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I don't really expect much response to NBA posts here - though I'd be pleasantly surprised and very much welcome it - but I write several sports blogs (like my NFL wrap-ups) for another site anyway so I figured I'd go ahead and post here too. PLEASE feel free to come in and talk NBA ball, which I love almost as much as the NFL! :-)
So, without further ado, my first blog of the 2008-2009 NBA Season....
Welcome To The NBA Rookie
There are several big name rookies to keep an eye on this year.
Greg Oden (Portland Trailblazers) - After sitting out all of his first year recovering from micro-fracture knee surgery, Oden made his debut as a technical / statistical rookie this year in a game against the L.A. Lakers... and promptly got injured 13 minutes into his first NBA game having not scored a single basket. While tests have determined that it is just a sprained ankle that should only keep Oden out for 2-4 weeks, fans in Portland surely had visions of Sam Bowie flashing through their minds wondering when - if? - the highly touted big man would begin to make a difference on the court, and not just on ticket and merchandise sales.
Rudy Fernandez (Portland Trailblazers) - Fortunately for Trailblazers fans while they are waiting for Oden to actually play his first full game they can enjoy the play of Rudy Fernandez. Spanish native Fernandez comes to the U.S. as an NBA "rookie" fresh off his national team's silver medal winning performance in the Olympics. The 6'5" shooting guard has dynamic ball handling skills and scores by cutting and flashing to the basket, which has Trailblazers fans hoping for the second coming of Manu Ginobili.
Derrick Rose (Chicago Bulls) - In only 1 year at the University of Memphis Rose lead the Tigers to the NCAA Championship Game, showing tremendous poise and leadership for a freshman. The #1 pick in last year's NBA draft, Rose has proven his college success wasn't a one-hit fluke, charging hard out of the NBA gate and leading the Bulls to a 3-0 start while averaging 18 PPG / 4 APG / 4 RPG. If Rose continues to play like the real deal the Bulls could be looking at a franchise point guard the likes of Chris Paul or Deron Williams.
Michael Beasley (Miami Heat) - The 2nd overall pick in the draft, the explosive 6'9" forward lead the NBA summer league in scoring but has gotten off to a slow start with the Heat in the regular season. He only played one year of college ball though, so the slow start shouldn't necessarily be cause for concern as the youngster transitions into his NBA career.
O.J. Mayo (Memphis Grizzlies) - Since Mayo plays for the Memphis Grizzlies this may be the first and last time you hear his name this season, which is unfortunate because he's made a great showing in his first few NBA games. The 6'4" combo guard has averaged 14 PPG / 5 RPG in his first 3 starts, while playing 38 minutes a game and not showing any early tendencies to turn the ball over or get into foul trouble.
The Lopez Twins - Want to see two overgrown 10 year olds who play ball for the sheer love of it? I give you the 7'0" Lopez twins, Brook (NJ Nets) & Robin aka "Sideshow Bob" (Phoenix). The twins served as "twin towers" for Stanford for 2 seasons before entering the NBA draft after their sophomore year. Though neither is destined to be an All-Star center in the NBA (Brook is the better player of the two), both are high energy, high basketball IQ players who should be solid contributors for many seasons. And they've got tons of personality!
Notable Player Moves
As always in any off-season there was a fair amount of player movement in the form of trades and Free Agent signings. Those that I found to be the most notable in their potential impact on the teams who lost and gained they players are:
Ron Artest (Sacramento Kings to Houston Rockets) - No doubt Artest will forever be saddled with the stigma of the "Malice At The Palace" brawl that took place between the Pacers and Pistons in 2004. However, those who know basketball and are willing to look beneath the bad P.R. know that Artest is, in fact, one of the best all around players in the league. A smothering, shut-down defensive player, Artest's skills on the offensive end are often overlooked (he averaged 21 PPG in '07-'08). Adding Artest to a Houston team that already starts All-Stars Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady could well be the missing piece/third scorer the Rockets need to take them to the next level.
James Posey (Boston Celtics to New Orleans Hornets) - This may well end up being the biggest, yet under-the-radar, acquisition of the off-season. Posey played a key role on Boston's championship team, giving the Celtics solid defense, veteran leadership, and clutch 3's. He's also the ultimate team/glue guy. His loss will hit the Celtics hard over the course of the season, and will be a major addition to the already up-and-coming Hornets.
Elton Brand (L.A. Clippers to Philadelphia 76ers) - This was a great pick up for Philly, who has been hampered in the past couple of seasons with not much of a half-court game. Brand will give the 76ers a solid low post presence, forcing defenders to stay honest and freeing things up (even further) for Andre Iguodala to operate in space while seeing fewer double teams.
Baron Davis (Golden State Warriors to L.A. Clippers) - This is a huge loss for Golden State. Despite having injury issues the past few seasons, Baron Davis was without question the heart and soul of the Warriors, not to mention their best player (20+ PPG / 7+ APG / 2+ SPG the past two seasons) and one of the best point guards in the league when healthy. The once laughable Clippers continue their march toward respectability with this outstanding acquisition.
Josh Childress (Atlanta Hawks to Olympiakos, Greece, Euroleague) - The Hawks gambled that swingman Childress wouldn't actually go overseas when they chose to lowball him on their contract offer and Childress called their bluff. Childress becomes the first "name" NBA player to go to the Euroleague while in the prime of their career, signing a 3 year $32.5 million dollar deal that includes Olympiakos paying all income taxes and providing Childress with a villa and car... not a bad gig if you can get it! While obviously not a LeBron James or Kobe Bryant level talent, Childress was nevertheless a key player for the Hawks, providing 11+ PPG / 5+ RPG and a great energy spark off the bench as the 6th man in the Hawks rotation. Whether Childress' move to the Euroleague signals a possible future trend is debatable, and probably the topic for another blog at some point.
