw himself bleed for the first time. That’s what we just saw here with LeBron, he got put out on front street, tried to dig down and become the guy he thought he was, only to find out in a hurry he didn’t have it in him…and got flowed for six games in a very aggressive fashion, leaving all questions and no answers.

However, that same situation can play true to what could become, on a few different levels. LeBron can let this series give him the Clark Kent, or worse…Christopher Reeves treatment, and be beaten to crippled by the beating. Or he can gut down, learn something, realize what his potential is and grow up for the final time behind this loss. Superman went back, regained his poise and confidence in his skills and then and handled the guy that knocked him down before. He either will make folks “Witnesses” or continue to be one to everybody else making the name for themselves that he is supposed to be creating for himself.

LeBron has to learn from his many mistakes in the last two weeks to make the final jump to what he is supposed to be.

 

Sincerely,

A guy that wakes up and has his own set of problems, but doesn’t get folded in by them, Clark.

 

Follow me on Twitter for more on the NBA (maybe…if this isn’t the last game for a while) and more at @CheapSeatFan and @STLSport360

The most common prediction for this series I ran across was Heat in six. The way the Mavericks played last night, that may be the right prediction, with the wrong team attached. Coming into this series, no total team had played better in the Playoffs than Dallas, yet that form hadn’t found them in the Finals until last night. Every single element of the Mavs was clicking and when combined with Dirk Nowitzki continuing his tear through the nets, it buried the Heat consistently all night.

However, the biggest story line was the rebound of LeBron James from his drought the previous game. He did bounce back in an impressive overall fashion, however in the end he still wasn’t there to fend off the onslaught the Mavericks closed out with to put them ahead going into the final phase of these amazing Finals. Today in 3 Truths, what happened to revive the Mavericks and put them in place to pull off one of the most impressive team runs in NBA history, and why once again the Heat are left with way more unanswered questions than should even be able to be asked.

 

TRUTH #1-SOAP OPERA STARS: For as great of a series as this has been on the court, it’s been just as petty off the court. A very definition of a role player, DeShawn Stevenson, has been the biggest mouth in the series, discussing the actions of players that are at least three levels above whatever it is he stands for in the NBA. That never sets right with me, because it’s like children getting involved in grown folks business. Go sit in the other room and wait for Dirk to call you for dinner; you aren’t even capable of feeding yourself, so get out the kitchen.

Instead of doing the mocking, Wade and James are one game short of being on the receiving end now.

On the other hand, the exact opposite is happening on the other bench. The leaders of the Heat, in LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, are as focused on making a mockery of Dirk Nowitzki’s injury and the coverage it has received. Is this what they should really be focused on, while Wade is giving 1000% yet still barely winning when he does and LeBron coming off a tragically impotent performance? Also, yet again rumors of LeBron’s womenfolk going under (literally perhaps) and taking him along with it? All the Heat has in the end are these two, and since they already can’t get it together on the floor, making fun of a guy that’s having one of the greatest Playoff runs ever shouldn’t be on their list of things to do. Maybe one of them should step up like Chris Bosh or Udonis Haslem has in the final 20 seconds and to attempt to stop him. That would be a role more fitting of who they fancy themselves as instead of being court jesters…that are a win away from being the laughingstock of the NBA themselves.

 

TRUTH #2-ALL TOGETHER NOW: On the floor, something that was no laughing matter in Miami happened: Dallas owned every area of the floor. The Mavericks played their game completely for the first time in the series, and the results were clear. They walked away with the biggest win of any game thus far in the series, with every element of the team coming together. Dirk led the way as usual, but this time the scoring load was from just his responsibility. Jason Terry hit 20 points for the first time, but most importantly, his accuracy improved, especially from deep.

Terry's revival capped the Mavericks getting back to the form that landed them here.

Overall, 5 Mavs hit double figures, with Jason Kidd, Tyson Chandler and JJ Barea finally breaking out of a series long slump and regaining the form that made him a major x-factor in the Thunder series. This led the top scoring performance of the series, and when combined with superb defense all night, the Mavs played the best game either team has mustered the entire series. They used their last home game of the season as best as they possibly could and gained much needed momentum as they attempt to finish the series on the road.

 

TRUTH #3-DO FOR SELF: LeBron got numbers, as a triple-double is a triple-double, either way you slice it. But what still didn’t return was his assertiveness in getting them, especially while Dwyane Wade spent much of the second and third quarter in the locker room. The Heat needed him in attack mode, going after the rim like a pit bull after a crippled mailman. It never came; not when Wade was out, nor in during the fourth quarter where he was still but a “Witness” to the action himself.

LeBron's overall numbers improved, yet the song remains the same when the spotlight was at its brightest.

His great talent has always been that he can impact virtually every aspect of the game, however what is needed now is his to narrow that focus and put up serious points. Not on three pointers and fade aways, rather flying at the rim and getting to the emphasis points and/or free throws. He seems to think the flow of the series will come to him over time and he’ll find his way. Well in the course of waiting for that to find him, the Mavericks have taken control of it for themselves and now are on the verge of keeping it. LeBron would be best served by thinking of the “I” if he really wants to help the team…before it’s too late.

(LeBron got numbers…but they came on the outskirts…Wade came back…but it was awkward and too late….the Heat need LeBron to go against his focus on enabling some and going for the rim….Wade’s health needs it, he’s not that guy anymore)

When you look back at this series in a few years, or maybe even next week, Game 4 will stand out as the defining game of the series, one way or another. From a team perspective, if Dallas doesn’t win you can chalk it up. If Miami wins, they show their fortitude by coming into Dallas snatching two quick road wins. On the other hand, there are the performances of the top billed stars. Dwyane Wade keeps hammering the Mavs like a hurricane, but fumbles away his chance at a historic closing chance. Dirk Nowitzki’s heroics now beat the clock…and illness. Chris Bosh keep reasserting himself. And LeBron James has a funeral in the middle of the game…for himself (but I’m not even sure if he showed up for that).

