Author Archives: Doyle Rader

NBA Mid-Season Awards

Thunderstruck might not win any awards, but Durant likely will

Thunderstruck might not win any awards, but Durant likely will

The NBA is just past the mid-point of the regular season so the Kobe Beef decided to jump on the bandwagon and list our selections for who is deserving of an award thus far.

Coach of the Year

Ben Gooding: Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls

I’m sure you guys like Mark Jackson.

Travis Huse: Mark Jackson, Golden State Warriors

“Mama, there goes that man!”

After years of hearing Mark Jackson spit his catchphrases beside Jeff Van Gundy on ABC, I could have never envisioned that he would be the man to lead the Golden State Warriors back to the playoffs. But now with Monta Ellis gone, The Warriors can now play Stephen Curry at the 2, and allow Jarrett Jack to handle more of the distribution duties. Once you factor in Klay Thompson’s advancement and the return of Andrew Bogut, it is evident that the Warriors might just be the beginning of a perennial playoff team.

Doyle Rader: Mark Jackson, Golden State Warriors

It was a bit premature for Mark Jackson to declare that the Warriors would be playoff-bound after he was named head coach last season. However, he was only off by a year. Barring a collapse on the level of the 2007 Mets, Golden State will reach the playoffs for the first time since 2007 as they have already topped their win total from last season. Jackson has melded his rotations well and rode the chemistry that David Lee and Stephen Curry have developed to this point. Not to mention this team is all buckets everything. They shoot 45.6 percent from the floor, and lead the league in 3-point shooting percentage with a mark of 38.8. The Warriors are also the only team to have defeated the Thunder, Heat, and Clippers. Now the team has Andrew Bogut back which will only bolster their roster. His handling of Curry’s recent ankle tweak, by sitting him, also shows that he is not risking his team’s future for one game.

Most Improved Player

TR: Paul George, Indiana Pacers

This award is not even up for discussion. To begin the season, Indiana looked like a sure lock on winning the Central Division, but were derailed by Danny Granger’s knee injury and disappointing play from Roy Hibbert. George has filled the superstar role nicely, and the Pacers now have a serious chance to overtake the Bulls in order to land the 3rd seed in the East by the time playoffs roll around.

DR: Greivis Vasquez, New Orleans Hornets

Vasquez’ play this season has been nothing short of superb. He has quarterbacked a bottom feeding team as well as anyone could imagine and has already set career numbers in points, assists, rebounds, and 3-point shooting percentage and he has done it all in ewer total minutes than he played all of last season. New Orleans has a +/- of -7.9 and a Net Rating of -8.1 when Vasquez is on the bench.

Defensive Player of the Year

BG: Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls

Chicago is 27-17 and Derrick Rose has not set foot on the hardwood all season. What could be even more astonishing? That the Bulls have that record by only scoring 93 points a game (that’s 27th in the league, folks).

How are they doing it? Defense and Joakim Noah is leading the way. Midway through the season, Chicago is only giving up 90 points a game (3rd in the league) and they are gathering 44 rebounds a game (6th in the league).

Noah is gathering 7.2 rebounds a game and 2 blocks. He’s gathered 15 boards or more eight times this season. His energetic style matched with stingy defense all over the court, is allowing the Bulls to bide their time before Rose returns.

TH: Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls

The Bulls’ success in the absence of Derrick Rose speaks volumes about the work of head coach Tom Thibodeau, and the way he has managed to keep this team performing at an elite level without his MVP point guard just might be his biggest success to date. But with the defensive identity of this squad is the glue that holds them together, and Noah has been phenomenal as a defensive leader, in a capacity similar to Kevin Garnett’s role on the Celtics.

 DR: Larry Sanders, Milwaukee Bucks

Larry Sanders may be an odd choice for Defensive Player of the Year. Yet, I cannot get past a few aspects of his game that let me to select him. Sanders is by no means a household name. He has scrapped for playing time in Milwaukee, a team laden with forwards, but now seems to be coming into his own as a defensive presence. Sanders currently has the second best defensive rating in the league, 95.9, behind only Tim Duncan and leads in every block category. The most striking statistic being that he blocks nine percent of all the shots taken when he is on the floor. NINE PERCENT! JaVale McGee is second with 7.9. Opposing offenses only shoot 52.7 percent, a dreadful number, from the restricted area when Sanders in patrolling the paint. He also pulls down 8.2 defensive rebounds per 36 minutes and sports a defensive win shares rating of 2.3.

Sixth Man

TH: Jarrett Jack, Golden State Warriors

Jarrett Jack is just one of those players who can really rally a second unit, and I am pretty damn unsure as to why he hasn’t managed to secure a starting spot on an NBA team. At any rate, he has helped out many a crappy team (looking at you, Chris Paul and Chris Bosh) while being buried under talented starters, and you just have to enjoy him.

