Saturday, July 28, 2012

Why This Year's USA Team Isn't A Lock To Win The Gold

     This year, the United States Men's Basketball team is favored yet again to win the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics. Led by LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Durant, this team is poised and expected to be wearing gold around their necks when it's all said and done. As an American, I am of course cheering for the United States, and I do hope they are able to achieve their ultimate goal. But, it seems more comparisons and debate have risen specifically about this team more than any of the other past teams. This team is certainly stacked with some talent, but I don't believe they're as great as they make themselves to be. Here are some reasons why:

1. The Dream Team Comparisons

     First, this team is comparing themselves too often to the 1992 Dream Team. Bryant and James have both been quoted saying that they believe this year's team is better than the 1992 team. I can respect their competitive nature, but there's a fine line between highly competitive and arrogant. The 2012 team does not have the depth down low to play against the 1992 team. Karl Malone is arguably the best power forward of all time, and Patrick Ewing and David Robinson are two of the best centers of all time. Tyson Chandler will never be a Hall of Famer, and is not even close to the skill level of either Malone, Robinson or Ewing. The 2012 team is constructed on speed instead of size, but the 1992 team has plenty of skill and speed to stick with the 2012 team's fastest players. Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Charles Barkley had the combined size and speed that would be able to take on LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant. At point guard, Chris Paul and Deron Williams are two of the top three point guards in the league, but they don't stand much of a chance against two of the greatest of all time at that position in Magic Johnson and John Stockton. Magic has the size and finesse that would be able to fight against Williams, who's known as a physical point guard. Stockton is one of the best statistical passers ever, and although Paul's defense is All-NBA worthy, Stockton was a smart player and would not turn the ball over. Position by position, the 1992 team is better than the 2012 team. As a team, the 1992 Dream Team played as cohesive as any unit ever assembled. During the Tournament of the Americas and the Olympics, the Dream Team trailed only once, for a brief time during the first quarter of the Gold Medal game against Croatia. The Dream Team was so dominating that their average margin of victory was by nearly 44 points. This gets to my next point.

Can this year's Team USA led by (left to right) Kevin Durant, LeBron James,
Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant claim the gold medal again in London?

2. The 2012 USA Team Isn't Really Dominating

     After adding up all the USA's preliminary matches against the Dominican Republic, Great Britain, Brazil, Argentina and Spain, the USA's average margin of victory is only 26 points, compared to the Dream Team's 44 point margin. That's an 18 point difference, which is somewhat telling. Yes, the 2012 team easily handled Al Horford's Dominican Republic and Luol Deng's Great Britain squads. But, they faced stern tests from Brazil, Spain, and Argentina. The USA was evenly matched by Brazil pound for pound in the entire game besides the second quarter, when they outscored Brazil by 15 points. Argentina provided a tough test, and lost by a mere six points. Spain is expected to be the USA's toughest challenger, and even though they lost to the United States by 22, they played without current Memphis Grizzlies All-Star center Marc Gasol and Minnesota Timberwolves crafty young point guard Ricky Rubio. Other key members of their team, including Rudy Fernandez and Juan Carlos Navarro, are also dealing with injuries. Pau Gasol, Serge Ibaka, and Jose Calderon make up an NBA trio for the Spaniards that is proven and skilled, and they will be able to challenge the United States. This gets to my last point.

3. Basketball is Spreading Worldwide, and the Talent is Growing

Luol Deng leads host nation Great Britain, making its
first men's basketball Olympic appearance since 1948.
     Several nations in the Olympics are represented by at least one current or former NBA player. Basketball is being spread worldwide by the NBA, and its effects are being shown in the Olympics. Some very solid players in the NBA, including the Gasol brothers, Nene, Tony Parker, Luol Deng and Manu Ginobili, have chosen to represent their countries in London. The USA has a great amount of talent which makes them this year's favorite to win the gold medal, but the talent on the other teams is respectable and as time goes on, they will be able to field better talent that could match and possibly beat the United States because the game of basketball is gaining popularity. For now, Team USA is the favorite, but Olympic basketball will provide even greater competition in the future as basketball, as well as talent, continues to grow around the world.

     The Olympics is the ultimate sports event and is a great gathering for sports fans around the world. London 2012 figures to provide another great chapter in the history books, as there are many records international athletes strive to best every single day. Enjoy the Olympics everyone, it's going to be another gripping and enjoyable summer!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Best Bargain Free Agents Still Available

     The month of July is soon coming to a close and most, if not all, the big-name free agents have found their homes. At the end of free agency are the players teams sign to fill out their rosters. However, there are still several instinctive, capable role players that would help out a team for a cheap price. Let's take a look at some free agents left, including how much they would likely cost, what they would provide, and where they would fit best.

Mickael Pietrus

Cost: Pietrus is a big physical defender and a good shooter from the outside. He is a nice role player off the bench, but supposedly he has set his own price too high for clubs to consider signing him. He might have to take a pay cut if he wants a job on an NBA roster.

