Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles Lakers’

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.

 

I was going to write this days ago, but there really was no need. Even as you read this, the debate, defense and predictions of what happened, is happening and will happen with the Los Angeles Lakers is still being constantly debated. Anytime a champion is knocked off, especially with all of its same pieces intact (especially a widely considered best player of his generation at full speed), there will be some eyebrows raised. So while the pro-Laker crowd and the anti-Laker groups have it out like a Presidential Primary five days after the 2010-11 version of the Lakers because a moot point in this years championship picture, I’m going to share some of the things I’ve taken from them, what’s going on right now and what will be. Is this a temporary bump in the road? An issue that was bound to happen anyway? Or is this a forecast that moved into place much quicker than anybody foresaw? Let’s go.

What happened? I’m not exactly sure how that happened in Dallas and L.A. a week ago. As I said before, the Lakers had the best first round draw of any team in the West, and while they didn’t exactly blow the Hornets away, there certainly was no indication that it was a team on the verge of a quick and embarrassing sweep. In many instance, championship teams wait it out and strike late, but that seems to be what everybody was waiting for from the Lakers all season, and it never came. The March blowout win over the Spurs seemed to be a statement game that this team was finally hitting its post season stride and would be ready to make a sprint back to the Finals, but after who the Spurs revealed themselves to be, in hindsight that doesn’t mean very much. They had already started a downward slide and had long since peaked, and the Lakers simply revealed that in a brutal fashion.

Is Kobe looking at an impassable task in restoring his Lakers this time?

What ended up happening in the end is that Mavericks did the same thing to LA that they did to the Spurs, revealed them as not being who they were in the past. The Lakers finished with the same record they did a year ago, when they took home their second championship in three years, but from the jump this team didn’t seem to have the “dig down and take it when we have to have it” that last year’s club had. And really the only thing it can be placed on his complacency and believing their own headlines. When that seeps in, it hits the egos of the guys on board. And while Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson have the composure to ignore these things, that can’t be said for many of the others. Ron Artest needs no introduction, Andrew Bynum showed how thick his skin was when it was all said and done, Lamar Odom is taking a jump step into Chad OchoCinco-reality land and Pau Gasol’s house was apparently on fire the whole time. Now whether these elements are valid reasons for the implosion of the club is up for debate, however what is not up for debate is that the Lakers were the most talented club in the Western Conference still this year, but what was happening behind the curtain kept that from every fully re-insert itself this year, and got exposed in final act.

But the biggest test for this cast (if it returns…) is what’s next? Will this be a catalyst for them to return to form and dominate, similar to how the ’95-’96 Bulls reacted to losing early in the Playoffs in the Jordan #45 season, or will it serve as second dose of what ended the previously Laker dynasty, where in-fighting and chemistry issues tore the team apart? A few crucial issues hinge on which reality is up next….

1. There is no Phil to glue it together. Phil Jackson is done. He has no incentive to try to rebuild a club at this point in his career, and with his accomplishments combined with his health issues and the general way this season played out, there has to be little attraction to him returning. Whoever inherits this club, whether it be Rick Adelman, Brian Shaw or even Professor Xavier, has a core of guys that are used to handling things a certain way under a certain guard, and there could be major resistance to change in that formula. Greats like Kobe Bryant have a certain amount of deference and stubbornness to their way of doing things that must be adapted to. This is far from the most desirable position to insert yourself into on the sidelines.

The most important figure from two past Laker resurrections won't be around this time for the task.

2. Something has to give in their approach. For a long time the Lakers have won with a great balance of scheme in the triangle, superior match up problems due to their size and having the best player in the NBA to bail them out on both sides of the court. Well some of these factors will remain intact. Kobe will still take, and hit, shots that most guys won’t even have the courage to try. But him and Derek Fisher are getting older, and they are living on reputation on defense. While for a long time Kobe has been one of the toughest perimeter defenders in the league, his numbers fell across the board this year in addition to his overall range slipping. They have to get younger, more active defenders everywhere on this club, but definitely in the backcourt. This problem is compounded by the fact they will probably lose Shannon Brown, who is their most active and bouncy player to free agency this summer, so they have to work free agency and acquire some new blood for what will most likely be a new scheme. And they have to get that Steve Blake stuff out of there, he isn’t what they need at all. A quick ballhandler that can push defenses off the bench would change everything about what they can do, and add a wrinkle they haven’t had in many years.

