Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Bulls’

When the announcement was made yesterday that Derrick Rose had been awarded the NBA’s MVP for this season many things became clear to me once again. It became clear that democracy was not dead, that the new-old guard wasn’t entitled the their way just because they wake up in the morning and make “decisions” and that life after Jordan in Chicago finally didn’t have to just be piercing with the pain of seven-foot teenage failures, the franchise is now vindicated.

While the Bulls have had an amazing run this year, and all-out assaulted their way to the best record in the league, there has still been an air of “these guys aren’t legit” or they are just the ultimate underdog that will show they really aren’t what that record says. So it is only appropriate that the winner of the year’s top individual honor takes on that same image while representing that club. Despite the fact that he made history twice yesterday in the course of taking home his new hardware, becoming the youngest winner ever and only the second winner to not receive a single vote the year before, it still feels to me like Rose is still seen as a bit of a party crasher that won on hype.

And you know what? Good, I like that. It gives him the edge still.

His entire road along the NBA so far has been built up on doubt followed by immediate awe. When he came into the league as the top pick, it was immediately wondered if he had the personality or the fire to lead a team, let alone take over for one. After completely reviving the Bulls franchise and winning top Rook honors, then pushing the defending champion Celtics to the brink in his playoff debut, those questions were temporarily ended. Then this year when the Bulls started shredding folks nightly, with him decimating every guard that even stepped within his general area, folks still weren’t convinced, wanting to stick to the agreed idea that Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo or somehow Stephon Marbury Jr. (Russell of OKC), was somehow better than him. Well let’s put that to bed right now….

NONE OF THEM ARE SEEING HIM. Period. Matter of fact, there are only two guards in the league overall that I’ll entertain as being in the same league as him right now. One is in LA and the other is in Miami. If anyone even thinks about nominating another one I’ve only got one finger from either hand that will speak to you for me.

The top four vote getters, in order, were Dwight Howard, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, and while they all did their thing, none of their effort stands up to what Pooh did on any front this year. Remember that if someone would’ve tried to seriously tell you in October that the Bulls would be the best team in basketball this year, most people would’ve laughed and told you 1998 was a long time ago, wake up. Not with the Justice League assembled on South Beach. Not with the Celtics bringing everybody back. And definitely not with the champs in LA still guided by the God of All-Post Jordan Basketball. Not possible right?

Well lets take a look at what’s happened since. Miami often had the closing skills of a revolving door, the Celtics traded away their only clear advantage and started looking real elderly, Dwight Howard was left on an island of haymakers by himself and the Lakers played their most inconsistent basketball in four years. All the while there was a blur of red and white coming out of Chicago that went 7-2 against the other three MVP candidates. And remember that this is a team that went 41-41 the last two seasons before Rose decided to go into overdrive for a full season.

No player represents more his club, and city, than Rose does in Chicago. The name on the front and back of the jersey are one in the same.

Any more questions? Do we need to look at the individual cases as well? Okay then, let’s do too. I’ve got time.

Dwight Howard had to carry more weight for his club this season than any other big man I can remember. But at the end of the day I can’t give the MVP to a guy that got ejected and suspended in the fashion that he did. He definitely cost the Magic games that way, and that’s not MVP type behavior.

What about LeBron? His stats were off the scale once again right? Well of course they were, he can get 27 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists in his sleep, and he did that once again this year. But he’s a victim of his own place and potential. Everybody knows he can do more on the court than anybody else in the League right now, yet he couldn’t push his supremely talented club to any measure of extended success, and the images of him missing shots that would’ve led to about six more crucial wins RIP’ed him this year.

Kobe? He’s always in the mix simply because he’s the best player in the game right now and has earned his stripes on repeat. But when you lead the proven best club in the game over the past two years to the exact same record they had last year (seasons where he didn’t win MVP either), I can’t give him the nod over a guy that clearly took his team to another stratosphere with his individual effort. Kobe may very well win another MVP of a different variety this year, but he’s not the guy for this one.

In the end, defining what defines an MVP is a very individual take on what defines value. Is it the most dominant player regardless of result? The absolute most talented player? The best guy on the best team? Or the biggest difference maker and catalyst who changes a teams very image with his effort?

I’m inclined to go with the last reason, and that’s the very definition of what Derrick Rose is on Chicago. He IS Chicago. He closes out games, while also burying teams early. He didn’t lead the league in scoring, assists or sound bites per game, so it’s not a big glamor number you’re gonna get from him. If he focused on it, I’m sure he could get his Tiny Archibald on and lead in both categories, but that doesn’t make the Bulls better. What did make them better this year was him taking the ball and closing more games out than any other player in the league, and by becoming a juggernaut himself, he made the other 11 guys one as well.

Nobody else did that, and very few are even capable of doing so, so get used it folks. This isn’t a show that’s anywhere near over. But keep waiting for him to fail, he’ll be too busy proving you wrong to ever tell you you are.

Advertisements

image

THE NBA playoffs are set & ready to jump off tomorrow, and may be the most wide open field of any year of the last 20, at least. The difference between the #1 and #3 seeds are as narrow as ever. Each top seed has questions about their experience & stamina, respectively. The champions have had an up & down season, and enter the postseason in more questionable condition than they have in many years. The same goes for the runners up of a year ago. And in both conferences there are teams that, while they don’t sit on top of the seeds, have reloaded and are real dangers over the course of a series.