Skills: As I stated before, Pietrus is a good wing player who can guard multiple positions, and can shoot the ball from the perimeter. He was productive in Boston, and can provide some fundamental skills in any locker room he goes to.

Best Fit: Utah Jazz, who can use an athletic wing after letting go of Josh Howard and C.J. Miles.

Scalabrine is one of the NBA's most popular players.
Brian Scalabrine

Cost: Scalabrine will get the veteran minimum if any team picks him up. I'm utterly shocked no team has gone out of their way to sign this spectacle of a human being, excuse me, immortal.

Skills: Scalabrine has always been known for his shooting, and can hit the three during any moment. He also has the ability to increase ticket sales, because who doesn't want to see the White Mamba sitting on their team's bench?

Best Fit: Charlotte Bobcats. The Bobcats need anything that can sell tickets, and this man can certainly "make them rain."

Nate Robinson

Cost: Robinson is an interesting player. He is a gifted athlete, but nobody is really giving him a chance anymore. He's been a journeyman since his time with the Knicks, and I'd suppose he'll sign the veteran minimum unless a team gets desperate to sign him.

Skills: Robinson isn't a great passer, but he has one of the greatest verticals ever for a point guard. Even at a diminutive 5'9", he can still dunk over seven footers. Robinson can create and cause havoc on the offensive side of the court, but he is a bit of a risk because of his lacking defense.

Best Fit: Houston Rockets. The Rockets need a durable, proven point guard off the bench and Robinson can be a decent spark plug behind Jeremy Lin.

Bryant and Barbosa are Olympic foes,
but can they be teammates in Los Angeles?

Leandro Barbosa

Cost: He might be able to command the mini mid-level exception, but there are still a lot of decent reserve guards out on the market. I can actually see him taking the veteran minimum with a contender. But, he might be able to raise his stock if he performs well consistently during the Olympics for Brazil.

Skills: Defense was never really Barbosa's bread and butter, but he is a skilled offensive player who can provide some punch off the bench.

Best Fit: Los Angeles Lakers. They might need to work out a sign-and-trade with the Pacers if Barbosa wants a higher salary, but he would be a good energy boost off the bench and would give Kobe Bryant a respectable, veteran backup.

Kenyon Martin

Cost: Martin played well for the Clippers after his return from China. He still brings great intensity on both sides of the floor despite being injury riddled the past several seasons. He is an old player, and because of those past injuries, he will probably be offered the veteran minimum.

Skills: Martin is still a defensive force at this point of his career. He plays hard and battles on the glass. He's lost a little bit of his touch on offense but he proved he can still be a solid rotation player during his time with the Clippers.

Best Fit: Los Angeles Clippers. I would absolutely love to see K-Mart return to Brooklyn for the Nets, but they don't really need him with the forwards on their current roster. But, the Clippers loved his intensity and if you couple that with Blake Griffin's uncertain knees, Martin becomes more of a necessity than a liability in Los Angeles.

Gilbert Arenas
It remains to be unseen if Arenas can return to stardom.

Cost: It looks like Agent Zero has gotten zero interest. The former All Star is looking for a job after the last couple abysmal seasons. He has but almost no choice to take the veteran minimum, as he is now a bench player until he can prove to be a starter, if ever again.

Skills: Arenas was a solid point guard, and can still shoot and pass at an average level. Last season, he played with the Memphis Grizzlies to showcase what he still has left in the tank.

Best Fit: Indiana Pacers. The Pacers traded away backup point guard Darren Collison and lost A.J. Price in free agency. They need someone to fill the void those two players left.

Ronny Turiaf

Cost: The Frenchman decided to leave Miami in hopes of earning a higher salary. However, that probably won't happen. Turiaf will have several suitors, but will likely be offered the veteran minimum.

Skills: Turiaf is a solid defensive player. He is faster than most big men and can cover the pick and roll well. He's not established offensively, but he has proved he can start in the NBA like he did with the Knicks. But, he is a better option coming off the bench.

Best Fit: Brooklyn Nets. The Nets are in desperate need of a big man to play behind Brook Lopez. Turiaf provides the defense that Lopez does not and would be a reliable asset for coach Avery Johnson. Turiaf could even be counted on to start if Lopez got injured again.

Carlos Delfino

Cost: Delfino was a starter in Milwaukee, but is probably better suited to be a sixth man. He can command the mini mid-level exception, and I'm sure some team would sign him for that cost. I believe he's at least worth $4 million per year, though.

During his time in Milwaukee, Delfino averaged 10.5 PPG to go
along with 40% field goals made. Not too shabby, right Carlos?

Skills: Delfino has always been a productive shooter throughout his career. It's arguably his strongest quality. He had a bit of a down year last season, but he can still provide energy and efficiency on the perimeter off the bench.

Best Fit: Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers are thin at small forward, and Delfino would be a nice complimentary player on the wing who would platoon at that position with Israeli forward Omri Casspi.