For all the Jordan/Kobe comparisons, here is one that the Lakers management should pay attention to. In the end, Michael was still a great defender, but he didn’t have to be all the time. He could focus on maximizing what was his easiest gift to give on him physically at that point: buckets. Extend Kobe’s effectiveness and let him play his classic focused defense only when he has too. He’s still the key to how far this club goes, so make it as simple for him as possible.

3. Get Back to the Draft. Last but not least, don’t disregard the Draft. If all else fails, you have to prepare around what you have now, and the Lakers have always been a solid drafting club despite getting some pretty bad picks. This has always been the case for all of their recent championship runs, crucial players have come from the amateur ranks. Jordan Farmer, Sasha Vujacic, Ronny Turiaf, Devean George, Andrew Bynum and even Kobe. They have all been June pickups, and they have to get back to that. They need a new shooter and ball handler, in addition to shot blocker, 6’10 + type of guy off the bench. Even in this year’s so-so at the very best Draft, they can hit the floor running (perhaps literally) a lot quicker with some really appropriate draft picks now.

4. What the next big move? For a long time the Lakers have had no issue with making the biggest acquisition to put themselves in place to either go over the top in the League or move back into the spotlight. From Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Shaq, they have shown the willingness to go make a big move to bring a guy from a dying situation in a small market, out to the big lights of both LA and the post season. Well, the time is now for them to follow in their own footsteps again. I have no doubts they could run this team back out there and continue to be a high seeded Playoff threat, however if they really want to take it back to the next level, they have to add that next piece that can carry them long-term. Like Magic did for Kareem, Kobe for Shaq, it’s time to bring that piece in for Kobe.

GM Mitch Kupchak has to make a Obama vs. bin Laden type statement in restocking this Laker lineup.

What is great for them right now is that they have no shortage of guys that fit that bill spread around the league. The name of the game right now is to bring big names together and pair them up in nightly All-Star Games. Well there’s a Version 4.0 of the “Big Man in Need” in the NBA right now, by the name of Dwight Howard, so be proactive Mitch Kupchak. Don’t let him hit free agency. He’s already getting upset with the national media about how they are discussing his free agency to be next summer, and now the local media is applying pressure too. Go save the guy and pull him out now. If Dwight knows the Lakers are coming full speed for him early, he’ll start laying the full court press of power plays on Orlando GM Otis Smith, and by late summer he’ll be dying to trade him and just get something in return to save his franchise (which would go down at epic speeds with Gilbert Arenas and Jameer Nelson left to guide them. Think Cleveland, 2k12). Package up Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and 2 two of those soon to be irrelevant, “we’ve got Kobe and Dwight” late first round picks, and change the direction of your franchise in a manner that they have historically adhered to.

The situation is far from “Game Over” in LA, and they are not short on assets in any way. But handling these issues immediately ensure that next year doesn’t repeat this year, and then really give the Western Conference justifiable ammo, and hope.

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Earlier today the first round matching of the Eastern Conference were broken down. While that division has been on the come up since last summer, the West has remains the host of the deepest talent pool in the game. There are teams that missed the Playoffs that would have been locks in the Eastern Conference’s tournament weeks ago. It’s just that tough out West.

In the midst of that, the Lakers are attempting to win a third consecutive title, the Spurs are looking to justify their season-long run with the best record in the conference & the Thunder are looking to deliver on their future promise, now.

All that & a lot more out of a mixture of teams where no upset is truly unbelievable.

#1 Spurs (61-21) vs #8 Grizzles (46-36)

Last 20: Spurs 10-10, Grizzles 12-8
Vs Playoff teams: Spurs 1-7, Grizzled 6-7

Season Series: 2-2 split. The Spurs took a series dip down the stretch, from a mixture of resting their stars & an ill timed slump. At any rate, they still locked down top dog status in the West, but were rewarded with a tough round 1 Matchup in the finally full strength Grizz. They are the type if team that gives the deliberate paced Spurs trouble, as they can run the floor all night. This was evidenced in the fact they split the season series, with each team holding down their homecourt. The Spurs have more home games in this, every, series. And they may need them in what could be a surprisingly tough opening series. But in the end…SPURS WIN.