Then there are the Heat, who after all this buildup nobody still knows if to fear or not. The definition of a wild card.

Despite all of the seemingly random madness & “It’s wide open” look of the season, there is a method to the madness and matchups to assess. Will there be major upsets? Is that even possible this point, and if so, who’s primed to spring one in the first round?

Today in the CHEAP SEATS were taking a look at how each team is standing heading into series play, how they’ve done against each other and basically attempt to a) finally predict the unpredictable that is the 2010-11 NBA, and b) finally be able to figure out for myself what exactly is going on here for myself.

Come along for the ride in part one of two today in the East.

#1 Bulls (62-20) vs. #8 Pacers (37-45)

Last 20: Bulls: 18-2, Pacers: 10-10
Vs Playoff teams: Bulls 6-2, Pacers: 5-6

Season Matchup: 3-1 Bulls.
The Bulls have been basically unstoppable over the last two months, sporting the NBA’s best record over that time. Defensively they can stick with anybody and they have the MVP in waiting ready for a team the doesn’t have an answer back for them in any one area in the Pacers. And in the end, its the team with the best record playing the team with the worst remaining. Buff said. BULLS WIN.

#4 Magic (52-30) vs. #5 Hawks (44-38)

Last 20: Magic 12-8, Hawks 7-12
Vs. Playoff teams: Magic 4-6, Hawks 3-10

Season Matchup: 3-1 Hawks.
This is an example of where the present says way more than the past. The Hawks have been the worst of all 16 playoff clubs leading into this match with Orlando, who they didn’t beat by more than 10 all year. And they are carrying a seven game losing streak into the series. Combine that with Atlanta’s weak playoff performances in the past, and you’ve got a team primed for another early exit. MAGIC WIN.

#3 Celtics (56-26) vs. #6 Knicks (42-40)

Last 20: Celtics 10-10, Knicks 9-11
Vs Playoff teams: Celtics 6-6, Knicks 5-7

Season Matchup: 4-0 Celtics.
An interesting matchup, as neither of these teams is who they were even a few months ago. The Knicks blew apart their core to add Carmelo Anthony, while the Celtics have been completely different after moving center Kendrick Perkins and losing much if their primary advantage: size. Having a quality center would make a world of difference for them against the Knicks weak interior, but they’ll have to rely on experience to make the difference instead, something they have a surplus of. The Knicks, new lineup has been worse against the Celts than the early season one (losses by 2 & 4 early, closer to 10 later). Plus there is something to be said for the task of beating a team four times in one series you haven’t been able to put down all year otherwise. CELTICS WIN.

#2 Heat (58-24) vs #7 Sixers (41-41)

Last 20: Heat 15-5, Sixers 9-11
Vs Playoff teams: Heat 8-3, Sixers 4-6

Season Matchup: 3-0 Heat.
Up & down for much of the season, seemingly constantly going from getting it all together to falling apart again. However, in landing the Sixers they get a team they’ve had success against in their playoff debut in the LeBron/Wade incarnation of the team, and should be able to get them out the way quick to be well rested for what will be a beast of a second round challenge against Boston. That extra rest could give them a decisive edge against an older and tired Celtics squad coming off a series against the quicker Knicks, but let’s wait and see on that. HEAT WIN.

Come back a bit later for a look at the West & the beginning of the Lakers push for number three in three.

March Madness may be the best cap to a season that any sport features. Despite what has gone on for the last six months, when the brackets are released, pitting the best of every conference in college basketball against one another, it seems that nearly everybody has a chance. The push to find the Cinderella, the underdog small school team that can pull the big upset, is one of the best stories in all of sports. That Cinderella aspect is not only limited to college basketball courts however.

Across the nation, there are millions of underdogs that are working to make a life out of the game of basketball, but struggle to grasp the academics needed both make it in the game, and more importantly, in life. On the South side of Chicago, a team of hardworking individuals has made it their mission to embrace the very essence of  “college” and “basketball”, and is redefining the means to the end both on and off the court.

The Swish Dreams program is taking a unique approach to academic preparation, by taking basketball and turning it from only a cultural interest, and morphing it into an academic one as well. Through the statistics, geography and structure of the NBA, this program is teaching not just the strategy of the game, but the math, reading, geography and even business management that surrounds it. Started in 2006 by Joshua Mercer, who after returning to his hometown of Chicago after college, saw a clear need for the youth of the area to have an outlet to see beyond the often-difficult surroundings they were growing up in. Heavily influenced by the game of basketball his entire life, and having the gift of vision that a Business degree from Howard, and later a Master’s degree in Education from National-Louis University provides, he sought to start a program where he could spread the needed tools to succeed and overcome the rough environment of inner city Chicago, via one of the great influences and passions of the city: basketball. It was from this vision that Swish Dreams was born.

Initially funded through Mercer’s own resources and money he collected from opening up the gym of the school he was working at to his friends on the weekends (at the price of $3 per day), his vision began to take shape. Also required of those who attended the gym was to contribute their time towards mentoring and tutoring the kids that were beginning to make up the Swish Dreams program, who got to run games on the court early Saturday morning before the pay-to-play games started up. This original model has continued to grow and thrive, as the program has grown in support, outreach and capacity. Now Swish Dreams has a strong core of directors that contribute to growth of both the in-class and basketball IQ of those who take part in the program.