Jodie Meeks

Cost: Meeks is one of a bunch of shooters still left on the market. He doesn't possess many other good qualities besides shooting, so he will probably get less money. There's a possibility some team may overpay for him because of his young age and potential still remaining.

Skills: Last season was not great for Meeks, but when he's knocking down his shots he becomes one of the most dangerous shooters in the game.

Best Fit: Minnesota Timberwolves. After the likely departures of Wesley Johnson and Wayne Ellington through trades, the T-Wolves need another shooting guard. They have Brandon Roy, but he just came out of retirement. Meeks would be a durable, cheap and safe option for the T-Wolves.

Greene is still young and has potential, but no
teams seem to want to give him a second chance.
Donte Greene

Cost: The former Syracuse star has gotten very little interest in free agency. If he latches on to any team, he will be signed for the veteran minimum.

Skills: Greene is a solid shooter and defender, but I don't think he ever got an ample amount of minutes to showcase his talents. He is lengthy at 6'11", so he can play both forward spots. He is better suited for small forward because of his slender figure, but because of his length, it gives coaches an advantage on defense.

Best Fit: Brooklyn Nets. I've admitted before that I'm a little biased since I'm a Nets fan, but I would simply love to see this guy playing in Brooklyn next season. He fills a need behind Gerald Wallace at small forward, and his attributes seem as though they would fit great with the Nets' system. I think if given a real chance, Greene could be a cheap steal of the remaining bargains in free agency.

Josh Howard

Cost: Howard played for the Jazz last season for just over $2 million. I would expect he'll be offered money in the same price range.

Skills: Howard has a decent all around game. He's lost some of the luster that he had in Dallas, but he can still be productive off the bench on a playoff squad.

Best Fit: Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder don't have depth at the small forward behind Kevin Durant, and Howard would be able to provide minutes off the bench and give Durant a couple more minutes of rest each game.

     This is my last blog entry on the 2012 Free Agent class. If you have any comments, you're more than welcome to write them below! In my next story, I'll tell you why this year's USA team wouldn't even be able to compete with the 1992 Dream Team, and why the Gold Medal isn't necessarily a lock this year. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Nets or Knicks, Who's the Better New York Team?

     In the past two weeks, it's been nothing but hype for Brooklyn Nets fans. They've retained their franchise cornerstone in Deron Williams, as well as acquired All Star guard Joe Johnson from the Hawks, giving them what GM Billy King calls "...the best backcourt in the NBA." I don't know if they're as good as Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash of the Lakers, but they are definitely one of the top three backcourt tandems in the NBA. The Nets have also re-signed promising young center Brook Lopez, double-double machine Kris Humphries and athletic forward Gerald Wallace. To have some depth for next year, the Nets kept guard MarShon Brooks, but everybody else on their bench is new. They've signed stretch forward Mirza Teletovic of Bosnia, who is often referred to as one of the best basketball players in Europe. They've picked up Reggie Evans, one of the league's most proficient rebounders, and C.J. Watson, a point guard who filled in admirably for Chicago during Derrick Rose's absence. In the draft, they selected Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor and Georgian (the country, not state) forward Tornike Shengelia, as well as international big man Ilkan Karaman. Although they didn't get Dwight Howard this summer, things are looking up in Brooklyn.

     For Knicks fans, maybe not as much, but their team is improving. However, their team is also getting older, and it is clear the Knicks are in a "win now" mode. The Knicks made two solid moves by acquiring Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby in free agency. Though they traded away some assets, they now have a strong veteran presence in the locker room, and both Kidd and Camby will produce coming off the bench. In the latest twist of the Jeremy Lin conundrum, the Knicks traded away Dan Gadzuric and Jared Jeffries to Portland for Raymond Felton and Kurt Thomas. Felton and Thomas make their returns to Madison Square Garden, but it might not be for the fans' liking. Now that the Knicks have acquired Felton, they've let go of Lin to the Houston Rockets. I believe that this is truly the best move for the Knicks though. Felton is coming in at a much cheaper price, and he wants to play in the Big Apple. He produced well in Mike D'Antoni's system, but analysts are suspect on whether he could play at a high level under Mike Woodson. But, Felton is proven in this league and if he doesn't distribute the ball well, he always has Jason Kidd behind him to pick him up. Personally, I believe it's a smart move by the Knicks to not gamble on Lin. He has only played in 35 games, and was injured at the end of the season. He turns the ball over sporadically, is not a great defender, and cannot penetrate to the hoop forcefully dribbling with his left hand. If the Knicks kept him, they'd be owing nearly $30 million in luxury tax. He might be a fan favorite, but it's ultimately a huge risk, and I'd rather take the cheaper, sure things in Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd.

     Now let's take a look at position by position, depth included, on who has the better players in each spot...

Williams is now the true face of the
Brooklyn Nets organization.