#4 Thunder (55-27) vs #5 Nuggets (50-27)

Last 20: Thunder 16-4, Nuggets 14-6
Vs Playoff teams: Thunder 6-1, Nuggets 5-4

Season Series: 3-1 Thunder. No team has a tougher path ahead of them that OKC, and it starts with the everyman Nuggets. They have become a diverse attack that can hit you from everywhere in their post-Carmelo incarnation. They will be a tough out for Durant & company, but no team has played better down the stretch than the Thunder, and in the end they have too many high-end talents to fall to the Nuggets, who will feel the absence of Melo for the first time when they have no one that can match buckets with KD. THUNDER WIN.

#3 Mavs (57-25) vs #6 Blazes (48-34)

Last 20: Mavs 12-8, Blazes 13-7
Vs Playoff teams: Mavs 2-7, Blazers 10-4

Season Series: 2-2 split. This could be the best series of all eight first round contests. Each of these teams have a ton of talent and are very similar in how they can beat you. The Mavs are once again showing themselves vulnerable at the wrong time & are coming in to see a Blazers club that has gone to another level since snatching up Gerald Wallace at the trade deadline and adding him to a long athletic front line with LaMarcus Aldridge & Marcus Camby. Tough series that should go seven, but Im playing the upset card here & taking the Blazers.

#2 Lakers (57-25) vs #7 Hornets (46-36)

Last 20: Lakers 14-6, Hornets 9-11
Vs Playoff teams: Lakers 8-4, Hornets 4-8

Season Series: Lakers 4-0. The Lakers didn’t get the top seed as they start their Chase for another ring, but they probably pulled the best Matchup available for them. The Hornets have been in a tailspin in the late season, especially after losing top scorer David West.They are thin up front, and that plays into the Lakers hand. LA is still susceptible to quick play makers, and Chris Paul is in the upper echelons of those, and probably is good for a win by himself at some point in the series. But Kobe will be good for at least two on his own and this one won’t go for too long, as the Camps will be too much overall. LAKERS WIN.

In the end….there can be only one (and I haven’t figured that far out yet). But first there must be eight. The CHEAP SEATS bracket is taking the Bulls, Magic, Celtics & Heat out East, and Spurs, Thunder, Blazers & Lakers in the West.

Let’s get the REAL season on and poppin!

The NBA’s 60th All-Star Game kicks off in a few hours in Los Angeles & it’s going to be an interesting mix. This year the Celtics & Heat, with a few selected outside friends, will take on the Western Conference in what I feel is the best superstar exhibition in sports. Baseball’s game can sometimes not have the exact matchup you want to see if a pitcher isn’t in the game yet & misses the best batter available (Halladay & Pujols had a combined 1 showdowns in ASG play until Doc ruined it & came to the NL to play with Albert). As for the Pro Bowl….we played better intramural football, with more contact, than they play in that game. And the NHL’s version of the ASG comes on Versus, a network where I’m sure Terrance & Phillip, of South Park fame, are the announcers.

So all the pressure falls on the NBA to give us a great product of it’s best stars going head to head. Where the most manufactured rivalry in sports (Kobe vs. LeBron) is rightfully contested, in the exhibition in was created in. Where there will be some And 1 mixtape-level plays from some of the best handlers in the game, and if were lucky, maybe the Carmelo drama will be decided & he gets traded at halftime and plays the second half for the East!

At any rate, predicting a winner in the ASG is pointless, so I’ll go with what I really want to see: unique matchups. Here are a few five man pairings I want to see Gregg Popovich & Doc Rivers run out after the starters have their go at it.

Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook & Chris Paul for the West as the “We May Throw an Oop From Anywhere” squad: This is the most athletic team the West can run out there, with two sprinters in the backcourt & a frontcourt that could dunk on the Statue of Liberty under the rim. Let get this going early in the 2nd quarter Pop.

