Sunday, December 24, 2006

Zach Randolph should be voted as an All*Star

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Zach Randolph should be a Western Conference All-Star this season. And Uncle Sam wants YOU to vote him in. No, I don't mean that there is a chance of assurping either Kevin Garnett or Tim Duncan (or even Dirk Nowitzki) as an All-Star starter. But a serious amount of votes and noise made by fans for Z-Bo will show the coaches that select the team that Randolph is a serious talent. The guy has led the Blazers to an admirable record to date with little help (with the injury to Brandon Roy). He is averaging 25.1ppg and 10.1rpg. Surely those are All-Star numbers?

I was just reading this article on AOL Sports which questions whether the young power forward is worthy of an All-Star selection. The author lists a number of candidates -- and the West is stacked with them, that much is clear -- at the forward position. However, most of them are flawed in one way or another.

Carmelo Anthony let his fist do the talking and will miss 15 games, surely putting a dent in his hopes. Elton Brand has had a slow start to the season by his standards and his team is doing poorly, despite boasting a greater talent pool than the Blazers. Lamar Odom and Rashard Lewis, whilst spectacular in the early-going, are both currently injured.

Two guys who definitely deserve bench forward positions ahead of Z-Bo are Dirk Diggler and Carlos Boozer, who is having a career year. The fight for Z-Bo no doubt comes down to Shawn Marion and whether one of the abovementioned 'flawed candidates' gets a gig.

All we can do is shout loud and clear that Randolph deserves his spot. The media had absolutely no qualms about giving him coverage when he was "accused" of being "involved" with a "suspicious" incident, which he was later found to have no guilt in. Surely they will see fit to do the same when he is successful. Hang on, that's crazy talk, isn't it?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