1. Point Guard: Deron Williams, C.J. Watson, and Tyshawn Taylor vs. Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd

Isn't it obvious? It's the Nets by a wide margin. Deron Williams is one of the best point guards in the game. Watson filled in great for the Bulls while Derrick Rose was injured, and Taylor is a rookie who can benefit under the mentoring of Williams and Watson to become a rotation player one day. While Felton and Kidd are both serviceable players and will produce with the Knicks, this one's not even close.

2: Shooting Guard: Joe Johnson, MarShon Brooks and Jerry Stackhouse vs. J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert

How effective will Shumpert be when he
returns after suffering a major injury?

This one might not be as obvious, but the edge still goes to the Nets. I can't wait to see NBA sophomores Brooks and Shumpert battle it out on the court again, because I think both of them can become future All Stars once they hit their prime. I pretty much view them as equals in terms of overall skill. This one comes down more to Joe Johnson or J.R. Smith. Johnson is a perennial All Star and will largely benefit from playing with Deron Williams. Smith provided energy and excitement to the Knicks after returning from China, and while I think he fits nicely with the Knicks, Johnson is still a much better player.

3. Gerald Wallace and Mirza Teletovic vs. Carmelo Anthony

Advantage right now goes to the Knicks, but it can change. If Teletovic can really become one of the better shooters from Europe since Dirk Nowitzki or Andrea Bargnani, then this might shift over to the Nets. But, the jury is still out on Teletovic, as everybody is unsure what his production will really be in Brooklyn. Wallace is a great effort player, and can fill up a stat sheet. He's a bit older, but he still plays hard every night and is a very skilled defender. While Carmelo isn't a great defender, he's improving under Mike Woodson, and everybody knows he's one of the best offensive players in the game. If the Knicks add somebody behind him like Matt Barnes, then they would have a more domineering advantage.

4. Kris Humphries and Reggie Evans vs. Amare Stoudemire and Steve Novak

At the end I would just barely give the edge to the Knicks. Here's why. While Amare Stoudemire is a consistent All Star, his production dipped last season. He was injured here and there, and when playing with Carmelo, he did not thrive. He's a very solid player, but his constant injuries concern me, and I think he and Humphries are much closer in overall skill than a lot of people would think. Meanwhile, Reggie Evans and Steve Novak are one-tool players. Evans is a very good rebounder, and Novak is a very good 3-point shooter. They don't do much else, but they are solid at the one thing they do. Neither Stoudemire or Novak are particularly good on defense, and Amare seems to be gradually declining. Humphries is entering his prime and has a consistent all-around game. The Knicks are winning this category at the moment but it could change in a year or two if Humphries keeps steadily improving.

Humphries and Stoudemire are key contributors to their teams,
but who will have the final say when they face off on the court?

5. Brook Lopez vs. Tyson Chandler and Marcus Camby

While both Chandler and Camby are limited offensively, they are the anchors of the Knicks' top five defense. Lopez is exactly the opposite, because although he's one of the best offensive centers in the game, he lacks defensively. Lopez doesn't quite have the same defensive presence inside as Dwight Howard, Chandler, or even Anthony Davis. Lopez is slow and if there's one major area of concern in his game, it's in defense. The Nets are rumored to be heavily interested in Nazr Mohammed, a veteran center whose game is predicated on defense. He would be a worthy, solid player behind Lopez. But even if he signs, the Knicks still have the better tandem because of their level of defensive prowess in the paint. Lopez might be able to use his skills to his advantage by playing a bit more outside the paint, so he can bring Chandler out, but we'll have to wait for game time to see what happens in that regard. For now, the edge goes to the Knicks.

Can Anthony's style of play lead the
Knicks past the first round of the playoffs?
     If you look at each team's rosters, I believe they're about even. I'm a little biased though, so I think the Nets are better. Jason Kidd is a great distributor for the Knicks but at this point he's old, and so Raymond Felton will get most of the playing time. Although Felton loves playing for the Knicks, he won't be playing in Mike D'Antoni's point guard-friendly system anymore. Mike Woodson's approach is on defense, and last year, Carmelo Anthony made strides of improvement in his defensive game. Without Iman Shumpert for most of the year because of a torn ACL, they've lost their best on-ball defender. Jared Jeffries was also a good defender, but he was traded in the deal for Felton. The Knicks will be good again defensively because of the likes of Chandler and Camby in the paint but otherwise, every one's defense is questionable. Kidd is still a good defender, but like I stated before, he's old. At 39, his body is wearing down and he is not the force he once was when he was a Net. Anthony's game is improving because he uses his bulky body to his advantage. Stoudemire isn't even a defensive liability; he's atrocious when he doesn't have the ball in his hands.