“The problem with education is there is one standard, and everyone can’t learn that way”, says Mercer. “We use basketball to get the fundamentals of school out in a new way the kids can relate to.” Although it is a year around mentoring program, Swish Dreams took its impact to the next level in July 2010, by hosting an intensive summer camp, where the participants not only got continued educational support and in-depth instruction in the game itself, but had both elements combined into an inclusive experience in school and the sport. The summer camp league is constructed from the ground up and supervised by a team of volunteers, however it is run by the kids themselves. The camp’s league program includes an NBA-style training camp & draft, league play & playoffs, team management and fitness training. Through these processes, the participants’ personal and educational skills are honed and continually put to the test, with interviews to increase communications skills, mathematics development through in-game statistics accounting and learning about health and the human body via what puts it in the best shape to perform on the court.

Combining education, love of basketball and community, Mercer is changing fortunes on the court and classroom.

Much like the stats that kids learn to compile for themselves, the proof of the impact in the program’s approach is in the numbers and results of the participants off the court. “There was a 27% increase in overall math scores and 3% improvement in reading scores by the end of the camp across the board”, reported Executive Vice-President Jason Campbell. However, for as ambitious and proven as the program is, it needs more help to expand its reach. Many kids were able to receive partial sponsorships to participate in the program last summer (with a writing a personal statement essay to be scholarship eligible being a requirement), however the program needs more help to expand its reach, not only to those already in its fold, but to further expand throughout the entire city. Mercer states that around $400 can sponsor one camper throughout the entire program, but that any contribution can go towards empowering Swish Dreams to do more.

The best testament to what is being done here is from the kids being impacted by the program. “Swish Dreams thought me through basketball that I don’t have to be just a basketball player”, said 2010 camp participant Aaron Ashraf. He also made it clear that playing in a competitive league was great fun, as was keeping a written journal of quotes from famous basketball players and discussing them, which helped his reading efforts. He later received the camp’s reading award for his literary progress. Aaron also made it clear, with no hesitation, that Chicago Bulls star (a native Chicagoan) Derrick Rose is his favorite player.

Swish Dreams is making it possible that not only can there be more Derrick Rose’s that rise up from the city, but that there will also be more men that use basketball to reach higher levels in life overall, whether they continue to play the game, or take the lessons of it along with them in high school, college and back into their community (and the program) as well. Through Mercer’s vision, and a little help from his friends, he is assigning a brand new spin on what being a student-athlete truly means.

For more information, upcoming events, further program details or the make a contribution, please visit www.SwishDreams.org or contact Josh Mercer directly at jmercer@swishdreams.org

After the most hyped off-season of all-time the regular season has a big act to follow-up. Now that all off the signing, spending, drafting and ESPN-sponsored/street hype is over with, it’s time to do what it’s all about: take to the court and settle it.

For many years, the East has been considered the little brother that is rightfully beat up by the much bigger and stronger West. However, after this summer’s events, the little brother looks like it has followed Hulk Hogan’s commandments AND ate their Wheaties and are ready to fight back now with vengeance. Amare Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer have crossed over, and (in the words of Kobe himself) “the Heat have formed Voltron“. All of this before factoring in a Boston team that pushed the champs to the limit last year. In other words, the East is ready, but is it just a matter of all the cream going to the top? Or is there some depth to the West on all year across the board.

In the first part of the CHEAP SEATS NBA preview, we’re looking at the Eastern Conference. Tomorrow the West, Playoffs and Awards preview will follow. The number in (parentheses) is the predicted finish in the conference for each squad and playoff teams are in bold.

Central Division

  1. Chicago Bulls (3)
  2. Milwaukee Bucks (5)
  3. Indiana Pacers (9)
  4. Detroit Pistons (10)
  5. Cleveland Cavaliers (14)

The time is now: Rose is on the doorstep to ascending to superstar status & taking the Bulls with him.

Summary: This is a division with almost every team as been completely made over. For the last few years, everything has run through Cleveland, but with LeBron riding out of town, that’s going change immediately. The Bulls missed out on the top of the globe free agents, but may have made themselves better overall by spreading the wealth & making a team around in-house starstar-in-training Derrick Rose….No team made more subtle changes than the Bucks and they will be a match up problem for nearly every team they face. With there is no more complete starting 5 in the division….Darren Collinson will give the Pacers the PG they have desperately needed, but will they have the size they need to complete? Danny Granger can’t do everything, but gets damn close….The Pistons are still in the midst of a prolonged & weird rebuilding, and probably will be making several changes in season attempting to move pricey vets Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince. The sooner the better, because Rodney Stuckey,  and first round….The Cavaliers will be exposed for being exactly what caused LeBron to leave, being a collection of role players with no go-to threat. There’s still talent here, but it’s not having a true big threat scorer (Jamison is not that anymore) and a thin bench will sink their ship much sooner than later.