NBA standings : A space oddity

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As we approach Christmas and we have seen close to two months of NBA action, it's time to analyse the oddities of the standings to date. There are the usual expected results so far: Dallas and San Antonio have the best records in the league (20-7), Detroit have had to make some adjustments to the departure of Big Ben, but are leading the East (16-8). However, there have been many surprises as we reach the one-third mark of the season.
UTAH JAZZ (19-8): continuing to over-achieve
Behind the unexpected Dukesque form of Carlos Boozer and the solid sophomore season of Deron Williams, the Jazz have managed to far and away lead the Northwest division and aren't showing any signs of slowing down. Jerry Sloan knows how to run a team and has a fine stable of young swingmen along with do-it-all Andrei Kirilenko. Despite all of this, noone expected them to be this good.
ORLANDO MAGIC (17-11): young and not over the Hill
Grant Hill is past it all. Well, so everyone thought before this season. The popular swingman has had the worst string of injuries known to man in recent years, yet he proclaimed he would be back for more this season. Hill has provided scoring and veteran leadership and without his 15.4ppg (53.1 FG%), 3.9rpg and 1.2spg, the Magic wouldn't be where they are at the top of the Southeast division and narrowly behind Detroit for the lead in the East. Of course, when thinking of the Magic, Dwight Howard is like David Robinson to the Spurs of the 90s. The manchild is averaging 17.0ppg and a league leading 12.7rpg along with 2.0bpg. As he proved with Team USA over the Summer, the league will be in fear of Mr Howard for a long time to come. Darko Milicic has proven that he does not have the same superstar potential that he flashed glimpses of at the end of last season, but he has acted as an adequate support player. Should he improve his offence, the Magic's form will only accelerate.
ATLANTIC DIVISION: a very cold winter ahead
The entire Atlantic division has been a disappointment. Toronto leads the division with a pultry 12-15 record. The Raptors started the season trying to play Phoenix Suns basketball at 1000 miles per hour, but when Sam Mitchell realised this wasn't the key to success and slowed things down, they have improved to win 5 of their last 10. The New Jersey trio of Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter has not been able to push their teammates beyond a .423 record. Part of the problem may be that Kidd as PG has had to lead the team in rebounding night after night. New York has been the mess that is expected season after season. Boston is still young with plenty of potential and will no doubt improve as the season continues. Philadelphia is only 2 losses ahead of Memphis for the worst record in the league after their shambolic season so far, which has seen the trade of team icon The Answer and the distemper of Chris Webber. There is no real sign of improvement to come this season for any of the teams in the Atlantic.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS (18-9): not exactly Showtime but not B-Grade either
The Lakers have been surprisingly competitive this season, to the point that they are second in the Pacific -- only 1 game behind the always tough Phoenix Suns. The wrap on the Lakers last season? They're a one man show... everyone is standing around watching the selfish Kobe Bryant... the Lakers are a bunch of D-Leaguers around a superstar (Kobe) and a supressed star (Lamar Odom). What has changed this season? Not a whole lot in terms of personnel. I for one have to admit that I thought that this season would be another disaster for the Lakeshow. Somehow though, the Lakers have managed to play some more team-orientated basketball. KB24 has reduced his shot attempts per game from 27.2 last season to 19.3 this season. Perhaps after the 2006 playoffs Kobe has realised that the team winning is not all about him scoring 50+ on a semi-regular basis. Odom has been his versatile best -- he is averaging 17.5ppg, 8.7rpg, 4.9apg and a career best 1.4 treys per contest. The supporting cast of Luke Walton, Smush Parker, Kwame Brown (yes, that Kwame), Andrew Bynum and even rookie Jordan Farmar have played the roles that Phil Jackson loves so much and suddenly the Lakers are 7 games ahead of their cross-town rivals. Of course, the Lakers remain one of those teams that noone wants to face in the playoffs due to the x-factor named Bryant who can win a game single-handedly.
MIAMI HEAT (11-14): D-Wade and... umm...
The Championship celebrations are long over and it seems like a decade ago that the Miami Heat were the most feared team in the league. Junior superstar Dwyane Wade is once again doing everything for this team. The only difference from last season is, he is the only one doing everything. Miami stacked this roster with superstars, yet at the moment they are playing like the Lakers v.05-06. Wade is averaging 28.6ppg, 8.0apg, 4.7rpg, 1.8spg and 1.obpg -- nothing short of stellar. The problems however, are many... Shaquille O'Neal (14.0ppg, 7.5rpg, 1.obpg -- all career lows) has only played 4 games due to injury. The Big Aristotle is clearly showing his age, as injuries start to take their toll. Antoine Walker has been disappointing to say the least, as he continues to jack up threes like they are going out of fashion. Jason Williams has been injured and in the 14 games he has played, has been a low-flavour variety of White Chocolate. Gary Payton is showing his age -- the Glove that guarded Michael Jordan is a distant memory. However it's not all doom and gloom. Alonzo Mourning continues to defy medical science with his cameo role, as his 2.9pbg are third in the league to go along with his 9.6ppg and 5.7rpg in 23 minutes. Rookie Dorell Wright has surprised many by gaining election as a starter by freshman-hater Pat Riley. Udonis Haslem has been the workman that we have come to expect him to be (12.0ppg and 8.8rpg). However the next championship for the Heat could be sometime away unless they get things together this season. O'Neal, Mourning and Payton are clearly not far from their retirement celebrations. Walker appears nothing but selfish and Williams needs to regain some confidence. Things aren't looking so hot in Florida.
PORTLAND TRAIL-BLAZERS (12-15): easybeats no more
Remember the Portland Trail Blazers of last season? The ones that were more interesting off the court than on it. The team that finished dead last in the league with only 21 wins... Well many expected exactly the same thing to happen this season. Have a look back in the archives here and you'll see that this site was one of the few to argue that the Blazers would be competitive this season. Not playoff material, but competitive. That they have been. The Blazers have won 5 of their last six, with that loss against the Raptors being by 1 in OT. They have gone most of this way without injured Rookie of the Year candidate, Brandon Roy. They have done it with a team full of youngsters and uncertain starters. Zach Randolph's play has been nothing short of all-star calibre. Z-Bo went through an off-season dominated by controversy but has put that behind him to average 25.1ppg and 10.1rpg. Night after night he provides the Blazers with a target down low that the opposition can not neutralise. Jarrett Jack has been surprising in his leadership at the point, as he has been thrown the starting role. Roy has shown in the little time he has had, that he will be the face of Portland basketball for years to come. His all-round game gives the Blazers a perimeter, penetrating threat to complement Randolph down low. Joel Przybilla committed to the Blazers long-term in the off-season and has been a defensive presence in the key, whilst swingmen Martell Webster, Travis Outlaw and Ime Udoka have pushed aside the injury to Darius Miles which has been such a distraction to the team. The Blazers will not push too many teams around this season, however they will not be bottom-fodder that they were last season and are building a solid foundation for the future.