[Editor’s note: Jack was the starting point guard for the Portland Trail Blazers during the 2006-07 season. He started in all 79 games that he played.]

DR: Jarrett Jack, Golden State Warriors

One of the reasons that the Warriors have been so successful this season, aside from their coach, has been the willingness of Jarrett Jack to accept his role as the team’s sixth man. Not only has he accepted this position but he has excelled in it. This is Jack’s first season coming off the bench since he backed up Chris Paul in New Orleans. Now he comes off the bench to spell Stephen Curry or play alongside him. He has posted a win shares rating of 3.6 to go along with a true shooting percentage of 56.2 and 7.1 assists per 36 minutes. The Warriors are a deep team with many good bench players, Carl Landry especially stands out, but it is Jack who has contributed the most.

Rookie of the Year

Unanimous: Damien Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

BG: Portland won 28 games last year. So far this season, they are 22-22. May not seem like a lot but it is when you consider how cursed this team has been with rookies (Sam Bowie, Bill Walton, Greg Oden). Seems like all they needed to do was stop drafting centers to break the curse.

Regardless, no one expected to see what we have already seen from Lillard this season. A 37-point game and six double-doubles so far this season are just a few things padding his resume.

TH: I have tried all season to believe in Anthony Davis. I drafted him too highly on our fantasy league. I bought into all the hype about his “NBA readiness,” and I am still trying to believe that he will pull off winning this award.

 With the passing of each day, it becomes more and more unlikely. The Hornets have been very careful with their franchise prospect, and Eric Gordon has finally returned, taking some of the scoring load off Davis.

 Lillard, though, has crafted an amazing year, finally giving the fans in Portland a capable distributor. He is smart with the ball, and he has been willing to shoulder the burden of a leadership role right out of college. When was the last time the Blazers had that? He maximizes the performance of teammates LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum. Blazers GM Neil Olshey certainly drafted himself out of the hot water that he was in after matching Batum’s $46 million, four-year offer sheet from Minnesota.

DR: When I saw him fearlessly attack and harry Steve Nash during the preseason, I was sold.

Most Valuable Player

Unanimous: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

BG: It’s hard not to see him winning MVP at this point in the season. The Thunder have only lost two games in a row once this season and one of those games was to the Heat. He leads the league in scoring (29.6 ppg) on one of the best teams in the league (2nd in the West and league, OKC with 34 wins).

While its just as easy to mention LeBron James in this conversation, it’s an award that belongs to Durant. We never expected Durant to be what he is now while the media, fans, and the league completely set the stage for LBJ.

His stat sheet includes over seven rebounds and four assists a game. That matched up with shooting 91 percent from the free throw line and 42 percent from past the arc, spells out history. Only Dirk Nowitzki, Reggie Miller and Larry Bird have maintained the 40-50-90 line throughout a full NBA season.

TR: Even though Lebron James is the best basketball player in the world, the Miami Heat haven’t particularly shined this season, and that will hurt his chances of hoisting a fourth Maurice Podoloff trophy. Instead, I opt for Kevin Durant, who looks driven and determined to win a ring. His team has managed to maintain such a high level of play even though they traded away James Harden, and Durant is poised to take home his fourth straight scoring title. While Durant has lived under Lebron’s shadow the past few years, this is Durant’s time to shine.

DR: Kevin Durant is in rare form. He is currently a 50/40/90 player, meaning that he shoots 50 percent on field goals, 40 percent on 3-pointers, and 90 percent on free throws. If he can maintain this through the rest of the season he will join the ranks of Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitzki, and Steve Nash as the only players to finish a season shooting at such a level. Not only is his shooting impressive but he is averaging 7.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game to go along with his league-leading 29.6 points.


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The Cowbell Tolls for Thee: Kings to Seattle?



Doyle Rader: Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! reported earlier today that the Maloof family, who own the Sacramento Kings, are finalizing a deal that would sell the team to an investment group in Seattle headed by Steve Ballmer and Chris Hansen. The Maloofs have been looking to either relocate or sell the Kings for some time as their casino and hotel investments have steadily hemorrhaged money over the past several years. Before this season began, there was talk that the team could be relocated to Anaheim as there were investors, namely Henry Samueli, willing to take on some of the Maloofs’ debt in order to relocate the team to the Honda Center. Those plans were stopped when the NBA’s Board of Governors voted against relocation.

While the Maloofs were weighing their relocation options, Louisville, Kentucky and Virginia Beach were also possible destinations at one time, the city of Sacramento was scrambling to do everything in its power to retain the Kings. These efforts were spearheaded by mayor Kevin Johnson, himself a former NBA player. After much planning, a deal was struck that would ensure the Kings stay while building an entirely new arena with surrounding developments. Then the Maloofs abruptly rejected the deal saying that they never agreed to it and the whole situation returned to square one, or square -1,589,247 if you prefer.