It's obviously early, but going into the season there are a few high powered teams with all the pieces in place that, barring injury, should be playing deep into the playoffs.
Boston Celtics - Can they repeat? They have a darn good chance to. Their "Big Three" (Garnett, Allen, Pierce) are all back, injury free, and well rested not having participated in the Olympics. Add to that the fact they play in the weak Eastern conference and the Celtics should be able to make another legitimate run at the championship. However, the loss of James Posey shouldn't be dismissed too easily; he was a key and clutch contributor off the bench for Celtics last season.
Houston Rockets - The key to the Rockets being able to make a serious run to the Finals will be whether or not they can keep Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady healthy and on the floor at the same time. Ron Artest has been an early good fit, performing well on the floor and behaving off of it. Key role players Shane Battier (shut down defense), Luis Scola (lots of energy and solid scoring) and Aaron Brooks and Rafer Alston (a nice one-two punch at point guard) will also need to contribute on a consistent basis.
L.A. Lakers - The rubber meets the road this season for the Lakers. Andrew Bynum performed well before getting injured early in the season last year, and mid-season acquisition Pau Gasol clicked with Kobe to help take the Lakers to the finals. However, it will be important to see if Bynum and Gasol can coexist on the floor at the same time or whether they will step on each others toes. And keep an eye on Lamar Odom, who is in the last year of his contract and may have started the clock ticking on a prima donna meltdown over his "demotion" to rotational player.
New Orleans Hornets - Possibly the most exciting, up-and-coming young team in the NBA. Break out All-Star point guard Chris Paul makes this team dangerous all by himself... but he doesn't have to. "Baby Bull" Tyson Chandler is flourishing in N.O. and the Paul-to-Chandler connection was one of the most consistent, and devastating, in the NBA last season. Peja Stojakovic is a tad past his prime, but is still on his game, while David West's mid-range game allows Paul to work outside, Chandler to work inside, while West picks opponents apart in the middle. Oh yeah, and they added some guy named James Posey during the off season... all he did was serve as the essential "glue guy" on the Celtics championship winning team last season.
Three teams that have been great in recent seasons are all in the position of seeing their window of opportunity to make a run at the Finals closing fast.
San Antonio Spurs - Other than Tony Parker this is a rapidly aging team. Add to that the recurring problems with Manu Ginobil's ankle - which is still a question mark - and the Spurs may have a tougher hill to climb than they can handle in the cutthroat SouthWest Conference.
Phoenix Suns - The sun may well be setting on the Suns. While Nash is still an elite point guard, he is nevertheless 34 years old with 12 seasons of tread on the tires in a conference with up-and-coming turks like Chris Paul and Deron Williams. The great Shaq experiment - which was fair to middling at best last season - enters year two with Shaq another year older, slower, and more bitter. Get used to the hack-a-Shaq big guy, you'll be seeing a lot of it!
Dallas Mavericks - I still don't know what Cuban was thinking trading for Jason Kidd. He may be a Hall of Fame point guard, but he is definitely on the down side of his career. He never really seemed to mesh with the Mavs offense last season and was routinely overmatched by the guard play he encountered after coming over to the West from the East in a trade that sent young PG Devin Harris to the NJ Nets, where Harris finished the season with the highest PPG (16) and APG (7) numbers of his 4 year career. Cuban gambled by giving away a potential future franchise point guard to win now with Kidd... only they didn't. So now what?
There are contenders, there are pretenders, and then there are teams that are just train wrecks.
Exhibit A: Charlotte Bobcats - Michael Jordan was a great player - possibly the greatest ever - but he can't GM his way out of a wet paper bag. Add to that a head coach prone to throwing his own team under the bus (Larry Brown), head scratching personnel moves ($72 million to Emeka Okafor? Adam Morrison over Brandon Roy???), and a disillusioned fan base and the Bobcats may well have entered a downswing heretofore experienced only by the L.A. Clippers of old.
Exhibit B: Denver Nuggets - Let's see.. Kenyon Martin and Nene have been busts, they gave away one of the league's best defensive players (Marcus Camby) for a bag of chips, they're led by George "I've Lost Every Team I've Ever Coached" Carl, the Allen Iverson experiment has not paid off as expected, and ownership that is more concerned with staying under the luxury tax than committing to winning. Yep. Train wreck in Denver.
OK, the Hawks just aren't that good. But, they're usually still fun to watch because of their up tempo style of play, and they did make positive strides last season including making it to the playoffs and taking the eventual NBA champion Celtics to Game 7 in the first round. Unfortunately they lost a key player in Josh Childress, and Acie Law and Mo Evans are going to have to seriously take up the slack left by the loss of their key "glue guy" / 6th man.
Josh Smith, Marvin Williams and Al Horford all had good seasons last year, but they all need to take their games to the next level if the Hawks have any hope of being decent and making the playoffs again this year. That said, they have started off the season quite well with wins against quality Eastern Conference teams in Orlando (on the road) and Philadelphia.
Are you Kidding Me?!
This week's "Are you kidding me?!" moment is brought to you by Al Harrington of the Golden State Warriors who made it through a grand total of 1 game before expressing his displeasure at being with the Warriors and asking for a trade. In fairness to Harrington, the desire to be gone from Golden State is a carry over from last season and his clashes with head coach Don Nelson... who has been known to rub a player or two the wrong way in his day.
NBA Tip-Off: Big Cactus Shaq Gets Prickly
Last Edited on: 11/21/08 12:30 PM ET - Total times edited: 2