NBDL gets ugly : fight leads to concussion

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A fight in practice between Awvee Storey (Washington Wizards) and Martynas Andriuskevicius (Chicago Bulls) led to the latter being concussed with a bruised brain.

The Nuggets v Knicks brawl will attract a lot more headlines, but the medical consequences of this little altercation could be a lot worse for Andriuskevicius.

Monday, November 20, 2006

NBA Top 7: Did anyone expect...

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There have been a few early surprises this 2006-07 NBA season. I ask you, did anyone expect...
1. Grant Hill to be this good again?
Yes, Grant Hill drinks Sprite. He's back to his entertaining best so far this season. He leads the Magic with 16.3ppg and 1.3spg, whilst also contributing 3.2rpg, 2.1apg and shooting at 55% from the field. What's better is he has played 9 of the Magic's 10 games so far. Keep it up Grant -- we missed you.
2. Utah to be leading the league?
Tonight the Jazz could become the first team this season to get 10 wins. They are currently 9-1. Yes, this is the same Salt Lake City team featuring a second year point guard in Deron Williams, an injured starting SG in Gordon Giricek, an injured star player in Andrei Kirilenko and being led by the exploits of the erstwhile disappointing Dukie, Carlos Boozer. Boozer has been nothing short of jaw-dropping with his 20.5ppg, 13.0rpg and 3.7apg whilst shooting 55.5 FG%. Who needs John and Karl anyway?
3. Chris Webber to be sitting?
Not him apparently. After recently scoring 6 points in 23 minutes against the Sonics, Webber said, "I'm not going to keep playing like this... I don't like this role. So you can take that however you want." I think we know how to take that, C-Webb. Webber is only averaging 10.3ppg on the season and is only being given just over 30 minutes per game by coach Maurice Cheeks.
4. LaMarcus Aldridge to be starting?
Aldridge came into this season injured and in a very tight position in the Portland Trail Blazers frontcourt having to fight for minutes behind Joel Przybilla, Zach Randolph, Raef LaFrentz and Jamaal Magloire. Well, Przybilla and LaFrentz have been injured and Magloire has been just plain disappointing, thus meaning not long after Aldridge's return he has seen a starting C position as his. He has been proving deserving so far with his initial rookie minutes proving very promising and worthy of his selection so high in the draft.
5. Gerald Wallace to be this ordinary?
After a stellar 2005-06 NBA season for the Bobcats, which saw many Fantasy league owners wringing their hands with glee, Wallace has come into this season well below his previous averages -- especially on the defensive end. His 1.6spg (05-06: 2.5spg) and 0.6bpg (05-06: 2.1bpg) have been disappointing, as have his 5.4 ppg drop in scoring and 3.3rpg decrease. Gerald has provided the excuse of hitting his head during the season opener -- us FNBA owners hope he will be back to full form very soon.
6. Kevin Martin to be such a star?
Martin was given major minutes last season due to a Bonzi Wells injury. He took that opportunity with both hands and has now proven himself a regular NBA star. Martin is averaging 23.7ppg, 5.1rpg, 2.2apg, 1.9spg, 1.8 treys per game and impeccable shooting percentages across the board. Sacramento have got themselves a keeper at the two guard.
7. Chicago to be so bad?
The addition of Ben Wallace was meant to make Chicago title-town again. However the joke going around at the moment is that they are changing the name of the city to C-H-I-C-A-G. There's no "O" in the windy city. The Bulls are averaging 93.7ppg -- good for 5th last in the league this season (sadly the Blazers are one spot behind them). The Bulls are 3-7 to date this season. Big Ben has not been as advertised so far this season -- his averages of 5.5ppg, 9.7rpg and 1.6bpg are all his lowest since 1999-00 with Orlando (the year before he broke out as the freak we knew and feared in Detroit). It's not all doom and gloom in Chi-Town however. Opponents of the Bulls are scoring 0.1ppg less than them and are only marginally better in rebounds and assists. Maybe it's just that da Bulls have been unlucky so far. They've played San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Indiana, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Miami and Sacramento in 8 of those 10, none of them easy-beats. Things should improve with the lineup the Bulls have.