That is how we arrive at today’s news and it was met with much hostility on the Internet, especially Twitter. Basketball Twitter is replete with many excellent Kings bloggers and the team has a loyal following. Honestly, it is not surprising that they would be upset (an understatement if there ever was one) today. I, however, am detached from the situation. It certainly isn’t an ideal one but it was simply inevitable that the Kings’ time in Sacramento was dwindling.

Travis Huse: No, the news wasn’t shocking, from any perspective. While I truly feel for the Kings’ fanbase, the move makes perfect sense. David Stern was quoted earlier this year saying that losing the Supersonics franchise was one of the biggest regrets of his tenure as NBA commissioner; with Stern on his way out, this is a way for him to try to shape the NBA in one final way.

But the outrage on twitter has been less about the Kings, and more about Seattle. The Seattle fanbase is being accused of stealing a team, much in the way that they accused Oklahoma City of stealing the Sonics. This is not an appropriate analogy, though, for a few reasons. Primarily, the Kings were going to move. The Maloofs made poor business choices, and in turn, keeping an insolvent NBA franchise was weighing down their financial future. That’s no way to operate a business.

The Maloofs were also terrible owners. They have proven themselves to be incapable of maintaining a winning franchise, nor could they manage to invoke discussion with the city or Kings fans. The Maloofs were never truly invested in the Sacramento area, anyway, so they shouldn’t have ever been expected to take such large financial losses. This has always been a league centered around the dichotomy between large and small-market teams, and in order to stay afloat, teams like the Kings have to ensure one of two things. Smaller-market teams need to either be consistently good, or they have to have a community-centered owner who is willing to ride through tough times for the sake of the franchise. The Maloofs were never anything close to altruists, and the Kings have been bad for a long time now.

DR: I still hold some animosity towards the Kings for all the frustration they caused me in the early 2000s. That doesn’t mean I dislike the team though, but I’m not going to toss around vitriol towards the Maloofs. They are bad owners, plain and simple. They probably think that selling the team to a group in Seattle is the most noble move they can make in the face of NBA fans. However, this has not sit well with Kings fans and others.

I don’t want to be crass about the situation but this is exactly the deal the Maloofs have been looking for. They will be selling the team for $500 million, a mark that is far overvalued. Why wouldn’t they make this deal? With this money they can definitely invest in a new tower for the Palms in Las Vegas where they can start losing money while appearing in fast food commercials.

At least Seattle is getting a team again. It is disappointing that they are doing so in relatively the same manner in which they lost theirs, but that city has been on a mission since Clay Bennett relocated the Supersonics to Oklahoma City. Both Sacramento and Seattle have worked tirelessly to retain or revive their NBA franchise. Yet, as you stated, the Maloofs have never shown loyalty to the city of Sacramento like the fans of the Kings have.

TH: Exactly. This is a dream deal for the Maloofs, they would been foolish to leave it on the table. The writing has been on the wall for the Kings for a long time, anyway. To put this into perspective, the Maloofs were seriously considering moving the team to Virginia Beach, Anaheim, and Las Vegas. Virginia Beach has not shown the ability to hold an NBA franchise, and is situated in an area that has always been known to focus on collegiate sports. A move to Anaheim, while theoretically viable, would trisect the Los Angeles basketball market. Stern is always trying to keep the media happy, so obviously that wouldn’t work. And Las Vegas? The most significant event in Sacramento Kings history was game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals, a game and a series defined by the link to the Tim Donaghy gambling scandal. That scandal was a blight on the league, and is another one of Stern’s failings as commissioner. While I don’t mind a team in Vegas, the wound is still too fresh for the NBA to maintain an image of parity.

So, if the Kings were doomed to leave Sacramento, is there a better place for the team? Seattle has always been an NBA city, with a new arena, a set of owners who care more about basketball than their bottom line, and a hunger for the sport it is the most best option. While you never like to see teams move, there is no place better for them. We are only two seasons away from discussions of contracting insolvent franchises, so if shuffling a team or two makes basketball better and the NBA more viable? Absolutely worth it.

What I find interesting is the league’s willingness to put its neck on the line for a franchise such as the New Orleans Hornets, which the league bought to ensure the franchise’s future in the region. Sacramento has a metro population of 2.6 million, and the Kings are the only professional sports franchise in town. In comparison, New Orleans only has a metro population of a little more than a million, and the Saints gobble up the lion’s share of the television market. Why? It seems apparent to me that not only have the Maloofs found the franchise to be failing, but the league itself. If the NBA felt that a local buyer would be able to keep the team in Sacramento, they would have.

But some blame still falls on the city for risking losing the Kings. They gambled by refusing to fund a new arena. Sometimes, when you gamble, you lose.