     For the Nets, Lopez is obviously just as bad a defender as Stoudemire, but they both make up for it through solid offensive production. Humphries and Wallace are both stout defenders, and Joe Johnson is not bad at it either. Like Carmelo, Deron Williams uses his size to "body up" against smaller guards, and he takes advantage of them. Both head coaches have systems predicated on defense, and I think each team will make improvements in that part of the game. My reason why I pick the Nets is because I think they will execute on offense better. Yes, I've heard everything about Iso-Joe, but he doesn't have to play that kind of game all the time anymore. He'll get his isolation plays of course, but not like he did in Atlanta. His ability to spread the floor and create will be a great luxury for the Nets. Deron Williams is one of the premier facilitators in the game, and his craftiness will trick defenses. His bravado makes you doubt what to do on defense. He's a proven scorer in this league, and that makes him all the more dangerous. The Nets have a lot of great shooters who can spread the floor, and I believe Williams, Johnson, and Lopez will be able to get them open. Don't be surprised if the Nets are one of the best offensive teams in the NBA this season. I also doubt the Knicks have chemistry on offense. Everything runs through Carmelo. Stoudemire's production continues to decrease, and it's now evident they can't co-exist. Chandler is not a scorer by any means. He gets mostly garbage baskets or points from the free throw line. Felton can score and create, but we've yet to see what he'll be like in Woodson's system. Outside of Carmelo, the only other consistent scorers are J.R. Smith and Steve Novak, if you don't count Stoudemire like I do. The Knicks have the star quality talent, but like the Dallas Cowboys, they can't seem to put it together to lead them to the promised land. This season will be very intriguing for New York basketball, but because of the new arena, team, and location, I think the Brooklyn Nets will create something special, and be better than their cross-city rival New York Knicks.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Top Free Agents Still Available

     After a little less than a week, this year's free agent class is depleted of star talent for the most part. Deron Williams agreed to re-sign with Brooklyn. Steve Nash agreed to a sign-and-trade deal that will send him to the Los Angeles Lakers. Ray Allen recently decided to take his talents to South Beach, in the wake of the Boston Celtics agreeing to three year contracts with Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry. Though most of the star quality talent is gone from the rest of this year's free agent class, there are still many serviceable players who can make significant contributions to their next team. Here's my list of the Top 10 Free Agents remaining, and where I think each of them will go. There are some players who are yet to be with a team due to their restricted free agency (i.e. Roy Hibbert, Eric Gordon, etc.) but they have already signed offer sheets and are waiting for their team from last year to either match it or not in the coming week. They are no longer on the market if they signed an offer sheet.

#10: Marcus Camby, Center, Unrestricted Free Agent

Where will the Camby Man finish out
his career?
Bio: Camby is past his prime, but is still a solid defensive-oriented big man. He's a tough, gritty worker and efficient on the boards. During this late stage of his career, he wants to win a ring. Miami is shaping to be the best situation for him. They need a big body in the middle next to Chris Bosh, because Joel Anthony is simply too short to guard seven footers. Camby joins Ray Allen, and accepts a deal that will allow him to finish out his career in Miami. The Knicks will push hard for Camby, who played in New York earlier in his career. However, Miami has more talent and star power than the Knicks, and therefore, a better shot to go to the NBA Finals this season.

Prediction: Signs with Miami Heat

#9: Courtney Lee, Shooting Guard, Unrestricted Free Agent

Lee will be a sought-after
commodity for his shooting prowess.
Bio: Lee has been a bit of a journeyman in the early stages of his career. He was drafted by the Orlando Magic, then traded to the Nets in a deal that sent Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson to the Magic. After his tenure with the Nets, he was traded to the Rockets. Now, Lee is a free agent, hoping to strike a long-term deal with a team. Chicago is in need of a shooting guard to pair with Richard Hamilton, who is getting older and has been injury prone the past couple of seasons. Lee can start or come off the bench. He's a good shooter with a nice touch, and will be sought out by several teams. However, Chicago has a very good team in place for as long as Derrick Rose is their point guard, and I think Lee will relish the opportunity to play alongside him.

Prediction: Signs with Chicago Bulls

#8: Ramon Sessions, Point Guard, Unrestricted Free Agent

Bio: Last season, Sessions was traded from the Cavaliers to the Lakers, where he played well for a while. However, he completely disappeared in the playoffs, and was simply outplayed by Denver's Ty Lawson and Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook. Sessions and the Lakers were in negotiations, but in a shocking twist of events, the Lakers agreed to a sign-and-trade deal with the Suns that landed them Steve Nash, shutting down all negotiations with Sessions. It has been rumored that the Mavericks are scouting Sessions, after losing out on Nash, Deron Williams, Jason Kidd, and Jeremy Lin. The Mavericks need a point guard desperately, so I think they will give Sessions the money he wants.

Sessions is one of several quality point guards still on the
free agent market.

Prediction: Signs with Dallas Mavericks

#7: O.J. Mayo, Shooting Guard, Unrestricted Free Agent

Can Mayo live up to his draft expectations
with a change of scenery?
Bio: Mayo was drafted by the Timberwolves, but then got traded that night to the Memphis Grizzlies for Kevin Love. I think it's safe to say the Timberwolves got the better end of that deal. However, Mayo is not a bust by any means. He can create his own shot and has good size. He can start or come off the bench and produce. He sometimes chucks up unnecessary shots, but he will find a deal eventually. He's lost some market after the Clippers signed Jamal Crawford and the Celtics signed Jason Terry, but he will still have several suitors. He's asking for more than the mid-level exception, but as more teams fill out their rosters, he might have to accept that offer. The Indiana Pacers have been hot on Mayo's trail for a while now, and I think they will finally get him.