Zach Randolph is underrated!

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I was saying here back in the off-season about how hard Zach Randolph had been working in the Summer and that people were vastly underrating the impact that he would make this season as they were blinded by his off-court "issues".

The mistake? People were finding it too easy to bundle him with Darius Miles and the whole "Jail Blazers" identity. The thing is, Z-Bo makes some knucklehead, immature decisions from time to time off the court. Sure he does, he's a millionaire in his early 20s. Many of us would do the same.

However, he works like crazy on the training court and has clearly come back this season with a vengance. Even better than he has been before.

Check the numbers this season: 26.0ppg (12th in NBA), 10.9ppg (7th), 47.4% FG, 83.3% FT.

Offensively he is a powerhouse. He is shooting a fantastic percentage given the pressure he has on him and the lack of supporting cast on offense. His two key supporting offensive players, Brandon Roy (temporarily) and Darius Miles (long-term) have not been able to go due to injury, making Z-Bo's performance even more impressive.

Two things he definitely needs to work on: his ability to pass out of a double team (they are plentiful) and his turnovers. But hopefully these things will come. I was just reading this great post at True Hoop, analysing Zach's game. A good read if you haven't already.

I don't think so many people are sleeping on Z-Bo any more.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

LaMarcus Aldridge is back from injury!

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Good news all around for the Blazers with news that LaMarcus Aldridge is back into full-contact scrimmaging and could be back into the rotation (slowly, slowly) by Tuesday and that Brandon Roy's injury wasn't as bad as first expected.
Roy had an MRI which showed no damage and he'll simply need a shoe insert. He'll miss the next game against the Lakers -- where Nate McMillan said Martell Webster and Ime Udoka will guard KB24 -- but should be back for the following game.
The Lakers go into tonight's game with a strong chance to out-do Portland, given the injury woes for Joel Przybilla, Raef LaFrentz, Roy, Aldridge and Darius Miles. However strong play so far from Zach Randolph, Jarrett Jack and surprising performances by Udoka and Travis Outlaw could pull it out for the Blazers.
RGB Prediction: Lakers by 8 behind strong interior play by Andrew Bynum (with no resistance from the Blazers) and an eventual breakout game by Kobe Bryant.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The friendly Clipper-Blazer bet at True Hoop

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I feel for Henry at True Hoop. Looks like he's going to have to "pay up" on his little wager with Kevin from ClipperBlog.

And it couldn't have happened under closer circumstances -- only 1 point. I guess those sports betting line-makers know their stuff.

Elton Brand cares about Fantasy NBA!