All Division Team // C: Andrew Bogut-MIL, PF:Carlos Boozer-CHI, SF-Danny Granger-IND, SG-John Salmons-MIL, PG: Derrick Rose-CHI

Atlantic Division

  1. Boston Celtics (2)
  2. New York Knicks (8)
  3. New Jersey Nets (11)
  4. Philadelphia 76ers (12)
  5. Toronto Raptors (15)

The Biggest Apple: Amar'e should go off in the East and be around the biggest scorers in the L.

Summary: This has been Boston’s playground for the last three years, where they have been the clear bullies of the yard, with many of the biggest bottom feeders in the league in this division. Not much will change here this year. The defending Conference champion Celtics return their entire core, and added Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal to make them one of the deepest teams in the League, if they can keep their health intact as a unit….The Knicks didn’t land their top target in the summer, but they did land Amar’e Stoudemire and essentially gave him a license to kill in the Eastern Conf, expect him to be one of the top scorers in the game, and should be enough to pull the Knicks into the playoff picture….The Nets gutted their core and brought in youth (Derrick Favors), depth (Troy Murphy, Jordan Farmer) and a proven coach (Avery Johnson) to ensure they won’t challenge for the loss record again, even him they don’t hit the playoffs yet….The Sixers have some work to do still and have an awkward roster that has too many of the same thing. Evan Turner’s the future, but they have to decide what to do with the current jams on the wing in Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young….The Raptors lost the only thing they had worth turning the TV on when Chris Bosh left, and they be playing for the Lottery all season.

All Division Team // C: Brook Lopez-NJ, PF-Amar’e Stoudemire-NY, SF: Paul Pierce-BOS, SG: Andre Iguodala-PHI, PG: Rajon Rondo-BOS

Southeast Division

  1. Miami Heat (1)
  2. Orlando Magic (4)
  3. Atlanta Hawks (6)
  4. Charlotte Bobcats (7)
  5. Washington Wizards (13)

Dwight Howard and his Magic are still strong and should not be forgotten in the hype around the Heat.

Summary: The Southeast is the Eastern Conference’s greatest battle ground, host to four playoff teams from last year. There has been no team in history that has received the hype that the Heat have coming into a season, now they have to take the nastiest three-headed monster the NBA has seen, maybe ever, on to the court and justify it….Either way you slice it, matching up nightly against Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh was tough enough individually, it’s going to be a nightmare to do it as a collective….Despite what’s happened on South Beach, up in Orlando there is still a very good and diverse Magic team, that features the most intimidating defender in the game with Dwight Howard. They will ensure the Heat will not run off and hide with the division….The Hawks bring back their entire core from last year and will look to prove their huge playoff flame out was a fluke. Last year, they could out run many Eastern teams, but they’ll have a much tougher time now, playing an equally athletic Heat team, establishing that dominance….The Bobcats were perhaps the most gritty, team-based club in all of basketball in route to making their playoff debut last season. They kept their core in place and should still be a survivor of the East….the Wizards are coming off a controversy filled season, but bring back a prize in the form of top pick John Wall, who already has taken over the team. Now they have the tougher task of rebuilding while trying to overcome some of the toughest teams in the game.

All Division Team // C: Dwight Howard-ORL, PF: Chris Bosh-MIA, SF: LeBron James-MIA, SG: Dwyane Wade-SG, PG: Jameer Nelson-ORL

Yesterday, the Western Conference was summarized through the small changes many of their teams committed to make the difference in their team’s fortunes. Moving along to the East, that couldn’t be further from the case here. If you went to sleep on the NBA after the Finals and woke up in October, you may not recognize many of the teams in the East. The LeBron James saga had every major market team in the Conference gutting their roster in the hopes to add him and another All-Star free agent to change the destiny of their franchise.

After that saga (dramatically) ended and teams reacted and regrouped to “The Decision”, many other teams also changed their membership dramatically as well. Also, some team were left dangerously depleted from the free agent movement free-for-all. This was a case of a group of a few making big leaps, but many others being left without much room to match the major move makers.

Clearly the Heat had a good summer break, but did other teams still do enough to keep up in the East?

Miami Heat-Grade: A+

Retained: Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem, Joel Anthony, James Jones, Jamaal Magloire, Carlos Arroyo

Additions: LeBron James (fa), Chris Bosh (fa),  Zydrunas Ilgauskas (fa), Mike Miller (fa) Juwan Howard (fa)

Lost: Jermaine O’Neal (BOS), Quentin Richardson (ORL), Michael Beasley (MIN), Daequan Cook (OKC)

Perhaps no team in the history of the NBA as more radically altered the face of their franchise than the Heat did by luring LeBron James and Chris Bosh into their fold to join Dwyane Wade. While this starting tandem instantly became the best in basketball, the talent and depth they almost instantly attracted is what separates this team’s offseason from all others. Adding Mike Miller and Zydrunas Illgauskas, and bringing back Udonis Haslem among others assured that this team has the impact and depth to play long in to the spring of 2011.

Chicago Bulls-Grade A+

Retained: No FAs returned

Additions: Carlos Boozer (t), Kyle Korver (fa), Ronnie Brewer (fa), Kurt Thomas (fa), CJ Watson (t), Omer Asik (d-2008)

Lost: Kirk Hinrich (WAS), Hakim Warrick (PHO), Brad Miller (HOU)

The Bulls were players in the James/Bosh/Wade market, but when that didn’t play out as planned, they regrouped and became quickly active in still capitalizing on the depth of the free agent field. The additions of Kyle Korver, Carlos Boozer and Ronnie Brewer have them being called “Jazz-East”, but that isn’t a bad thing, as the 2010 Jazz would have finished 4th in the East, without the Derrick Rose/Joakim Noah, back-to-back playoff core they are joining.