DR: Actually, the city did put a plan forward in which they would construct a new arena. As I wrote above, it was a plan that the Maloofs agreed to at first before claiming that they never accepted the terms of the arrangement. Seattle is actually the city that voted against funding a new arena as most of the funding would come from tax dollars. The city had already invested public funds in Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field, where the Mariners and Seahawks play originally. The public was simply not behind funding yet another sports stadium at the behest of a billionaire owner.

Because of this, David Stern came down hard on the city because he was one of the key advocates for a new arena as he felt KeyArena did not represent his product as well as some of the newer arenas in the NBA. This, essentially, was the catalyst that brought us to the events of today.

I think you’re right in thinking that the league has found that, under the Maloofs in recent years, basketball has been a poor product in Sacramento. This is due to the ownership and front office. Yet, Stern, because of the flack he took after the Sonics debacle, has been in support of many of the proposed plans to keep the Kings in Sacramento. He certainly doesn’t want his tenure to be marred yet again by another relocation. He already has two lockouts under his belt.

But for Seattle to gain a team again it will have to be through relocation. There is seriously no chance that the league is willing to absorb two new franchises, which they would have to do to balance the league if a new team was created in Seattle. This is especially true with all the talk of contraction that you mentioned.

Also, there were local buyers in Sacramento, Ron Burkle being the one who has garnered the most attention. However, when he came forward the Maloofs were unwilling to sell. They were looking for theirs. They always have been.

It is admirable that the Kings fans have stuck with this organization through everything that has transpired over recent years. Even today they continued their Here We Stay campaign creating a petition to keep the team in Sacramento. One cannot fault them for their persistence and effort. Yet, the final decision is out of their hands.

That being said, rumors have been circulating that the Maloofs may back out of the deal from Ballmer and Hansen, despite how lucrative it is. Selling a team is always profitable for the owners and this deal would take the cake. Of course, this cannot be confirmed but it leads me to believe that this chapter isn’t quite over yet.

TH: But Burkle could never offer what the Seattle group has. The Maloofs, who bought the Kings solely as a business venture, are wholly unable to understand basketball beyond the business side. This is also why they fail. 

 It is more important to me to have basketball in Seattle than it is in Sacramento. I only really have this to offer as explanation: The Supersonics have always been fun, exciting, memorable. I think more about the Sonics than I do about the Kings at any given moment, yet the team that currently exists is a floundering team. A dull, very bad basketball team. Simply by BEING the Seattle Supersonics, their marketability skyrockets. 

 The Thunder took a good franchise away from an NBA city and the culture surrounding it. The Kings will be restoring that culture, and most likely saving the team. Would it be any better if they had moved to Virginia Beach or folded? Seattle ensures team viability, with a good owner in place. The Kings have steadily gotten worse, due to ownership. 

 DR: Well, I don’t think anyone will fault you for trashing the Maloofs, but you’re luck no one ever reads The Kobe Beef after that diss of the Kings. But, I understand where you are coming from. The Kings have only been in Sacramento since the mid ’80s and were only relevant during the turn of the millennium. Adelman had a monster team and if it wasn’t for Robert Horry they could have reached the Finals. And who can forget Doug Christie’s wife?

 Seattle does have the provenance, though. That is why I feel that if the Kings do relocate they might as well go there. I hate to see a fanbase lose a team but the sad truth is it is all too common in sports. Fans should remain bitter if they lose a team. Baltimore did when the Colts left, Cleveland did when the Browns moved (Cleveland is always bitter, though), and Seattle continued to beat the war drum when the Sonics were snatched away.

 I also don’t think that the Maloofs bought the Kings just as a business venture. They grew up in the NBA. Their father owned the Houston Rockets and it can be argued that they fell in love with the NBA during that time. Tom Ziller does an excellent job of explaining it and how the family was torn, just last month, about selling the team.

 If there is an upside to all of this, though, it is the outpouring of support and the mobilization of the fans. I’m not sure there has ever been a time in which the fans’ voice was so loud. Twitter erupted today, for better or worse, and Kings fans’ emotions were rampant. This was the case with Sonics fans too. The level of outreach, though social media and other platforms, that the fan now has at their disposal has definitely influenced the league.

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Lakers fire Mike Brown

Doesn’t it feel good to have a head coach? Doesn’t it feel good to have a front office that doesn’t make knee jerk reactions based on fan and media scrutiny? Do you see what star power does to a team?

Friday, around mid-day, the Lakers fired head coach Mike Brown after the team posted a 1-4 record to start the season. They also went win-less in preseason, but preseason really doesn’t matter. It is, however, an indicator.

