Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Blazers Land #3 Pick

As most of you have probably heard by now, the Blazers this evening defied the odds and landed the #3 pick in the NBA lottery draft. With the fifth-worst record in the NBA, Portland made a big jump, climbing two spots. The official draft order at the top:

1. Milwaukee
2. Atlanta
3. Portland

At first appearance, one would think that Milwaukee -- needing a big man -- would snatch up Andrew Bogut. Atlanta subsequently grabs PG Chris Paul, and Marvin Williams -- the multi-talented freshman from North Carolina (who nearly came out after high school last year) -- falls into Portland's lap. Given my personal opinion that Bogut doesn't have the skills to justify a top-ten pick and given that Portland already has a very talented point guard of the future in Sebastian Telfair, this would seem to be an ideal situation for Portland.

However, there's already been rampant speculation regarding what Portland will do with the pick. ESPN thinks Milwaukee may grab Williams. Mike Rice, at the Blazers' draft part, threw out the idea of trading the pick and Nick Van Exel to Milwaukee for Michael Redd. Kevin Pritchard indicated that the team had between "five and seven" players that they are interested in. John Nash stated that Portland had already received calls from teams interested in exploring a trade. He also said they would likely take the "best available player", regardless of position, although it's difficult to believe that the club would take Paul, and Nash is likely posturing. Regardless, Nash certainly has been given another very strong tool with which to further improve the team this offseason.

Here's a look at the past five #3 picks:

2004: Ben Gordon
2003: Carmelo Anthony
2002: Mike Dunleavy
2001: Pau Gasol
2000: Darius Miles

Personally, I find it difficult to believe that Portland would deal the pick. I imagine it'll come down to drafting either Williams, Bogut, or Gerald Green ... but we'll speculate more within the next few weeks.

Thoughts? Email us here. I'm curious to hear what some of you are thinking after today's good news.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Mo Cheeks hired by Philly

The Philadelphia 76ers today fired a perfectly good coach, Jim O'Brien, and replaced him with a horrible one, Mo Cheeks.

Not a huge surprise. O'Brien has had medium levels of success both in Philly and in Boston, but he never quite clicked with some of Philly's younger players and his defensive scheme never quite caught on. Although in his defense, when you've got no-D guys like AI, Webber, and Kyle Korver on your roster, I'm not sure what kind of a scheme would catch.

Nonetheless, I'd actually describe Philly as one of few situations where Cheeks is a fit. Not a good fit, but not a bad fit. Simply a "fit". We all know that Mo isn't a big X's and O's guy, and doesn't run many set plays. Philly isn't a big X's and O's team, who doesn't run many set plays either. Watching them over the last half of the season, it felt like the squad either ran "clear out for AI", "set up Kyle Korver for a three pointer", or "drop the ball down to Cwebb and watch him pound it into the ground." Philly will always be mediocre with AI and Cwebb leading the charge, and Mo Cheeks is the perfect coach to help drive them further into mediocrity.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Eastern Conference Finals

With the ass-whooping that Detroit delievered on Tuesday, I think it's safe to say that the Eastern Conference Finals are set (sorry, Indiana fans). With most of us being Blazer fans, you might not care (in that case skip down to the analysis of the team extending GM John Nash's contract below), but for those of us who do, let's take a quick look at it.

Both teams have a nice compliment of inside-outside players, and are clearly the class of the Eastern Conference. The way I see it, the entire series rests on two key components: 1. The health of Shaquille O'Neal's legs, and 2. The abillity of Tayshaun Prince to defend Dwayne Wade.

Clearly the Heat need Shaq to be at least 80% going into this series. He's had plenty of rest and is saying all of the right things, but until we see him back on the floor it's tough to assume that he'll be going full-board. The more variable component appears to be number two. Wade is on fire right now, and looks unguardable at times. Of course, we all thought that about Kobe Bryant last year, and the defense Prince played on Kobe was phenomenal. In fact, you can argue that he should have garenered some Finals MVP consideration for that alone. If Prince can lock down Wade the same way he locked down Kobe last year, you've got to think Detroit has a great chance to get past Miami.

Another item to watch in that series will be Ben Wallace on offense. With his inability to consistently hit a jumper, will Miami leave Shaq close to paint to assist on help-defense and leave Big Ben all alone near the elbow? Keep an eye on those aspects, as that could be the best series we see in these playoffs.

Portland Picks Up Option on Nash

As most of you have inevitably heard by now, the Blazers exercised their option on John Nash yesterday, bringing him back as the club's GM for another year.