Milwaukee Bucks-Grade: A

Retained: John Salmons

Additions: Corey Maggette (t), Drew Gooden (fa), Chris Douglas-Roberts (t), Keyon Dooling (fa), Jon Brockman (t), Larry Sanders (d), Darington Hobson (d), Keith Gallion (d)

Lost: Luke Ridnour (MIN), Royal Ivey (OKC), Kurt Thomas (CHI), Charlie Bell (GS), Dan Gadzuric (GS), Darnell Jackson (SAC)

Quietly, the Bucks managed to resign one of the best guards available (John Salmons), make several big value trades (Drew Gooden, Chris Douglas-Roberts & Drew Gooden) and land their #1 target in the draft (Larry Sanders). Never a player for any of the big names on the market, there isn’t much more that can asked from the Bucks from their summer and they will be a tough match up for any team in the East all year.

The Bucks flew under the radar and made all the right moves, including locking up Salmons.

Boston Celtics-Grade: B+

Retained: Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Marquis Daniels, Nate Robinson

Additions: Jermaine O’Neal (fa), Avery Bradley (d), Luke Harangody (d)

Lost: Tony Allen (MEM), Shelden Williams (DEN)

Surprises quickly followed the Celts Finals run, with Paul Pierce opting out of his contract and Rasheed Wallace apparently retiring. However, they score high by how they reacted. Resigning Pierce was a must and landing Jermaine O’Neal to replace Wallace is a push. Despite losing Tony Allen, they resigned Ray and draft pick Avery Bradley could be a steal at #18 overall.

New York Knicks-Grade: B

Retained: No FAs returned

Additions: Amar’e Stoudemire (fa), Raymond Felton (fa), Kelenna Azubuike (t), Anthony Randolph (t), Ronny Turiaf (t), Timofrey Mozgov (fa), Andy Rautins (d), Landry Fields (d), Jerome Jordan (d)

Lost: David Lee (GS), Chris Duhon (ORL), Al Harrington (DEN), Sergio Rodriguez

The Knicks cleared almost their entire roster in an effort to land any of the top free agents available. While he’s no LeBron, they did end up with Amar’e Stoudemire. Adding Raymond Felton to run with him and getting much depth from a sign-and-trade deal for David Lee could signal a slight changing of the fortune coming to Madison Square Garden, but they still need help at center badly.

Orlando Magic

Retained: JJ Redick

Additions: Chris Duhon (fa), Quentin Richardson (fa), Daniel Orton (d), Stanley Robinson (d)

Lost: Matt Barnes (LAL)

They may have overpaid to retain JJ Redick, but it was necessary in case they lost Matt Barnes, as they eventually did, a blow to the defense. However, Q. Richardson can make up for some of his lost and big man Daniel Orton, while a project, could become a quality contributor under the rim with Dwight Howard.

Redick's salary went up this summer, his responsibilities will in the fall.

Washington Wizards-Grade: B-

Retained: No FAs returned

Additions: John Wall (d), Kirk Hinrich (t), Kevin Seraphin (d), Travis Booker (d), Hilton Armstrong (fa), Hamady N’diaye (d)

Lost: Mike Miller (MIA), Randy Foye (LAC), Shaun Livingston (CHA)

The Wiz made a huge move in securing their future, making the obvious pick of  franchise guard John Wall number one in the Draft. This is a huge step in the rebuilding process in DC, but its failure to move troubled guard Gilbert Arenas, the former face of the team, could slow this process, but the Wall selection is huge step in the right direction.

Toronto Raptors-Grade: C

Retained: Amir Johnson

Additions: Leandro Barbosa (t), Ed Davis (d), Linas Kleiza (fa), Solomon Alabi (fa), Dwayne Jones (t)

Lost: Chris Bosh (MIA), Hedo Turkoglu (PHO)

The loss of Chris Bosh is an undeniable blow to Toronto, but the Raptors were not on the fast track to the top of the Conference at any rate, so it also gives them a chance to retool. The major move in starting this rebuilding stretch was moving out the disappointing Hedo Turkoglu from their ranks. The veteran presence of Leandro Barbosa and the pick of Ed Davis is a move in the right direction.

Philadelphia 76ers-Grade: C

Retained: No FAs returned

Additions: Evan Turner (d), Spencer Hawes (t), Andres Nocioni (t), Tony Battie (fa)

Lost: Samuel Dalembert (SAC)

The Sixers are moving in a new direction and brought in even more young talent with #2 overall pick Evan Turner and trading for Spencer Hawes, who will add depth in the front court. Turner struggled some in the summer leagues, but as he settles in more along with Andre Iugodala and Jrue Holiday, he should help the Sixers become a very strong defensive team along the perimeter.

The spotlight is on Turner, the new franchise building block, after quiet offseason from the Sixers.

Indiana Pacers-Grade: C

Retained: No FAs returned

Additions: Paul George (d), Lance Stephenson (d), Magnum Rolle (d)

Lost: None

Indiana has built a strong overall roster and continue to build through the draft, with Paul George and Lance Stephenson, the latter of which could be a steal and help a both the point and shooting guard. George will add more immediate scoring to their bench. The failure to add help at the point guard spot could hold them back still however.