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Sadly, the Blazers went down to the Clippers last night 102-89 -- a not too unexpected result.
Elton Brand was not a particular force in the game. It was a balanced Clipper attack which won it for them. Corey Maggette (20), Cutino Mobley (17), Sam Cassell (16), Chris Kaman (15) and Quinton Ross (13) all picked up the scoring slack which allowed the best team in Los Angeles to beat the Blazers despite only 8 points and 4 rebounds from Mr Brand.
"I feel bad for the people who have fantasy teams, but that's about it," Brand said after taking just eight shots. "We're winning the ball game. Tonight I didn't hit much, but before tonight I was shooting over 56 percent from the field, so when I did touch it, it's going in."
I love the fact that Brand made reference to us Fantasy owners out there. How often have you been wishing you could ask a player to get you an extra steal or block to win your head-to-head matchup for the week? Or wished you could ask the coach to give Earl Watson more minutes than Luke Ridnour?
Well, the Clippers certainly won the game with defence. Brand blocked 5 shots, Mobley and Tim Thomas also chimed in with 2 blocks each. Every active player on the Clippers also garnered at least 1 steal.
Zach Randolph was the star for Portland with 35 points (11/17 and 13/15), 13 rebounds, 2 steals and 3 blocks. Unfortunately Brandon Roy was the major loss of the night. He only played 14 minutes and scored 3 points before asking to come out of the game.

"I didnt get hurt tonight," Roy said. "I have been having some difficulty lately. A bone next to my Achilles' is bothering me.
"It just hurt too much to play. The doctor said I needed to rest and get it looked at. I
am going to have an MRI tomorrow when I get back to Portland."

With Joel Przybilla and LaMarcus Aldridge already out, this is a major loss for the team. Let's hope that Roy will be back in action soon to continue the promising form he has been showing.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Portland Trail Blazers links for today

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Ime Udoka: great Oregonian article on his emotional story here.

Joel Przybilla and Raef LaFrentz out with injuries.

Preview of the Clippers game tonight.

Another recap of the 88-86 victory over the TWolves -- from -- including podcasts.

Google Video & NBA : Not so FAN-tastic

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Having a look at Google Video the other day, I noticed that all of the NBA games have been removed from the site. And it sounds like this is the case, with the NHL taking their place.
It looks like the NBA is trying to crack down on external sources of its coverage and the ability to illegally distribute their content (as is the case with Google Video, which allows downloads in MP4 format). Now they have also taken action against YouTube to remove NBA-copyrighted content from their site.
The NBA is clearly trying to push its NBA TV subscriptions, along with League Pass and to improve the popularity of the game coverage it provides through ESPN/TNT/ABC. I just hope that they continue to sell game DVDs through

Shawn Kemp : "Don't be surprised"

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The ReignMan is at it again -- talking about a comeback to the NBA.
Sunday night was a special night in Seattle, as the SuperSonics honoured their 40th Anniversary Team, of which Shawn Kemp was a part. Kemp will play in Roma, Italy next month and still hopes that a return to the L for a ring is a possibility.
I hope for Shawn's sake that he actually makes it to the workouts this time.
There must have been a strange feeling in the air as the 40th Anniversary Team was announced, whilst the fear of the team moving to Oklahoma City is imminent. Almost like a last chance to pay respects to the SEATTLE Sonics. The Save Our Sonics campaign continues...
Meanwhile the Sonics have added some European flavour to the team, adding Greek 7'1" centre Andreas Glyniadakis. Kareem Rush was waived to make room for the big man. The centre position is the one of most concern for the Sonics, with Robert Swift incurring a season-ending injury and raw rookie Mouhamed Sene and Frenchman Johan Petro (irregular heartbeat) not having smooth starts to the season.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Wolves beaten by a bunch of Roaches

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Ricky "Buckets" Davis' comment that the Blazers were a bunch of "roaches" the other night was not lost on the team, as the insult pushed the Blazers to victory.

Anyone remember when Ricky manufactured his own triple double (or tried to anyway) by shooting at the wrong basket to get the rebound? That's a roach if you ask me...

Portland is .667 -- and loving it!!