Prediction: Signs with Indiana Pacers

#6: Chris Kaman, Center, Unrestricted Free Agent

Kaman is one of the more undervalued centers
in the NBA.

Bio: Kaman was part of the deal that sent Chris Paul to the Clippers. Kaman did not want to play for the Hornets, but still produced some decent numbers. He's now 30 years old, but can still start for a team in need of a center. Indiana has been talking with him, as insurance in case they decide not to match Portland's maximum contract offer to Roy Hibbert. However, I think Hibbert's offer will be matched by the Pacers, and they will leave Kaman in the dust. There are still some teams in need of a center though, including the Hawks, Hornets, Trail Blazers, and Heat, among others. I think Kaman will get a fair deal somewhere, because he still has value and produces. Although the Hawks' main target is probably Dwight Howard, getting Kaman would allow them to move Al Horford to power forward, which is a more natural position for him. They could always put Kaman in a deal for Howard anyways.

Prediction: Signs with Atlanta Hawks

#5: Brook Lopez, Center, Restricted Free Agent

If there's any sure thing in free agency besides Duncan returning
to the Spurs, it's Lopez returning to the Nets.
Bio: Lopez received a qualifying offer from the Nets, but will most likely get more money than the $7.6 million in that qualifying offer. The Nets have a hole at center and he is their best option at the moment. He is often criticized for his rebounding and defense, but Lopez is one of the better offensive centers in the game. Last season, he was limited to only five games with foot injuries. He hasn't garnered many suitors, so the Nets might be able to re-sign him for a discounted price. Lopez is needed not only for his production, but also if the Nets want to realistically swing a deal for Dwight Howard.

Prediction: Re-signs with Brooklyn Nets

#4: Lou Williams, Point Guard, Unrestricted Free Agent

Williams is surely leaving Philly,
but where will he go?
Bio: Williams came off the bench for the 76ers, but he was their leading scorer. It does tell you how woeful the Philadelphia offense was, but it also tells you how effective Williams can really be. Williams is a good shooter and is an average passer. I think he's better off the bench because he provides energy and instant offense. He's not afraid to take the big shots, so he's very confident. Williams is a smart player, and I don't believe he's reached his ceiling yet. After Philadelphia announced the signing of Nick Young, Williams tweeted his farewells to the "City of Brotherly Love." Expect several suitors including the Bulls, Suns, Trail Blazers, Warriors, and others to go after him. I think the Blazers do have the biggest need though, because they have lost Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford, and Jonny Flynn all in free agency. If rookie point guard Damian Lillard struggles, Williams can provide some relief.

Prediction: Signs with Portland Trail Blazers.

#3: Kris Humphries, Power Forward, Unrestricted Free Agent

Humphries has value, so will the
Nets have the cap flexibility to sign him?
Bio: Humphries was a reserve early in his career. He was seldom used and played garbage minutes. However, once he got playing time for the Nets, his game elevated. In the past two seasons, Humphries has averaged double-doubles and is steadily improving during the prime of his career. He has developed a short range jumper, but is still a physical bruiser inside, something Brook Lopez is not. Humphries plays with a lot of intensity every night, and Nets GM Billy King knows he's a key piece to the franchise. Humphries will get suitors and will get paid like he deserves, but he will get paid by the Nets.

Prediction: Re-signs with Brooklyn Nets.

#2: Ersan Ilyasova, Power Forward, Unrestricted Free Agent

Ilyasova will have suitors,
including some from Europe.
Bio: Ilyasova was drafted by the Bucks in the second round of the 2005 NBA Draft. After playing internationally for a few seasons, he came over to play in the NBA. This season, Ilyasova broke out and became the starting power forward for the Milwaukee Bucks. He had an incredible career game against the Nets, when he scored 29 points to go along with 25 rebounds. Ilyasova has a knack for getting rebounds, and he can shoot the ball from the outside. His post moves aren't bad, but he is improving every season and will get paid this summer. There's swirling rumors connecting him to the Nets if they don't land Dwight Howard, but I believe that after the 76ers amnesty Elton Brand, they will lay out all their cards on the table to sign Ilyasova. He's the power forward they need.

Prediction: Signs with Philadelphia 76ers

#1: Tim Duncan, Center, Unrestricted Free Agent

Bio: Duncan is truly the most established, talented player left in this year's free agency class, but he's been quoted as saying he wants to be "...a Spur for life." I have to believe that after they make any smaller, necessary moves, the Spurs will sign him to a deal that will allow him to finish out his career in San Antonio. He is the face of the franchise and I believe he'll wait for the Spurs to give him a deal, I just can't imagine him going anywhere else.