New Jersey Nets-Grade: C-

Retained: No FAs returned

Additions: Jordan Farmar (fa), Anthony Morrow (t), Derrick Favors (d), Travis Outlaw (fa), Johan Petro (fa), Damion James (d)

Lost: Tony Battie (PHI), Keyon Dooling (MIL)

Missing out on all of the premier free agents could be viewed as an offseason failure, however this team was so bad last year that any new talent of any sorts pushes them in the right direction. #3 pick Derrick Favors will add athleticism and rebounds immediately. Jordan Farmer, Anthony Morrow and Travis Outlaw wont push them to the promised land, but they will make sure this team doesn’t challenge for the all-time loss record again.

Charlotte Bobcats-Grade: C-

Retained: No FAs returned

Additions: Shaun Livingston (fa), Dominic McGuire (fa), Erick Dampier (t), Eduardo Najera (t), Matt Carroll (t)

Lost: Raymond Felton (NY), Theo Ratliff (LAL), Tyson Chandler (DAL), Alexis Ajinca (DAL)

The Bobcats just looked to add depth to their roster and came out well by adding Erick Dampier, Eduardo Najera and Matt Carroll to their intact core. They are a solid team that matches up well across the floor and these additions just solidify that more. Nothing spectacular, but not bad either.

Atlanta Hawks-Grade: D+

Retained: Joe Johnson

Additions: Jordan Crawford (d), Josh Powell (fa)

Lost: Josh Childress (PHO)

The Hawks decision to hand Joe Johnson a max contract at the onset of free agency was a brash move that doesn’t make the team better than it already was and could be an anchor to the future development of the team, as he will be 35 when it expires and most likely well into his decline. It could be justified if it was part of a deal with another player to better them, but it wasn’t because they couldn’t afford any more moves. The “win now” philosophy gone wrong.

Detroit Pistons-Grade: D

Retained: Ben Wallace

Additions: Greg Monroe (d), Terrico White (d)

Lost: None

Detroit drafted well in adding Greg Monroe and Terrico White, but their failure to act on a much need clearing house of their older pieces (and even resigning one in Ben Wallace), will continue to keep this team from moving on. These commitments keep them from being able to afford or have room for a much-needed youth infusion. The Pistons are in need of a new look and Monroe is a big grab at #7 overall, who could become a younger Rasheed Wallace if given the time.

Without LeBron backing him, does Mo Williams have enough help to save the day in Cleveland?

Cleveland Cavaliers-Grade: F

Retained: No FAs returned

Additions: Ryan Hollins (t), Ramon Sessions (t)

Lost: LeBron James (MIA), Zydrunas Ilgauskas (MIA), Delonte West, Sebastian Telfair (MIN)

The Cleveland Nowhere Men may be more appropriate here. The biggest losers of the entire LeBron James move, they are left virtually empty. But their failure to add anything of substance to try to replace LeBron’s impact is their biggest mistake of all. Maybe it’s the fact it’s looked at as a Post-LeBron wasteland by free agents or some other act, but they did take advantage of the open market after he left. At this rate, they will be able to count on the Lottery to help rebuild them for many years.

There are many days that have historical significance in the U.S. and are properly observed as so.

July 4: The Independence of the United States from the British Empire

December 25: Recognition of the birth of Christ ……well this may or not be stretch in this instance, stay tuned….

Oh, I know…..how about:

February 2nd: Groundhog’s Day, where it is judged how much longer winter will go based on if the chosen Groundhog sees its shadow or not.

That’s a fitting holiday for new day that should be set aside as a national holiday, July 8 – LeDecision Day. There shall be no work and all will rejoice. For this is a date that should be celebrated in the streets of all 50 realms of the United States and the globe at large. “Behold the day that the Chosen One has laid aside to fulfill the prophecy and choose his destination of basketball based entertainment!” Sound the trumpets. Playing the role of the groundhog of the sports world, LeBron James must have seen his shadow and allowed the mania that has built following his decision on whom to join, or rejoin, for the next few NBA season to continue for as long as possible. Now the day is upon us where the “The Decision” (as it is entitled for the hour-long ESPN special that will accompany it….wow….is called) is finally here.

Happy LeDecision Day....but what are we Witnessing?

The speculation on where he will land has reached Beatlemania levels. It seems everyone from the New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers to Invaders of the MBA (Martian Basketball Association, of course) are in play for LeBron and every inside source has a scoop from his “inner circle”, which has apparently grown to around 3,000,000 on a low-end estimate. I don’t know LeBron or his people, but I’m gonna take my swing at joining the “source community” and throw out what makes sense to me here and give my final shot in the crowded room of educated guesses and hope I hit something.

Cleveland Cavaliers: The bottom line here is loyalty and legacy. He has been in the unique position of being able to craft his entire legacy from high school forward in the same location. The state of Ohio has raised him and he is without a doubt the most important individual in the entire state, regardless of profession. His involvement in Cleveland supports a huge part of the city’s financial income and no doubt supports many people he has been associated with for years since he first showed his potential as a breadwinner.