LeBron James & the Celtics for the East: I like this squad for a few two simple reasons:

1) It could be the biggest freeze out job since Isiah took a young Jordan out the mix in ’85 & it would be hilarious to see LeBron’s reaction if he grabs a rebound.

2) Doc could take the race for the East #1 seed into their his own hands & put all four Celtics into the game at once and have them gang stomp LeBron as he’s by himself. That would set a great rematch chance for Vince McMahon to cash in on at WrestleMania next month.

Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol with Russell Westbrook for the West as the “We Are Old As Hell, Take Us Off the Court With This Young Fella” squad: This is far from Kobe, Duncan, Dirk or Pau’s first ASG rodeo, and while they’ll play the critical moments (if there are such a thing in these games), they probably won’t be going overly hard to prove anything. The same can’t be said for the dynamo that is Westbrook, who is in his first ASG & it’s back home where he made his college bones. It would be comedy to see Dirk & Duncan trying to get back up the court to play off of Westbrook as he gets his Usain Bolt on with each in bound pass.

LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson, Chris Bosh & Amare Stoudemire for the East as the “Weren’t We All Supposed to be Knicks By Now?” team:

This summer we all remember how somehow all 10 premier free agents were supposed to get max contracts and revive the Knicks to prominance they haven’t achieved since the 1970’s, yet are still expected to have? Yeah, well I guess 1 game is better than none & maybe they can borrow Carmelo for a minute and run some 6-on-4 to give Knick fans the full fantasy experience. Why not?

LeBron, Wade, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce & Ray Allen vs. Duncan, Kobe, Dirk, Paul & Gasol in the “We Are All Going to Springfield sooner or later” matchup: Seriously though, the All-Star game gives a great chance to see the historic greats matchup against each other. While some of these guys are already locks for the Hall of Fame, while others have more work to do, all 10 of these fellas have a more than likely chance of receiving a career’s greatest honor when they are done. Put them all out there at once & show the youngers that even though they are among the 24 best in the game now, they still have a ways to go before they are where these guys are.

(more…)

In another new endeavor here in the CHEAP SEATS this year, I’ll be doing dropping the straight dope on some of my opinions on what’s going on around me in the sporting world. This will be listed here in “3 Truths”, which is simply what it says it is: three quick points from conversations I’ve had individually, and I’m now spreading to the masses. This is my stance taken on the point and I’ve decided to pass them into the law of the land (or at least the law of land you’re standing on when reading this site).  I started this site to give both a common view, a quick read and to promote as much debate as possible, so COMMENTS are what this is all about.

Lets get at it.

1. THE NFC & AFC WEST: ONE IN THE SAME: All season, the NFC West has been treated as the reddest headed of all step children because it was a battle to just reach .500 all year. That’s fine, they all played inconsistent in one way or another all year. They deserve some criticism, and considering the division champ didn’t make .500 in the end (and technically still hasn’t now, even after a playoff win). However, the AFC West wasn’t too far behind them in all of those same categories elements. Take a look:

Juggernaut, er, Marshawn Lynch ran the Seahawks past more than just the Saints Saturday.

The favorites in both divisions were big disappointments, in the 49ers and Chargers, finishing 6-10 and 9-7 on the year. The Chargers’ 9-7 mark was only reached in co-op by a strong finish and an otherworldly year from Philip Rivers. This opened up the doors for some upstarts to jump in and take it, and boy did they. The three teams that competed for the division were the Chiefs, Seahawks and Rams, franchise that combined to go 10-38 the year before and take the first, fifth and sixth picks in the 2010 Draft. Not exactly beacons of success. However, the Chiefs and Seahawks pulled it together and took the West contingents of the NFL this year. Even after doing this, they were still the worst teams in the NFL in the playoffs by record.

Here’s the difference maker though, the Chiefs got drummed at home by 23 by Baltimore and the Seahawks, who were universally deemed unworthy due to not reaching the “magical” .500 mark (and how this is so much better than 7-9 is beyond me), only beat the defending Super Bowl Champs at home, with 4 touchdown tosses by the written off Matt Hasselbeck and a damn fine Juggernaut impression by Marshawn Lynch.