Five games are all Mitch Kupchak, the general manager of the Lakers, needed to assess Brown, his newly implemented Princeton offense (championed by Kobe Bryant), and the team’s play. Five games. Apparently, in Lakerland that is an eternity and a sign of the apocalypse. In that short time it was decided that the problem with the Lakers was Brown. He is the scapegoat.

Across television, pundits decry the Princeton offense as absurd and that it doesn’t work at the NBA level. Do not listen to these men. In five games the Lakers ran the sixth best offense in the NBA averaging 104.6 points per 100 possessions. Bryant is shooting 50 percent of his shots inside the restricted area because of the movement the Princeton employs. That figure should terrify opposing defenses. Forcing Kobe to shoot deep twos is where defenses are all smiles and happy thoughts about rainbows and horses. If it goes in, that’s fine. It was a low percentage shot, probably with the clock running down. Kobe getting layups (possibly even dunks)? RUN FOR THE HILLS!

So it’s not the Princeton. It isn’t. Period.

But, even if Kobe, and the rest of the Lakers, are getting plenty of shots at the rim, they cannot live on those shots alone. The Princeton offense opens up various shots through constant movement and high screens. Yet, the Lakers can’t seem to connect on any shot beyond the restricted area. They are dead last in field goal percentage from three to nine feet; connecting on only 18 percent of those shots. Second to last on shots within 10-15 feet. Here they shoot 16.7 percent. Luckily, they shoot better on low efficiency two-pointers (16-23 feet) with a clip of 37.1 percent. Their saving grace just may be the three-pointer. Here they connect 52.2 percent of the time.  Not quite what the Mavericks are doing from behind the arc, 72.8 percent, but nothing to frown at.

Don’t let those numbers confuse you, though. The vast majority of the Lakers’ shots are high percentage ones, either at the rim or beyond the arc. Where the trouble lies in their inability to connect from within nine feet and the number of deep twos they take. However, this is a terribly small sample size. It is unlikely that these trends will continue. And with a new coach comes new trends.

The real issue with the Lakers is their sputtering defense. They are ranked 25rd in the league in defensive rating at 107.6. That’s bad, and it doesn’t help their defense when they have turned the ball over on offense almost 18 percent of the time.

Beyond the numbers, L.A.’s bench is bad. Really bad. Perhaps even historically bad (I have not done research to justify this claim). Jordan Hill has been their best player off the bench, scoring 5.4 points per game but is shooting just 39.1 percent. Steve Blake has been forced into starting duty with Steve Nash being out. One of these Steve’s is not like the other.

This is where I could discuss Antawn Jamison, but I won’t.

These are the real issues that the Lakers face. Not Mike Brown’s coaching. Not the Princeton. L.A. just isn’t that good beyond their four marquee players and Metta World Peace (I’m giving him credit because I like him). If they can solve their turnover woes and play some solid defense, which may be too much to ask at this point despite the presence of Dwight Howard, this team can turn it around.

This was an ill-advised move by the Lakers, predicated by fear mongering and impatience. Five game is a horrible metric to judge a team, let alone a coach. Brown will have a job in the NBA again. Maybe not as a head coach but he’ll be back. As for the Lakers, they have no coach and a lot of problems.

They really are a Hollywood drama.

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David Stern is stepping down

David Stern will be stepping down as NBA Commissioner effective February 1, 2014. He first took the job on the same day back in 1984. Stern will have presided over all things NBA for exactly 30 years when he retires.

During his tenure Stern has been criticized for policies he enacted such as a dress code for players, raising the age limit, two lockouts, defending officials with an iron fist, and the tainted sale and relocation of the Seattle Supersonics. Yet, the league and the influence of the NBA has spread across the globe under Stern. There are now leagues in springing up across the globe and NBA players are treated like superstars in China. Not only that, but the NBA had 32 international players among its playoff teams last season and the number of non American players in the league grows every year.

Stern leaves a mixed legacy but the end result is a better league, an expanded sport, and global recognition.

Adam Silver was selected to be the next Commissioner by the NBA Board of Governors.

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Northwest Division Preview

New kid on the block

Doyle Rader: The Northwest Division looks to be one of, if not the most, competitive divisions in the NBA this season. Last year three teams (the Thunder, Nuggets, and Jazz) made the playoffs. Utah made a late push to secure their playoff berth only to be eliminated by the Spurs in the first round. Denver took the Lakers to seven games in the Western Conference Semi-finals. And the Thunder eventually lost in the NBA Finals. This season the division is only deeper.

Both the Portland Trail Blazers and Minnesota Timberwolves were early season darlings to make the playoffs last season with the Blazers’ hot start and the emergence of Ricky Rubio in Minny. What curtailed these teams was the fire-sale in Portland and the injuries that plagued the Timberwolves. However, Minnesota has completely reloaded their roster in an attempt to make a playoff run this year. They just have to wait for Kevin Love to recover from his broken hand.