Duncan will be "A Spur for life."
Prediction: Re-signs with San Antonio Spurs

Some honorable mentions who just missed my Top 10: Carl Landry, Jeff Green, Randy Foye, Antawn Jamison, D.J. Augustin.
Green is expected to stay with the
Celtics after heart surgery last year.

Honorable Mention Predictions

1. Carl Landry signs with Cleveland Cavaliers

2. Jeff Green re-signs with Boston Celtics

3. Randy Foye signs with New York Knicks

4. Antawn Jamison signs with Charlotte Bobcats

5. D.J. Augustin signs with Houston Rockets

     Though most of the All Star talent in this year's free agent class have agreed to contracts, there are still several contributors who can produce for whatever team they play for next season. How will the rest of the free agent frenzy unfold? Stay tuned, there's still a lot more business to be handled this summer.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

What's Next For Brooklyn?

     During the 2010-2011 season, Nets general manager Billy King worked countless hours in trying to lure forward Carmelo Anthony to his team through a trade with the Denver Nuggets. The Nets had plenty of assets that Denver liked, but Anthony's desired destination was Madison Square Garden with the New York Knicks. After losing out on Carmelo Anthony, the Nets swung a blindsided blockbuster deal by trading former All Star point guard Devin Harris, young forward Derrick Favors, and draft picks to the Utah Jazz for superstar point guard Deron Williams. Since then, Billy King and heavy-spending owner Mikhail Prokhorov have tried to do whatever they could to satisfy Williams. During the past 1.5 seasons, the Nets had struggled mightily with injuries. They did not reach the playoffs with Williams, and many thought they had almost no shot to retain their coveted guard. Most analysts believed that without obtaining Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, the Nets would be hanging in the balance, with a high chance of themselves getting left in the dust. However, with the allure of a new city, new look, new arena, and new teammates, King, Prokhorov, and head coach Avery Johnson were able to convince Deron Williams to stay with the newly named Brooklyn Nets.

     Besides retaining Williams, King and the Nets have made plenty of other moves this summer. They've agreed to acquire All Star shooting guard Joe Johnson from the Atlanta Hawks for five expiring contracts and a first round pick protected by the Houston Rockets. Some people believe it was a bad move because of his highly expensive contract, and that it also disallows the Nets from having the financial flexibility to sign Dwight Howard in free agency next summer. However, I don't think it was as horrid a move as some people suggest. Johnson is a consistent scorer who can get 20 points on almost any given night. He has long range, and can create his own shot whenever he has the ball in his hands. He's also a solid facilitator and decent defender. His size allows for him to post up on smaller guards and also to guard small forwards, in case the Nets wanted to play a small rotation. Johnson is the scorer the Nets needed, and brings instant offense to the table. The Nets also retained small forward Gerald Wallace in free agency. In a heavily scrutinized move at last season's trade deadline, King traded a lottery pick that was top-3 protected, Mehmet Okur, and Shawne Williams to Portland for Wallace. King backed up his trade, somewhat, when he reached a verbal commitment with Wallace for a four year, $40 million contract. After those two big moves, the Nets had verbally agreed to a contract with Bosnian forward Mirza Teletovic for the full mid-level exception over three years. He is a stretch four standing at 6'9", but he weighs a nice 250 pounds for a guy his size. His defensive game is not the best, but he is a highly touted offensive player. He can shoot from any spot on the floor and also post up. He's also an efficient rebounder, and reminds me a bit of Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger. The Nets were also in dire need of toughness in the post, so in a sign-and-trade scenario, the Nets dealt a protected future second round pick to the Los Angeles Clippers for reserve big man Reggie Evans, who agreed to a three year, $5 million contract. These moves cannot be made official until July 11, but if they all are made official, the Nets look like a lock for the playoffs next year barring any significant injuries.

Williams (left) and Johnson (right) would form one of the best back court duos
in the NBA if successfully paired together in Brooklyn.

     Now that the Nets have Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Gerald Wallace presumably locked up for at least the next four seasons, who will the Nets go after in free agency during the rest of the summer? Their first priority is to re-sign Brook Lopez. Although re-signing him would likely put the Nets over the luxury tax, Prokhorov and King know they need their center for the future. Lopez is one of the better offensive centers in the game, and might not garner a lot of attention or money in free agency due to his horrific ankle injuries last season that subdued him to playing in only five out of 66 games. The Nets would possibly be getting a bargain if they retained Lopez with a deal in which he earned $10 million annually. Retaining Lopez is a key so they have a post presence but he would also be a part of any trade that granted Dwight Howard his request to play in Brooklyn. Their second priority is to lock up Gerald Green. The electric small forward can sell tickets because of his amazing dunking abilities alone. Green was a very pleasant surprise for the Nets last year and is willing to take a pay cut to rejoin the roster, so I hope King retains him. He was a big part of the rotation and can score effectively off the bench, something the Nets will need.