I’m not discrediting the Chiefs season, they played well and deserved all their success. But I am saying that there’s no way to say the AFC West is too far away in strangeness from the NFC West. Hell, the Raiders went undefeated in the division, but only won 2 other games and STILL fired their coach (the Al Davis exception is noted). So records aside, the same elements of weirdness are in both of these divisions.

2. KOBE BRYANT’S INVISIBLE ROOF: This past week, Kobe Bryant passed two of the all-time greats in NBA history on the career points scored list. His current total of 26,747, he shot past Oscar Robertson and Dominique Wilkins to enter the top 10 all-time. This makes sense, he too is an all-time great. And he should pass up Hakeem Olajuwon and Elvin Hayes this year as well, maybe even Moses Malone too to be sitting at #6 all-time. Next year he should take over Shaq (even though he may play until he’s 80 to keep this from happening) to be firmly rooted at #4.

However, then he reaches Mount Olympus at that point, with Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan looming next. Wilt is at 31, 419 points and His Royal Airness is at 32,292. Kobe can get Wilt, although it make take him another 2 years. He has a shot a Mike, but that would take about 3 years from now, with no dip in production or health. If that happens it puts him at #3 all-time and that’s where he will stay, unless LeBron or Durant or some kid in middle school comes to get him later. Karl Malone is set at #2 with 36, 928 and let’s not even approach Kareem.

The amazing race for Kobe to catch Mike may have a few too many steps, and years, in it for #24.

Kobe is 31 now and what it would take to overtake Jordan would be about 3 more years of playing at the same exact level he is at now, and I’m not sure if he has it in him physically, especially at 34 or 35 years old. He has been playing in the NBA since he was 17 years old, and a mixture of early entry, early success and superb play has enabled him to reach the totals he has. In 3 years it would be his 17th season in, and as a guard, his legs are already going to waste. Theres a reason that seven of the 10 top scorers of all-time are centers and power forwards, they don’t have to run as much as guards and have easier baskets to score. Kobe would have to dig deep in the well to pass Jordan, and most likely wouldn’t get half way to the Mailman. But it’s gonna be fun watching him try.

3. WHY IS CARMELO NOT GETTING ROASTED??? I’m not going to jump back into the reasoning, methodology and fallout of LeBron James’ saga this summer. I’ve stated frequently how overly emotional the city of Cleveland and much of the sports world, the just wants to take shots at LeBron for whatever self-empowered reason, has been towards that whole situation. However, I’m curious why there is no comparable shade being thrown at Carmelo. He’s in damn near the exact same situation. He’s a top 10 player in the NBA, the cornerstone of an entire franchise, refused to re-sign where he has been successful and the team is now suffering in results to make it worse.

How what's so different about Carmelo's self-general management than anybody else's?

Since the summer he has basically been trying to leverage his way out of Denver, and even said he wouldn’t play anywhere except where he wants to, which severely handicaps the Nuggets ability to get offers and at least better themselves by moving the greatest player in the history of their franchise. Way to be a team player Melo. I’m not saying Carmelo is bad guy by any means, I think he’s a tremendous player and is simply trying to take control of his career path. I applaud that. However, what I don’t see is how it is much different from what LeBron did and what he is charged with along the way, which includes tanking games and being a diva.

The bottom line is it isn’t. It’s no different from what Chris Paul did earlier this year or even what Kobe did years back when the Lakers couldn’t win after Shaq left. He’s just not as popular of a target as LeBron is, so it’s swept under the rug. I’m calling a spade a spade though. It’s the same hand, same suit just a different number.

And three things, my friends, are the law of THIS land.

In part 2 of the CHEAP SEATS NBA preview, it’s time to move out West. The West has been dominant for what seems like forever, with nobody except for the Celtics being able to even dent their armor. With much of the focus being on a few upper tier teams on the East, can any team in the West besides the defending champion Lakers make any noise? One thing for sure is that the talent is spread out all over the Western Conference, and mostly every team can play with the next team.