Travis Huse: What’s remarkable about this division is that each of its franchises is looking toward the future.

Let’s begin with what’s been going on in Denver: the Nuggets’ reload looks really enticing to me, much in the same way that the Pacers have the past couple of seasons. They’re going to play blindingly fast, group-effort basketball, a hard-nosed team approach. What really makes things interesting is Iguodala’s defensive role, alongside his ball handler abilities, which were hidden behind Lou Williams and Jrue Holiday in Philly.

Iggy will have to play the roles of Danny Granger, Metta World Peace, and Lebron James simultaneously, and how successful he is at integrating with George Karl’s style will determine the success of this team. Coupled with the maturation of Ty Lawson and JaVale McGee (seems strange to mention maturity and McGee together), this is a well-built team, with players who complement their teammates’ strengths. Next step: tightening up on defense.

DR: Yes, their pace belies a low defensive effort as they want to be streaking up and down the floor. However, this team has the potential to be quite serviceable defensively and it all begins with Iguodala.

He will be their premier perimeter defensive player and will be tasked with defending the opposing team’s best wing player and even point guards at times. Denver must focus its defensive efforts in transition. This is where the team will be most venerable. In the halfcourt they have the like of McGee and Timofey Mozgov, as well as Kosta Koufos (who I particularly enjoy watching), to anchor the middle with Iguodala patrolling the arc.

Where I think Iguodala will be most beneficial to the Nuggets is when they play the Thunder. It will be his job to guard Kevin Durant. Oklahoma City won this division last year on the back of Durant’s scoring so bringing an elite defender was very important for Denver.

TH: Yeah, OKC is still the hands-down favorite to win this division this year, regardless of whether or not James Harden receives an extension. But next year, who knows? There’s so much young talent on these teams and the stars for each team are about to truly hit their stride.

Damian Lillard running the Blazers could change the entire dynamic of LaMarcus Aldridge’s game, assuming they didn’t handicap themselves too much with Nicolas Batum’s contract. In the Northwest, they’re the furthest away from being a playoff lock, and I could envision this division becoming as competitive as the Southwest was a few years ago. They’re thin as hell as just about every position, but for a rebuilding team, they don’t look to be wallowing in their sorrow for much longer.

DR: You’re right, the Thunder are the class of the division. That shouldn’t change this year and perhaps Kendrick Perkins will actually be useful to them now that Dwight Howard is in the West. Yet, he is still a liability against the more hybrid centers.

As for Portland, Lillard has shown that he is ready to compete at the NBA level. In five games this preseason, Lillard has averaged 17 points on 50 percent shooting while also dishing out six assists per game. Beyond the numbers, he is assertive on the court, even aggressive at times. Against the Lakers he frequently attacked Steve Nash off the dribble, getting to the rim with ease once he became comfortable with the flow of the game. Of course, Nash has never been a good defender but it was impressive to see a rookie go directly at a two-time MVP with little regard for his mythos.

What will hurt the Blazers is their lack of depth. Jared Jefferies will contribute more than anyone knows off the bench, though it may not always show up in the box score. Joel Freeland and Meyers Leonard, the team’s only true center, are major questions who have considerable upside.

Outside shooting will also be an issue going forward. This is a team built around the mid-range jumper. If Aldridge goes down again, this team will wallow in the basement once again.

TH: You’re neglecting Batum here. His contract is so weighty, the Portland front office will push him to fill more of a starring role, and the hiring of Terry Stotts as head coach will also give him more responsibility. If Stotts is able to formulate this team based off what he saw in Dallas, and modify the 2011 championship core of Jason KiddJason TerryDirk Nowitzki (Lillard, Batum, and Aldridge, respectively), the Blazers have more than enough skeleton for their squad.

Which means:

Much is spoken on how the NBA’s system favors tanking. But teams are finding creative ways to rebuild without having to ride the lottery hoping for a once-in-a-generation talent. The Blazers are well on their way to rebuilding (only 7 months after blowing their team up), without having to seriously tank.

They were only 8 games out of the playoffs last year, and while this year might be a bit sore, Blazers fans should be optimistic. They managed a sizable reformation in the quietest way possible, and they did it with a vacant GM seat for over a year. Looking at what Neil Olshey created with the Clippers, it will be interesting to see how he fleshes out their roster.

Another franchise attempting a “soft rebuild” is the Utah Jazz, a team that has really reached a crossroads. Swapping Devin Harris for Mo Williams isn’t exactly a game-changer (it’s never a good idea to start a third-string PG from the Clippers), and Raja Bell is as good as gone. They need guard help badly, and the big man logjam finally must give. If the team still cannot decide whether they trust Enes Kanter or Derrick Favors, they need to move them sooner, rather than later. By all accounts, Kanter has an ego, and will not like playing second fiddle to Al Jefferson; but Jefferson’s much too good to move.