That last part is major and tells the whole story of everything else that went on, has been debated and will paint the picture of everything going forward. But for now it frames why this series is tied up and is headed to what could be a race to the finish. Will the Heat’s co-star regain top billing, or did he doe irreparable damage to his standing (and legacy)? Has the Mavericks confidence and home support been repaired to the point that, as a unit, they now know they can win this thing again? There’s a lot that Game 4 told…and opens up a Pandora’s Box of scenarios. Today in 3 TRUTHS I’m taking on all of the major plot lines that showed their faces, varying from ugly to promising to downright horrible on Tuesday.

TRUTH #1-LeLOST: Where do you start? The numbers are clear and were already beaten Washington Generals-level dead before the game even ended, so let’s go beyond that. I’m going at exactly how it happened. LeBron stood around at the top of the key and dribbled back and forth non-stop, and was often hard to spot in the flow of the game. Now stop, that’s what stands out to me the most: just how much he didn’t stand out. He was timid. Even in the light of the larger than life effort by Dwyane Wade, it was still the loudest silence I’ve heard in long time. Matter of fact he disappeared, and when he resurfaced the results show one of the absolute worst performances for a leading man in Finals history.

Even in November that would’ve been unacceptable performance, but now it’s magnified to a major level. LeBron is no stranger to the spotlight, but the effort he put up on Tuesday was the first time I ever saw him basically drop back from it. He’s not the first major superstar to have a game like this in the Finals, as once again, the Jordan comparisons are inappropriate (a look at Magic Johnson’s clutch failings early on paint nearly the exact picture as LBJ currently). The main difference: Magic proved he could win already, he had climbed the mountain that LeBron looks like he’s on the edge of falling off right now. However, he put himself in a unique position that breeds unparalleled expectation. This is the position he forced himself to get to from the moment from the second he aligned himself with the Heat and immediately made them the spectacle they are. So to get here, and continually decrease your profile in the Finals to the point where you nearly have to get out a flashlight and search and rescue dogs just find out if he even played? Nah, this is plain unacceptable. 25-year-old ex-MVPs cannot become zombies in the Finals. No exceptions. While it’s far too early to look at this as a deciding point in his career, it is a mark that he must overcome now, once again, in a similar fashion that Magic did in route to re-establishing himself.

LeBron can't hide from how bad that performance looked...and his legacy may not be able to either

In the end, the issue is that great players are expected to step up and be undeniable forces in close games, especially in during the pinnacle series of the season. However, so far LeBron has managed nine points in 48 minutes of fourth quarter basketball in the Finals. And like it or not, that is the only reason the NBA season is still going on right now. You got to carry that weight LeBron, because you asked for it.

TRUTH #2 – MORE FOR LESS: This series is playing closer than any Finals series in history, so the first 40 minutes have become basically nothing more than the undercard to what is on deck in the end: how far ahead can the Heat get before Dirk inevitably starts his Blitzkrieg (I’d been want to work that reference in all series, I’m relieved now).  In a complete opposite take on what was just relayed about the life and times of LeBron in the last 48 minutes, Dirk has total 44 points in the fourth quarter thus far. That’s right, nearly a point a minute ridiculously efficient output. And the biggest issue may have become in this series for the Heat may have become not stopping Dirk, but how far ahead can they get before the inevitable charge he leads comes. They may just have accept the fact they can’t stop him from getting his late, and just do everything humanly possible to try to limit it instead.

At this point, even King Koopa probably can't slow Dirk up down the stretch. He should just wear this fit tonight instead.

By limiting it, I don’t mean trying to play tougher defense against him, because clearly that’s not possible anymore (seriously, he’s playing like he gets the invincible star from Mario to start every fourth quarter now). By limiting him, they’ll have to get ahead by so many that even Dirk can’t bring them back. But for that to be, it all comes back to LeBron once again and if he can find a way to play with D. Wade and share the clutch minutes as much has he does headlines. The only game they successfully “Dirk-proofed” was Game 1, when they turned the last two minutes into an 2-on-8 fast break show and pulled off the biggest margin of victory of the series yet. So even saving them from Dirk is all in LeBron’s hands, which right now, is a scary proposition.

TRUTH #3 – ALMOST FAMOUS:  Despite the big name successes and failures ringing out the loudest after Game 4, for the majority of Tuesday the biggest noise in Dallas was made by the supporting cast that was coming to play finally. Other than Dirk, team depth was a great strength for Dallas coming into the series, but it had not shown itself at all yet and they had labored along due to it for much of the first three games. However, with Nowitzki struggling from a high fever most of the game, it was a must that the rest of the Mavs finally step up and shoulder some of the burden, collectively. Shawn Marion has been putting in work each game, but has often been the only supporting member of the deep Mavs squad to show up. Tyson Chandler inserted himself on the glass finally, and his 16 rebounds were the first time he completely dominated the glass in the series. His presence shifted what had been a great advantage for the Heat: control of the glass on both ends of the floor.

If Chandler's rebirth can spark the rest of the supporting Mavs, they may be about to take series control.

Chandler’s reemergence was just the first step in Dallas being able to make a legit run at taking the two of the next three games in this tied up and restarted series. Jason Terry has to get more shots falling earlier on so the Mavs can establish real leads to protect. But most critical is Jason Kidd has to find a way to get the ball to everyone in smarter places. Dirk is the only player capable of creating his own shot, so the rest of the Mavericks are waiting on Kidd find his self, and find them. The outcome of the next three games (and I’m calling a seven games now), may hinge on it.