Without further delay lets take a look at the West, followed by the predictions on who will be the NBA Champion and winners of each of the most prominent postseason awards.

Northwest Division

  1. Portland Trailblazers (3)
  2. Oklahoma City Thunder (4)
  3. Denver Nuggets (6)
  4. Utah Jazz (8)
  5. Minnesota Timberwolves (15)

A year after becoming the youngest scoring champ ever, Durant's expectations are to pickup some hardware while leading the Thunder deeper into the playoffs.

Summary: The talent is spread around in this division, with three teams that could legitimately take a shot at the title. The Blazers bring back a team that has been on the brink for several years now, but haven’t made it all the way. They have plenty of depth, especially in the frontcourt and Brandon Roy back healthy to seal the deal….the Thunder made big strides, improving by 27 games last year. Kevin Durant is far from the only star in the Oklahoma City skies, as Russell Westbrook is also an All-Star in waiting. They will continue to rise this year, but still need some more experience before the guaranteed takeover….there is a lot of uncertainty around the Nuggets, as they have no idea how long they will be able to hold Carmelo Anthony. With him, they can challenge for the division. Without they’ll will most likely lock up 4th place….the Jazz underwent several changes to their core, but if Al Jefferson holds onto his health, him and Deron Williams can push this club back into the postseason….there is a world of “potential” on the Timberwolves, but they have little to no experience and play very little defense. Another year in the Lottery is ahead.

All-Division Team// C: Al Jefferson-UTH, PF: LaMarcus Alridge-POR, SF: Kevin Durant-OKC, SG: Brandon Roy-POR, PG: Deron Williams-UTH

Pacific Division

  1. Los Angeles Lakers (1)
  2. Phoenix Suns (11)
  3. Los Angeles Clippers (12)
  4. Golden State Warriors (13)
  5. Sacramento Kings (14)

All Eyes on 24: Kobe leads his deepest Laker team yet into action in search for his second 3-peat.

Summary: There’s them and then everybody else. The Pacific is a division that has perhaps the clearest winner of any, with L.A. sitting firmly in place above the rest of a developing division that has several teams setting themselves up to compete again…once again. While you should never look ahead too far, the two-time defending champion Lakers are in the position to do just that, as they face no legit challenge in this division. While Kobe Bryant’s healthy will be an issue all year, the Lakers had perhaps the most effective offseason of any Western team, bringing in Matt Barnes and Steve Blake to give them one of the best benches in the game to compliment one of the best starting fives already intact….when Amar’e Stoudemire left for NY, the Suns immediately set out in retooling their approach. Instead of landing another big scoring forward, they instead got smaller and faster, which will suit Steve Nash just fine….it’s expected for the Clippers to be constantly rebuilding, but with Blake Griffin finally joining their ranks, they may finally have the right guy to start their assent, finally. Now if Baron Davis will just let him do it….the Warriors most radically changed their team, bringing over David Lee in a surprise acquisition to give their dynamic young Monta Ellis/Stephen Curry backcourt an All-Star level frontline performer….there’s a lot of work to be done for the Kings in year two of the Tyreke Evans era, but if big man first rounder DeMarcus Cousins stays hungry (just on the court though), they have added another key piece in what will continue to be a huge rebuilding effort.

All-Division Team// C: Chris Kaman-LAC, PF: Pau Gasol-LAL, SF: Jason Richardson-PHO, SG: Kobe Bryant-LAL, PG: Tyreke Evans-SAC

Southwest Division

  1. Dallas Mavericks (2)
  2. Houston Rockets (5)
  3. San Antonio Spurs (7)
  4. New Orleans Hornets (9)
  5. Memphis Grizzlies (10)

After only playing in 45 games '09-'10, will Paul be able to push the Hornets back into the playoff picture?