DR: If we are going to make a Mavs comparison when it comes to the Blazers, I feel that Batum represents more of a Shawn Marion role. Only his scoring responsibilities will be somewhat equivalent to Marionon the Suns.

As for the Jazz, they have a wealth of big men and they seem to be happy about it. I don’t think it’s a question about if they are willing to move Jefferson, but rather they could lose Paul Millsap. That would truly be a blow to this organization but as you pointed out they have Kanter and Favors.

Last season, Kanter was essentially a non factor. His skills around the rim were unpolished, to be kind, and played mostly during garbage time. So far in the preseason he has been drawing double-teams and averaging a team high 12 points per game. The jazz seem content to run out a platoon rotation in the post which should help later in the season as it allows their stars (Jefferson and Millsap) to rest. Kanter and Favors should garner around 20 minutes a night.

Mo Williams is a completely serviceable point guard. I doubt he can return to the form he showcased in Milwaukee, but he still has the ability to run an offense effectively while also scoring the ball. Like Memphis, Utah runs a lot of post plays but Williams’ outside shooting and ability to dish the ball should open up the floor creating opportunities for shooters like Alec Burks, Randy Foye, Gordon Hayward, and Marvin Williams.

Hayward will be key for the Jazz. He is quietly becoming a good perimeter defender and has gained a considerable amount of muscle since coming into the league. Tyrone Corbin has molded Hayward into a hardnosed, physical defender. It would not surprise me if he was at least discussed as a possible DPOY if his improvement continues. He won’t win, but he making the discussion is always a plus.

TH: I’m not saying that their big man platoon isn’t a bad idea. It’s a great thing to have through an 82-game season. However, both Kanter and Favors are starting-caliber players in the NBA right now. Favors is nearing the end of his rookie contract, a solid producer with room to grow (and a team option for next season). Aside from the solid production at a low price tag, these players are highly desirable for contending teams for many reasons. Kanter is a skilled big body who plays a thin position.

Would the suddenly broke Sam Presti really contemplate letting James Harden go in order to free up cap space? Probably not, but that is not a bad rumor to float.

I can only think of three NBA teams who wouldn’t listen to offers on Kanter, because they are seriously the only NBA teams without concerns in the middle. The Lakers have Dwight now; the 76ers are going to see where Bynum goes as a leader. I had to throw in the Raptors, because, well, they’re in a similar situation as the Jazz; the arrival of Jonas Valanciunas has made Bargnani more than expendable.

You’re also right about Mo Williams: He is a completely serviceable point guard. But with their lineup, the Jazz are one torn ligament away from Jamaal Tinsley and Earl Watson bringing the ball up the floor. The Jazz are lacking roster balance, and their contingency plan is Alec Burks.

DR: My love of the bad boy Pacers has always endeared me to Tinsley and Watson filled in well when Devin Harris was hurt last year. It could be worse for the Jazz.

One team with high hopes for the season is already bemoaning their star being out with injury. As I mentioned above, Kevin Love will miss at least the first month of the season with a broken hand resulting from the oh-so-cool-bro knuckle pushups. Luckily, the Timberwolves have reloaded their roster.

They brought in Brandon Roy, fresh from retirement, bad knees and all and added Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved from Russia. Nikola Pekovic also hails from Russia and is one of the better centers in the league. Despite the number of white guys on this team, the Timberwolves are primed to make the playoffs. Hell, their guard rotation alone is enough to get them there and they are stacked beyond that. Once Love returns they could be dangerous in the West.

It will be interesting to see how Derrick Williams fits into the rotation. He seems to be the odd man out this year despite being drafted so highly two years ago.

TH: With Love out until December, this Timberwolves squad is left without its two young stars in Love and Ricky Rubio. How the team fares without them will be a good litmus test to see how the rest of the rotation fits. But this is also a team that, like you mentioned, added Roy, who’s never been afraid to put his team on his back. These injuries will strengthen the Wolves, and I anticipate one of their wings picking up the scoring slack. There are many questions as to just exactly who will rise, but their depth chart, from 1 to 3 is loaded with talent. J.J. Barea is only one year removed from being an unstoppable blur for the Mavs, and he’s still buried behind Rubio and Luke Ridnour. Shved’s a monster, and should have a fairly easy transition to the NBA with Kirilenko beside him.

And all that is forgetting Chase Budinger, who will be able to fit in much the same way that Wilson Chandler has in Denver, slashing and providing decent outside shooting (believe it or not, he posted a 40% 3-point percentage last season) for the second unit. The whitest of white dudes in the NBA these days, Budinger is often overlooked, but his time spent with Rick Adelman in Houston will give him an early chance to prove himself. He’s dangerous when left in the corner, and when Love and Rubio return, it will be key for them to utilize their passing abilities and wing talent.