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In case you missed it, the Blazers are now 2-1. That's right, we've beaten more teams than have beaten us -- who woulda thunk it?
Last night's victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves was particularly sweet. It showed the poise which the Blazers need to pull games out -- poise beyond the years of a young team such as this. 88-86 was the final score and it was as tight a finish as what it sounds. It took two late three-pointers by Martell Webster (4-5 3PT) and a trey by Juan Dixon with 6.2 seconds left to seal it, despite the best efforts of Kevin Garnett, Ricky Davis and Mike James.
Here's a full breakdown of the finish.
I for one have been sceptical about the role that Dixon would play on the team, but it was his veteran savvy which was the final piece in this win and it would appear that he will often be called upon to fill that role -- that of scorer when the younger players are inconsistent.
Travis Outlaw was the story of this game. His 18 points and career-high 15 rebounds led the Blazers. Rookie sensation Brandon Roy was once again impressive with 16 points, 8 assists and 4 rebounds in 41 minutes. Although we are only 3 games into the season, Roy's consistency is uncharacteristic of a rookie. He is averaging 18.3ppg, 5.0apg and 4.3rpg to date.
It will be interesting to see what our friends at the TwolvesBlog have to say about the game. Their big three (Garnett, Davis and James) performed well and it was a tight game, which just came down to the final shot. KG must really get frustrated with losing games like this -- the big hurdle in his career is beating the teams they should be beating and being regarded as a top force in the league, rather than an 'also-ran'.

ROSE Garden Blog says hello to...

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... the Jalen ROSE blog.

"The Rose That Grew From Concrete"

Check out Jalen's Blog here. He gives a great rundown of his career to date.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Portland Trail Blazers v Seattle SuperSonics :: Preview

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In Brief:

Portland comes in with a completely new lineup. Questions appear everywhere, including:
1. How will Brandon Roy handle the pressure of leading the team at the point when asked?
2. Has Zach Randolph really worked that hard in the off-season?
3. Who will get the majority of the minutes alongside Z-Bo -- LaFrentz, Magloire or Przybilla?
4. What effect will Darius Miles' injury have on the team -- good or bad?
5. Martell Webster, Travis Outlaw and Jarrett Jack: ready or still developing?

Seattle on the other hand, still will be relying on the existing keys to their success in Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. The questions in Seattle revolve around the supporting cast:
1. Luke Ridnour or Earl Watson at the point?
2. Chris Wilcox or Nick Collison at power forward?
3. With Robert Swift's injury, how will rookie Mouhamed Sene and Frenchman Johan Petro perform?
Portland Trail Blazers

PG Jarrett Jack
SG Brandon Roy
SF Travis Outlaw
PF Zach Randolph
C Joel Przybilla

Key Bench
PG Dan Dickau
SG/SF Martell Webster
PF/C Jamaal Magloire
PF/C Raef LaFrentz

Seattle SuperSonics

PG Luke Ridnour
SG Ray Allen
SF Rashard Lewis
PF Chris Wilcox
C Johan Petro

Key Bench
PG Earl Watson
SG/SF Damien Wilkins
PF Nick Collison
C Mouhamed Sene

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

:: Portland : Could the Blazers manufacture a massive turnaround? ::

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The Portland Trail Blazers finished last season 21-61.

Even the New York Knicks, the haven of all that is failure (if you belive the media) finished with two more wins than the Blazers. Third last? The Atlanta Hawks -- the team that everyone loves to lambust with talk of poor personnel moves and a lineup solely consisting of 6'8" swingmen. Atlanta managed 26 wins.

The media will have you believe that this off-season has been as with any other in Trail Blazer recent history -- unrest, upheaval, lawlessness and fractured personalities. These Trail Blazers might just surprise a few of the pundits.

Joel Przybilla is talking playoffs. "It's a change. I can tell. I can sense it. We've got a lot of talent on this team. There's no doubt in my mind we can make the playoffs. Why wouldn't we?"