This is very disappointing news. Portland just polished off its worst season in 30 years, and you don't make a change at the top? Granted, Nash walked into a bad situation two seasons ago -- but he's made the situation worse, not better. The Rasheed Wallace trade was a good one at the time, but he messed it up by not getting anything in return for Shareef at this year's trading deadline. Last season, he vastly overpaid both Zach Randolph and Darius Miles, when both would have been restricted free agents this coming offseason and the team could have matched any offer that either player received. And after this year, there's no way that either player would have received close to what Portland gave. He also vastly overpaid Theo Ratliff with his contract extension. I was in favor of extending Theo's deal ... but $48 million for a guy who has a history of injury problems and half-seasons of success? It seemed a bit much at the time.

At the press conference (which you can download the audio for from a link here), both Steve Patterson and John Nash touched on several topics. A few highlights:
  • Nash didn't expect this to happen today, and he's "delighted to have to opportunity" to continue to the "job started in 2003 of cleaning up the roster and reducing the monstrous payroll."
  • A reporter (I believe it was Canzano) asked Nash to grade himself, and he declined. That same reporter asked Patterson to grade Nash, and he also declined. That reporter followed up with a question to Patterson asking what part of Nash's performance did he think warranted bringing Nash back, and Patterson dodged that question as well.
  • Nash stated that his "first order of business is finding a new head coach". Patterson goes on to mention that the team has complied a short list, but wouldn't say or answer any questions regarding who was on it. They did mention that they'd like to have the individual in place prior to the draft at the end of June.
  • Once the team's draft position is firmed up, then they'll start working out possible lottery picks.

Furthermore, Chad Ford from ESPN.com took a question on the Blazers in his chat today:

Matt (san francisco): Chad, the Blazers picked up their option on their GM Steve Nash (ha) yesterday. After horrible moves such as overpaying Randolph, Miles, and Ratliff, and failing to improve the team at the trade deadline, some of us are upset. What's your take? THANKS!

Chad Ford: (12:47 PM ET ) Gotta love the Blazers. Nash had a tough job to do in Portland, but the bottom line was that he actually made things worse. I wouldn't take his re-signing as a good sign either. Who is giving Paul Allen advice these days?

The one positive spin we can all put on this is that the option Portland picked up is only for one year. Coincidently, Kiki Vandeweighe's contract as Denver's GM remains at one year as well. That's too far away to speculate, but one has to wonder, especially considering Patterson's statement that he'd like to involve ex-Blazers in the front office. As for Nash, the team obviously feels he's done something right. I disagree, and I find today's news quite depressing. Between Van Exel's contract, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, and what will likely be a top-5 draft pick, Nash has plenty to work with for this offseason to improve the club. He'd better work some magic because after this past season and the lack of improvement at the deadline, I'm not sure that the fans can take another session of passive movement.

update: (11:41 am)

After re-listening to the audio of the press conference, there was something else that Nash said that I wanted to touch on:

"I've gotten some very positive emails about the performance of the younger guys, people have been telling me that they're willing to have some patience and watch some of these young guys perform ... Obviously, some of the veteran players didn't live up to their contracts or perform at the level that they were expected to perform at. As a result, we're not as good of a team as we were maybe when those guys originally got here. But in the two years that I'm here, the one thing I couldn't have predicted when I got here was how much this organization and team would miss players like Pippen and Sabonis. Not just for their play on the floor but for what they
contributed in the way of leadership in the locker room. Now, with a much younger team ... we've got to find some leadership. And it may be that the leader of this team is a 19 year old point guard, but I'd like to get him some veteran help."

Clearly, he's looking to not bring in more youth, but rather provide some stable, veteran leadership. Does that point to the club trading its draft pick? Probably a stretch, but it's interesting to know that Nash is looking for veterans rather than more younger pieces. However, the team appears to have a tremendous amount of confidence in Sebastian Telfair, which is another good sign. It seems he'll have the reins next season.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The 2005 NBA Playoffs

A post on another hoops blog got me thinking ... why are there no good tv color men for basketball?

There are plenty of decent play-by-play guys, and they generally stay out of the way. But I get annoyed by almost every ex-coach or jock that ESPN and TNT roll out. Steve Kerr is alright, but Lenny Wilkens, Doug Collins, John Thompson, even Mike Fratello earlier in the year, were all HORRIBLE. Awful. At least Bill Walton has reached the "Dick Vitale" stage in his career where you blow off everything he says anyways and just seems happy to be there. But all of these guys are terrible. They've got a maddeningly strong flair for the obvious, don't give us any insight, and are typically full of themselves. I'd love to transplant Howard Cosell back from the dead to put a few of them in their place.