Injuries or not, this team is going to be fast and fun, with a healthy amount of competition amongst players vying for minutes. The coaching change should help us to see a bit more specialization of players, as well as championship experience.

Oh, and they got rid of Michael Beasley. Thumbs up on that one.

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The Denver Nuggets: A Beautiful Mess

This sums up the Nuggets

When Dwight Howard was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in a three team deal, many thought that the Denver Nuggets landed one of the best players in the swap. Denver acquired All Star and Olympic small forward Andre Iguodala. His versatility and ability to play both sides of the ball will be integral for Denver in the coming season. This has many hyping the Mile High City as a team to watch. However, there is a bit of a problem. The Nuggets are loaded at the forward position with seven of their 15 players listed as a forward. Iguodala will start for the Nuggets but what kind of rotation will they employ?

The Nuggets will have athleticism in droves with players who can stretch the floor and (hopefully) guard the perimeter. Yet, that is almost all they have. If ever there was a Free Darko team, this is it. (Anthony Randolph being on the roster helps that claim.) Can a team exist with a roster full of forwards? If it can then head coach George Karl will certainly have to be creative.

Danilo Gallinari was the starting three for the Nuggets last season. This year he will likely not crack the starting lineup without a significant injury or some lineup shuffling by Karl, though some have suggested that he will start alongside Iguodala at either the two or three. But that doesn’t matter.

Denver will be a rangy mass of confusion, ingenuity, and joy. And all of that comes from the two forward positions and the potential log jam they create on this roster. Of course, depth is always a good problem to have and the Nuggets do have capable players filling out the rest of the roster. Let us not forget JaVale McGee is also on this team. The Nuggets have the ability to be the most dangerous and frustrating team in the league. That alone is exciting. And McGee! Never forget that he is on the team.

With all these wings, five of the seven forwards are small forwards, the Nuggets will have to focus on perimeter defense. They were last in the NBA in field goal percentage allowed in long 2-pointers and 3-pointers. Iguodala should help to alleviate this problem but this isn’t a defensive team at heart. Sure, it has players that can defend. McGee, Iguodala, and even Kenneth Faried, despite being undersized for a four, can hold his own. But this is an offensive team that likes to run, Denver had the second fastest pace last season, and that will not change in the coming season.

As noted above, the lineups that the Nuggets run out on the court this season will be the most interesting aspect of the team. Small ball will be a relative term when it comes to Denver but that is the style of ball we should expect most out of this team if they are to navigate their abundance of wings. Perhaps medium ball is a better term to describe their style of play based on size. Nonetheless, on-court groupings of Ty Lawson, Iguodala, Wilson Chandler, Gallinari, and Faried are completely plausible, though not wholly advisable. Yet, that is the allure of this tradition-be-damned team. Kosta Koufos and Randolph could be on the court at the same time as Corey Brewer and Andre Miller. Lawson and Miller will share the backcourt again and it isn’t out of the realm of possibilities that Gallinari will play the five in limited stretches. It’s maddening and thrilling all at once because it can work. Karl’s open offense allows for it.

And then there is Timofey Mozgov.

Lawson’s pure scoring will be accented well with Iguodala’s ability to play off the ball, run the floor, and defend. Faried and McGee will man the post well. But the rest of the team is an enigma, aside from Miller, in how they will mold together into a cohesive unit, especially with Chandler coming back from injury.

This is an unbelievably deep team. There is no questioning that. They will hit their opponents with speed and the ability to score from anywhere. Denver is dangerous but they must maintain an incredible tempo to realize their full potential. George Karl knows this and will put his team and players into every possible situation to get the most out of them and this will give teams, and fans, reasons to pull their hair out.

Denver’s brash iconoclasm will cause many to question whether there is a method behind the madness or if they are functioning purely on calculated abandon. Their roster begs these questions but that seems to be the goal. Traditional positions are dead and Denver is currently at the forefront of experimentation. It won’t always be a pretty endeavor but it should work. This team has the skill required to compete in the ever-deepening competition in the Western Conference. By the time the playoffs roll around, the Nuggets should be considered a dark horse. That is, of course, if everything falls into place.

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Metta World Peace on Yo Gabba Gabba

Metta World Peace might as well be the muse of The Kobe Beef. He holds a special place in out hearts and certain je ne sais quoi about him. Metta Man‘s latest summer venture takes him to the set of Yo Gabba Gabba, not to host the weather, but to compete in the Yo Gabba-lympics.

Metta races Toodee and Mrs. Fox, and in true Laker form, wins the race. Kobe isn’t only Laker to win a gold medal this summer, apparently.

Of course Yo Gabba Gabba has had a number of celebrities on their show,  including some friends of mine, but this has to be the best cameo yet.

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