Is it possible that Ilyasova winds up with the
Nets next season? Some analysts say yes.
     Their third priority is to get depth in the paint. I don't believe Teletovic will be ready to start out of the gate, and Evans serves best as a back up to Lopez. With that said, the Nets will need a starting power forward. There's rumors that they are still going hard after Milwaukee Bucks power forward Ersan Ilyasova, who is an unrestricted free agent. Ilyasova has consistently grown throughout his years in the NBA and is a proven starter in the league. He can shoot the ball well and rebound extraordinarily. Adding him to the Nets' current roster makes them contenders for the NBA Finals in just their inaugural season in Brooklyn. By using the mini mid-level exception, the Nets might be able to land a big man like San Antonio's Boris Diaw. Though many people argue against Diaw's play, he performed better with the Spurs during their run to the Western Conference Finals and was an integral part of their rotation. He seems to thrive with great point guards, so because the Nets have Deron Williams locked up for the future, I would at least give Diaw a look if I was King. Other cheap big man options in free agency include Sacramento's Donte Greene, Minnesota's Anthony Randolph and Anthony Tolliver, Boston's Ryan Hollins, Charlotte's D.J. White and Dallas center Ian Mahinmi. The Nets' last priority is to bring in some young rookie talents. The Summer League is not a bad option to find cheaper, younger players to sure up a bench. There are plenty of undrafted rookies looking to make a roster spot, and I think the Nets should explore the possibility of signing two players on their summer team, Wichita State center Garrett Stutz and Pittsburgh guard Ashton Gibbs, as well as maybe several others. There are numerous other undrafted rookies who I believe they should consider scouting too, including New Mexico's Drew Gordon, Seton Hall's Herb Pope, Georgetown's Henry Sims, and Iona's Scott Machado.

     The Brooklyn Nets have made some bold moves this summer, but there is still work that is yet to be done. Now with Deron Williams committing long-term, each domino will start to trickle down in effect. After a five year hiatus, the Nets are looking to return to the playoffs this upcoming season, and hopefully back to the NBA Finals, a place the franchise hasn't ventured to since the era of the Jason Kidd-Kenyon Martin-Richard Jefferson triumvirate. There is a lot of buzz surrounding the franchise right now, and I believe the opening game in Brooklyn will be something special and also a hint of things to come in the future. Stay tuned, the free agent frenzy has only just begun.

Monday, July 2, 2012

My 2012 NBA Draft Experience

I know I look awkward in this picture, but it's Craig Sager.
How many people can say they've taken a picture with him? 
     On Thursday, I had attended the NBA Draft with my father, friend, and his father. I stayed for the entire draft, because I wanted to see my beloved Brooklyn Nets make their selection. So at 7:30 pm ET, David Stern walked up to the podium, hearing nothing but "BOOOOOOOO!" from the fans. My friend and I laughed, but sat back and watched the action commence. Kentucky's Anthony Davis went first overall as I presumed, but then it got it got interesting. The Bobcats selected Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, which came as a bit of a suprise. The Wizards selected Bradley Beal, which I expected. Then an ironic moment happened. Stern walked up to the podium to announce the Cavaliers selection. As he started talking, I screamed Dion Waiters, the name of a Syracuse guard. Waiters was not projected that high, and I honestly exclaimed his name half-jokingly, but then Stern actually said "Dion Waiters." My friend looked at me shocked, asking how I knew that would happen. A Celtics fan in front of me couldn't believe it, and told me I should become a GM one day. I told him "Maybe one day." After that, I guessed a number of other picks correctly, and the night moved slowly but surely.

     During the second round, I moved down to the bottom seats because most fans left the building. I watched Adam Silver read through picks, numerous players and ESPN workers pass me, Chris Broussard consume about three pizza slices, and then the Nets were finally on the clock. It was the moment I was waiting for. I couldn't wait to hear who they'd select. I was hoping they'd take a power forward or center, but they ended up drafting Ilkan Karaman, yeah who? As I heard Adam Silver say the words, my mouth dropped. There were a couple other Nets fans around me, about my age, who were screaming in disbelief. I was convinced the Nets would try to take somebody who can have an immediate impact, considering they have only five players signed under contract. I studied over some international players, but I never heard of this guy. It got me enraged, but I was calmed shortly after, when I found out the Nets acquired Tyshawn Taylor from Portland. Then, I got to shake hands with new Nuggets forward Quincy Miller, as well as new Dallas big man Bernard James, who served for the United States in the Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places. They were both great experiences, but none was better than when I got to take a picture with the legend of men's suits, Craig Sager.

     I exited the Prudential Center after I confused Luke Zeller with his brother, Tyler, which was an awkward moment because most of his family and his attractive "lady friend" were standing right there. I got home still full of energy. It was a long night, but I wasn't very tired. My dad plopped into his bed as soon as we got home, but I turned on a television to watch a late-night edition of Sportscenter. I knew I didn't get on television, but I was curious to see some draft highlights. I sat down on a couch, put my feet on an ottoman, and my head on a pillow. There were plenty of suprises, and although some were not in the best interests, I had still fallen asleep happy. That's my 2012 NBA Draft experience.