This does relate to the TrailBlazers ... in case you missed it, the Portland Tribune is reporting that Brian Wheeler will "likely" return to the Blazers' broadcasting team next season, but more importantly, Steve Jones' status with the team is undecided. The tribune quotes the following:
The TV analyst missed a number of Blazer games this season due to national commitments with ESPN and ABC, and he flies to Connecticut for ABC’s Sunday studio show each week. He may choose to end his long-standing relationship with the Blazers and stick with his national duties. One other factor: Blazer hierarchy is not thrilled with Jones’ frank and unbiased comments about the team, which is appreciated by this and many other listeners.

That's not good news. I've always enjoyed Steve Jones, for multiple reasons. It wasn't a surprise when NBC -- and then ABC -- snatched him up, and it's a shame we might not get to enjoy him as much next year, although it sounds like the Blazer front office may have something to do with that as well. If Jones is indeed replaced, here's hoping they don't bring in another cheerleader ... I'm not sure if we can take two Brian Wheeler's.

Webber denies story

In the least surprising announcement of the day, Chris Webber has denied that the story from the Daily News (which, as a commenter below noted is one step above the NY Post). This doesn't change anything about what type of player he is, but I will give him credit for this -- it's refreshing to hear a player acknowledge his own faults (registration required) rather than hold others accountable. I imagine he won't be leaving Philly any time soon. Webber essentially said that the problems he has are with himself not having the same ability last season as he's had in past seasons, not with anyone else.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Chris Webber wants out of Philly, other NBA items

Now that is funny. It doesn't necessarily have any Blazer ramifications, but it's worthy NBA news.

Anyone want to pay a slow, hobbled, injury-prone, mentally weak power forward who grinds downyour offense and demands the ball $63 million over the next threeyears? Yeah I didn't think so.

Is there a single team in the nba that he would be good for? You can make an argument that due to his contract, nobody would be a good fit. I doubt Webber would be willing to go to a bottom-feeder, so supposed for a moment only the teams in the playoffs are possibilities. There aren't really any good, playoff-caliber teams who play a slow half court game that don't already have a good power forward.

The three teams who play that style and are in the playoffs who come to mind immediately are Houston, San Antonio, and Detroit. Detroit clearly is out, they've got a glut of PF's with Wallace, Wallace, and McDyess. Houston already has Juwon Howard (who is ironically right about where Webber is these days - a big man with good hands who can board a but is mediocre on D and slows down any running you might want do do), and they don't have nearly enough assets to trade to get him, as Houston is one of the league's thinnest teams.

The Spurs could use a low post scorer like Webber, but then Duncan becomes a full time center, and Webber takes up too much space on the blocks for Timmy! to do his cutting-across-the-paint maneuvering. The Spurs are also a team built largely on cohesion, and Webber isn't exactly known as a big team-first guy.

Catching up on a few other things in the NBA:

-Blazer Coaching Rumors

There have been rumors circulating that Paul Allen met with Flip Saunders and offered him a five-year, $40 million contract. Wow. I've said since the search began that Flip would be a great guy to bring in and help right the ship, but that's an awfully large commitment to make to a guy who's won two playoff series' in 10 years of coaching. That is, if the rumors are true.

Personally, I hope the Blazers stay away from the Phil Jackson sweepstakes. We all know he's ending up with the Lakers, and only the Knicks are foolish enough to make public attraction's towards the Zen Master's way. Jackson wouldn't be right for Portland, and I doubt they'd be able to land him anyways.

-How about those Sonics?

Nobody gave them a chance; now they've won two straight games, are getting fantastic guard play, and have evened up the series. It's great to see Luke Ridnour doing things that we all saw him do for three years at U of O ... pushing the tempo, making fantastic passes and hitting clutch jumpers.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Catching up on the NBA Playoffs

We’re nearing the end of the first round, with two sweeps already completed and a few other series heating up. A few random thoughts over the weekend, with our first Playoff Power Rankings at the end...