On the court is a different matter altogether. I don’t think loyalty to the Cavs is a huge issue at all. He would have become “LeBron James, Superstar” with any team he played with. He has done way more for them than they have done for him. A career of having to lean on cores consisting of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden, Maurice Williams and Larry Hughes isn’t much to brag on. Only adding Antawn Jamison, who is far past is former All-Star form and an over the hill Shaquille O’Neal as impact sidekicks is weak too. LeBron will get money anywhere is goes, so I don’t think the contract makes a huge difference. But the inability to project a championship will be and unless he feels a strong desire to build his own legacy from start to finish, Cleveland may not be the place. However, I will not count them out, because its still home and that could pull him to do it there and keep his center of control under his grasp.

ChicagoBulls: Chicago seemed like the most viable option if he could’ve taken Chris Bosh with him. There’s a hole on the floor that still could welcome him there, but it seems like a long shot for some reason now. Even with Bosh join Dwyane Wade in Miami, the Bulls still boast the most overall talent of team in the chase. There are two All-Stars in place already in Derrick Rose and newly acquired Carlos Boozer, as well as a strong starting core ready as well. If he could consider playing in Miami with Wade and his style of play, then playing in Chicago with Rose, who is far more willing to defer in his style of play. For whatever reason, it doesn’t seem like this will happen, which doesn’t make much sense to me.

New York Knicks: The Knicks will cater to his wishes bring in whoever he wants around him. They have no problem withspending money and have already landed Amare Stoudemire as a drawing piece. But beside him, there’s literally nothing to say they will win any quicker with him in the fold. 2 players don’t win championships, teams do. The Knicks do offer the biggest stage available of anyone in the Big Apple, but with a star the size of LeBron, he brings the media to him wherever, so I don’t see the Knicks as being answer. If they had a more solid core intact, ala the Patrick Ewing years, maybe. But no matter how much glitter they throw at the situation, it’s still a base level rebuilding project and that’s not what he needs. He’s already rebuilt one team in Cleveland, and now as he’s approaching the half way point in his career I don’t imagine he wants to spend the second half doing the same thing, regardless of what city it is in.

New Jersey Nets: The Nets are similar to the Knicks in that they are rebuilding. However, they are building around actual pieces in place that show potential to make the jump with the right leader on court. Adding Avery Johnson’s proven track record on the sidelines shows they’ll make strides on the court, and they have maybe the most brash ownership in the NBA this side of Mark Cuban in Mikhail Prokhoroz and Jay-Z, so they’ll continue to make headlines and be active. With all these benefits, there’s just too much in flux in Jersey. They are only a year off of a historically terrible season and are moving to another city soon. It doesn’t fit what LeBron should be in the market for, stability and a continued reign at the top of league. But with the twists and turns in this entire saga, this surprise could happen.

Los Angeles Clippers: Nope, not happening. I’m not even wasting the characters or considerably low typing energy addressing it. On Friday morning, Danny Manning or Loy Vaught will still be the best Clipper ever, not LeBron. The End.

Miami Heat: While I said who I feel about him landing in Miami yesterday, it’s seeming like this is a strong possibility. I can see why he would want to go there and I don’t blame him (do blame the Heat if they sign him though). If he goes to Miami he’ll immediately come under criticism. He’ll be pegged as not being able to get it done on his own and needing Wade and Bosh to make it to the top. Let’s look at this a few ways. True, he would be giving up his chance to make his own legacy, by joining up with the Heat. But he would be assured of being even deeper into the championship picture than he has ever been before (despite making the 07 Finals, they had NO shot at beating the Spurs).

However, it would impossible to say he isn’t concerned about winning, because this would be the quickest way to that goal. It seems like a match made in heaven, but I really see such a star laden team having huge chemistry problems that would be magnified when they struggle, and they will do that inevitably. I don’t think you can replicate what the Celtics did when Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett joined in Paul Pierce in 2007-08. They were older than Bron, Bosh and Wade, so they were more focused on ending the legacies that they had created individually. They were ready to cap them off. Of the guys in Miami, specifically Wade and LeBron, are still making their place in both the current power struggle in the league and of this era of the NBA. I’m not convinced they can totally divorce the individual to win together yet and this could keep LeBron elsewhere. Which isn’t totally selfish of him in his decision, but could cost the ultimate goal, but Kobe and his Lakers could still do that anyway, so who knows.

After all of this, it’s really only going to make sense to him. There’s probably more moving and shaking behind the scenes than we’ll ever know, but I’m gonna take my shot at what makes sense with what’s available. I’m predicting:

Cleveland

In a close turn over joining the party in Miami (and I mean very close, I erased and rewrote this five times myself), he stays home. LeBron seems to have a strong sense of both his own self value, loyalty and ego. By staying in Cleveland he appeases all of these contradictory elements at once. He makes his homeland happy by staying home and achieves the largest payday possible. He also locks in his chance at being one of the truly defined greats of all time, by leading a single franchise to a championship level. For him to truly achieve his place as a great of both this era and all-time, he does in one place. Wade, Kobe and Tim Duncan are the measuring sticks of achievement in this era of the NBA, and have done it in one location. Michael Jordan (save for his very end stint in Washington), Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Bill Russell are at the summit of NBA greatness, and did it by building and leading one team up with them.