Summary: Simply the best division in basketball. There are no nights off with any of these teams, and predicting where they finish could be an exercise in dumbassness (it’s a word now). Despite picking up in age every year and being one of the most unreliable playoff teams in sports, the Mavericks are still among the deepest of all teams in the NBA. With some needed defensive additions under the rim (Tyson Chandler, Brendan Haywood), Dirk Nowitzki can stay on the outside and be a full-time sniper now….the Rockets had a great offseason across the board, in drafting (Patrick Patterson), free agency (resigned Louis Scola, added Brad Miller) and by simply letting time pass, which brought Yao Ming back to them, who’s presence and scoring touch could put them over the top in the Southwest. They are DEEP….the league’s retirement villa in San Antonio, who seem to have the same club for the last 30 years, has managed to stay strong still. The Spurs bring back their Duncan/Manu/Parker core once again, but have put the youth behind them in (finally) land big man Tiago Splitter in an NBA jersey. Once again, they’ll be in the mix all year….The Hornets get the biggest return boost of any club, with All-Universe PG Chris Paul back fully healthy. His presence alone makes them a threat again, and boosts the threat of the whole Hornets club….It really sucks for the Grizzlies to be in this division. They could be around the top of any other division in the conference, but still could pull the upset card on any team in this one as well. Locking up Rudy Gay as their franchise player was a great call, and they could legitimately end up in last place in their division and STILL make the playoffs this year as an 8 seed, seriously.

All-Division Team// C: Tim Duncan-SA, PF: Dirk Nowitzki-DAL, SF: Rudy Gay-MEM, SG: Kevin Martin-HOU, PG: Chris Paul-NO

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Playoff Predictions

Eastern Conference Finals: Miami over Chicago

Western Conference Finals: Los Angeles Lakers over Portland Trailblazers

And finally…..the main event.

NBA FINALS: Miami Heat over Los Angeles Lakers (4-2)

This is hard to call, because if both of these teams make the Finals, it would be the most talented overall Finals matchup in many, many years, maybe since the Lakers/Celtics battles of the 80’s. But here are 3 points to why I see it this way.

  1. Consistency of Match up: The Lakers have done a great job of getting pieces to counteract the perimeter game of the Heat, but it’s a perfect storm type of scenario. If Ron Artest or Barnes gets into any type of foul trouble (which is more than just a possibility), it leaves the entire load on Kobe, and his offense will most likely be affected by the energy used to hold LeBron and/or Wade in check. And the Lakers really need his scoring to be at top gear in order to stick with the Heat attack.
  2. Maintenance of Health: Over the past few years, the Lakers have lost a critical piece of their attack to injury in both seasons: Andrew Bynum. The distinct advantage the Lakers have is their size, and they need all of it fully ready to go to beat the Heat over an entire series. Pau Gasol will need to focus on his matchup with Bosh on both ends of the court. Bynum is the X-Factor in exploiting the Heat’s weakness and if he’s not ready, they won’t have any clear-cut advantage. Also, Kobe has to be able keep it together and conserve energy to be at maximum ability by the time this matchup happens. His health has been a constant struggle over the past few years, but he has used his supreme talent to overcome it. However, this is a different case, he has never faced a matchup like this before and he will need every bit of his talent and health to lead the Lakers over the game’s other two premier players combined now.
  3. Cohesion: One thing the Lakers have over any other team in the game is cohesion and chemistry. They flat-out play well together, know their roles and stick to them. Currently the Heat is a brand new team that has none of this. However, similar to how the Celtics had gelled three years ago by the Playoffs, the Heat’s best days are ahead of them. By the time the Finals roll around they will have found their niche in the system and will be a team with two tremendous talents and a far above average third option that will be comfortable with each other. I feel that talent will win out over experience this time, and a passing of the torch will begin.

Awards

MVP: KEVIN DURANT; Runners up—LeBron James, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant

Defensive Player of the Year: DWIGHT HOWARD; Runners up—Gerald Wallace, Thabo Sefolosha

Rookie of the Year: BLAKE GRIFFIN; Runners up—John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins

After a season ending knee injury last year, Griffin looks primed to take home top rookie honors still.

Sixth Man: COREY MAGGETTE; Runners up—JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford, Antawn Jamison

All-NBA First Team: C: DWIGHT HOWARD, F: KEVIN DURANT, LEBRON JAMES, G: KOBE BRYANT, DWYANE WADE