  • After Houston won the first two games of their series, I commented to a friend on email that “You know Dallas isn’t done in this series yet. Watching the play, you just get the feeling that we’ll be hearing a lot more from them before this series is over. Odds are that they win the next two games in Houston and bring everyone back down to earch.” Well, after seeing them win games three and four, I think they’re going to win the series. Houston’s performance at the end of game four – when they had several chances to win the game and were turning the ball over, making bad passes, and missing long jumpers – they don’t look like a confident club anymore and I wouldn’t be surprised if the series was over in six.
  • Did anyone notice that it’s taken former Blazer Bonzi Wells one and a half seasons to wear out his welcome in Memphis? He missed the team’s shootaround on Sunday and didn’t play in the game. As a matter of fact, not only did he not play, he wasn’t even in the building, and it was a “mutual decision”, and TNT reported that it’s the culmination of an entire season’s worth of friction with Memphis coach Mike Fratello. In a more interesting note, former Blazer coach and current Clipper coach Mike Dunleavy called the Memphis-Phoenix game for TNT and it would have been nice to hear his thoughts on the situation, which he never provided, saying only “Bonzi played very well for me in Portland.” Disappointing considering that there was rumored friction between he and Bonzi when Dunleavy coached Portland. I believe that Bonzi only has one more year left on his deal, so he’ll be easy for Memphis to trade this offseason. And with Mike Miller around, they don’t really need him that much anyways.
  • Speaking of Dunleavy, once you learn to ignore his annoying accent, he’s a very good color-man and I hope TNT uses him further as the playoffs progress.
  • The “Phoenix Model for Success”: 1. Get a dominant low post big man. 2. Surround him with a fantastic lightning quick point guard and several excellent shooters. Look at Portland’s team … they’re halfway there. They've got the dominant low post scorerand the laser quick PG, now they need to find some shooters somewhere, and viola you have Phoenix v 2.0. Yes, I know it’s quite a stretch.
  • Anyone else think that Cleveland could have put up a better fight against Miami in the first round of the playoffs? Only one of Miami’s four straight wins over New Jersey was even close, though it was nice to see Dick Jefferson back. Now the speculation for New Jersey will center around Jason Kidd and whether he’ll demand a trade this offseason. If New Jersey can land a decent big man (Theo Ratliff?), that may be enough to convince Kidd that the Nets can be competitive next year.
  • I hope that Phil Jackson goes to either the Lakers or the Knicks, so he can be exposed as what he really is: a fraud who won championships by riding the coattails of MJ and Shaq.
  • Watching San Antonio come out in game two and blow out the Nuggets was impressive, and a huge testament to Greg Popovich. You could tell they’d been reading some of the press, claiming Duncan was too hurt and San Antonio didn’t have the weapons to keep up with a hot Nuggets team. In one quarter they took control of the series and put into question all of that confidence that Denver had built up over the past three months. Now they’re up 2-1 with game 4 on Wednesday.
  • Is there a more schizophrenic team in the playoffs than Indiana? I can’t figure this team out. The Celtics might be the worst three seed I can remember in the past ten years, by the way.
  • Assuming that both West favorites win in the bottom half of the bracket, that second round Seattle-San Antonio match is interesting. I don’t think San Antonio will roll through them quite as easily as everyone seems to think, and here’s why: they’re a pretty good matchup. One theory says “stick Bruce Bown on Ray Allen, series over” … but I don’t buy it. San Antonio can definitely stick Bowen on ray allen and mitigate his damage, but actually Seattle has two things going for them: Ginobili isn't tall enough to guard Rashard Lewis (who developed a very nicelittle post game this year) so that could be problematic, and Ridnour is actually a decent matchup vs Tony Parker. Parker beats people with heady play and with quicks, not with muscle, and those are two areas that Ridnour can match up with him at. Rid struggles against bigger PG's who can push him out of the way, postup, and shoot over him (like we thought Bibby would be able to do), and Parker doesn't do any of that. Nnot that I think any of this means Seattle has a chance, it just means the series goes 5 or 6 games instead of 4.
  • I think we’ve probably seen the best two games of Jerome James’ career. And if Brad Miller were 100% healthy, he wouldn’t have looked as good. And nothing is funnier than an athlete saying “I’m finally coming into my own” following two good games after being a disappointment for six years. James looks like a very good center now, but he's a free agent this offseason and has got "the next Mark Blount" written all over him.

And, finally, here are our Power Rankings, as of May 1st. These rankings include only playoff teams and do not take matchups into consideration.

  1. Phoenix - Clearly playing the best basketball of anyone in the playoffs.
  2. San Antonio - Back on track after opening game stumble.
  3. Miami - Shaq will have a week to heel bruised thigh after sweep.
  4. Detroit - Won't see how good they really are until series vs Miami.
  5. Dallas - Nowitzki starting to put it togeter. They need Van Horn back to make noise.
  6. Seattle - Looking better than most people thought vs Sacramento. Nice road win in game 4.
  7. Houston - Surprisingly balanced. Yao needs to be great more often than good.
  8. Chicago - Could be in trouble if they lose game 4.
  9. Washington - Arenas & Jamison getting hot. Hughes could be key to series.
  10. Sacramento - Defense looks terrible. Can they win a playoff game on the road?
  11. Denver - Looking like they played over their heads in game 1. Must win game 4.
  12. Indiana - Reggie making one last run, and got a great matchup for it.
  13. Boston - Walker back for game 5. Winner of game 5 probably wins series.
  14. Memphis - Never had a chance vs Phoenix; Suns do everything better.
  15. Philadelphia - AI's best season not enough. Webber deal looks like a mistake.
  16. New Jersey - Would have thought Carter/Kidd/Jefferson would be good for one win.