The King stays in his castle....for better or worse.

I believe he wants this. It feeds his ego/legacy appropriately. While it is far from being a guaranteed shot and he will have to contend with Dwight Howard’s Orlando clubs still and the double-headed Miami monster, I think he takes on that undertaking. He has shown he can raise an otherwise mediocre Cavs roster to the 60 win level, and I doubt he will return without some immediate guarantees on upgrades to the roster to push them further than they have been since 2007. It’s a commendable and brave endeavor with an uncertain endgame, but what isn’t.

And in the end, there’s always the Clippers. If just for shock value alone.

To the dismay of the East, Wade & Bosh will permanently share uni's now.

This morning two of the largest pegs in the free agent market came together in Miami. Dwyane Wade made the expected move and stayed home with the Heat, to continue to build his legacy. After weeks of drama, that was similar to a media-built custody battle between Wade and LeBron James, Chris Bosh chose South Beach as his landing spot and Wade as his running mate. He will receive less than he would have working out a sign-and-trade deal with the Raptors, but the immediate chance at playing under the brightest lights in the league in May probably will help him cope.

Despite this part of the 3-headed free agent monster being slayed, there is still the matter of the LeBron James decision.

Live in Orbit: The LeSatellite

Evidently LeBron will broadcast his decision on where he will play next from an orbiting spaceship above the planet to all of the world’s people via ESPN on Thursday night. It has been well documented here where LeBron could choose and what he brings with him besides his formidable talent on the court. While Miami, Cleveland, Chicago, New York, New Jersey and even the LA Clippers have a shot at landing him on tomorrow night, there is one team that should bow out of the race immediately now.

You guessed it.

All of the rage is the potential dream (and nightmare for the 29 other NBA clubs) pairing of Wade, Bosh and James. If you’re a fantasy basketball league, yes, you are winning big time. However, if you are Pat Riley in the off-line world, obtaining James is a mistake on the two most essential levels, on-court and financially.

First of all, this is not a shot against LeBron. He is the most devastating talent in the league and makes any team better

Beasley can play an big role in the new look Heat

immediately. But for where the Heat are now it makes no sense to add his particular skill set to what they have in place. From a scoring perspective, they are set. Wade is more than enough first option scorer by himself, and by adding Bosh they have paired the best slasher in the NBA with arguably it’s best interior scorer. From a primary scoring perspective the Heat are set and with Michael Beasley, who is steadily improving, they have a solid secondary option. LeBron’s presence would only upset this balance.

LeBron is tremendous everywhere on the floor. But figuring out an offense and keeping chemistry together for both Wade and LeBron for 82 games a year could be a monumental headache. For both Wade and James, fitting into an offense where they are not the clear primary scorer could be a huge problem and realistically decreases their impact on the floor. Both are best adept at leading teams as the undisputed lead of the team. That role could be become as foggy as an eye exam for Mr. Magoo with both in the fold.

The bottom line for Miami is that for the other areas he could benefit the Heat, you can add other role player options that can make do together at the price for one LeBron.

The most strategic approach from this point is to surround these guys with everything they need win out, much in the style of the 2006 Championship squad. Currently outside of Wade and Bosh, the Heat’s roster consists of Beasley, point guard Mario Chalmers, guard Kenny Hasbrouck and draft picks DeSean Butler and Dexter Pittman. There are a few ways they can maximize what is in place already. The best options are to fill out the starting lineup with either a pure center with size that lets Bosh over-match most opposing power forwards (in the mold of Brendan Haywood or Brad Miller) or add another swingman by utilizing Beasley’s flexibility to play the power forward spot. Ideally, this should be a good spot up shooter to benefit from the attention on Wade’s penetration. Mike Miller, Kyle Korver or retaining Quentin Richardson can achieve this.

After this point the attention has to be turned to fortifying the bench, which is where adding LeBron cripples the Heat tremendously. With 3 max contracts, you’re putting all of your eggs in one big basket, a dangerous proposition. Admittedly, if you going to make a gamble of this type, this 3 headed approach is best way to go after it, but if you’re looking to knock off the current top dogs in the NBA bench depth is what makes the difference. The Lakers and Celtics proved that during their recent Finals battles. The Magic, Hawks, Cavaliers and Mavericks all are top contenders in league as well, and boast deep benches to work around their stars.

Could Carlos still be eyeing a move to South Beach?

The Heat need to take the remaining cap room and add a group of shooters, ball handlers and perimeter defenders to run teams into the ground. While it may be a stretch, they could also still pursue Carlos Boozer, who most likely won’t require a max contract and has a good relationship with Wade also. This would be the best starting 5 in the East and make an unmatched rebounding/scoring tandem in Bosh and Boozer. This would lessen what they could afford to add for complete depth, but with a starting lineup of that level, they could easily run a 8-man rotation for most of the season.

Mr. Riley, you’ve won the summer battle already. Your program has gained huge media attention and for all intents and purposes, you have won. You have retained your superstar and landed the best power forward available. In the process, you have formed perhaps the most devastating 1-2 punch in the NBA. Much of the complete picture will not be revealed until LeBron signs and dominoes of players potentially following him end, the Heat are without a doubt in the driver’s seat now. You’ve played your hand well Pat, cash in your chips and spend for depth over name brand notoriety.