He's right. Why wouldn't they?

There has to be good reason as to why Przybilla, a highly sought-after free agent this past Summer, didn't sign with San Antonio or Detroit (amongst others). He could have been combining with Tim Duncan or Rasheed Wallace and looking at instant title contention. Obviously he saw something more in Portland -- the chance to build something great with a team from the bottom up.

The building blocks are in place. The Blazers have the perfect coach to suit a young team looking for structure in Nate McMillan. His defense-first, strict approach will ensure that the wayward young minds of the future cornerstones of this team's success are put in the right places.

A young low-post scoring presence in Zach Randolph. Randolph has once again worked incredibly hard over the off-season in losing weight and honing his body into the 20-10 player he should be on a nightly basis. He has shown over the pre-season that he is ready to roll. Take all of the media hype surrounding late night sexcapades and police pulling his car over with a grain of salt. Media hype is often just that -- hype. The boy may have made some questionable decisions off the court, but he certainly has been working hard on it.

A potential superstar and rookie of the year in Brandon Roy. Roy's style perfectly complements the inside skills of Z-Bo with a pentrating, creative guard who is just as comfortable manning the point as scoring at the two spot. It's too early to expect too much from the rookie, but early indications have a lot of people excited in Portland. Numbers like 15-4-4 this season are far from outrageous estimates.

A solid stable of big men with differing skills to ensure that Portland will never be wildly outmatched down-low, no matter who comes to town. Przybilla provides a legitimate center who can block shots, rebound and knows his limitations. And as his off-season signing shows, he has commitment to the Trail Blazer cause and wants to make this team win. Jamaal Magloire's acquisition in the off-season from Milwaukee means a big body can be brought in off the bench with a scoring touch and an ability to rebound with the best big men. Magloire has proven that as a starter he is a double-double waiting to happen. He will get plenty of opportunity to prove himself in Portland. Raef LaFrentz's acquisition from Boston gives a different look again, as he can hit the outside shot. This gives either Magloire or Randolph to work in the low block, spreading the floor on offense.

LaMarcus Aldridge is the almost forgotten factor this off-season. The #2 overall pick in the NBA Draft, at 6'11" provides an exciting future for Portland. His shoulder injury and subsquent surgery is a setback to his start, but given the depth the Blazers have up front, this season is likely to be a learning process more than anything for him regardless. Most lottery picks are thrown in at the deep end with outrageous expectations, but Aldridge's tutelage will be more of a battle for minutes. His time to play will come in the near future and he will have had the right amount of 'on-the-job' training to be ready for it.

Martell Webster and Jarrett Jack are perhaps the two biggest unknown quantities on this team. Both will be given significant minutes -- likely as starters -- in which to shine. Jack's ability to handle the point will often determine how the Blazers fare from night to night. So far he looks like he will be solid. Just what this team needs. Webster's outside shooting brings a balance to the squad's inside power and similarly, his form will have a big effect on the Blazers' fortunes.

Darius Miles is another of the media's poster-boys for all that is wrong with the Blazers. He comes into the season injured, meaning that Webster and Travis Outlaw will take most of the minutes at small forward. When his head is in the game, Miles is a spectacular scorer. There is still every chance that the Blazers will look to trade him where possible.

Two young backup point guards in Sergio Rodriguez and Dan Dickau, give the team some other options should Jack be unsteady. Meanwhile, the feel-good story of the off-season, Ime Udoka has made the roster for opening night. On the form he has shown in the pre-season, he may well be given minutes at the three. Canny scorer Juan Dixon provides another threat off the bench at shooting guard -- a luxury the Blazers may not need to employ too often if the youngsters are doing their thing.

All of this makes for a very well-rounded team. Are the playoffs out of the question this season? Not at all.

The Blazers may possibly manufacture one of the best re-ascensions to prominence in recent NBA history with a move from last place to a playoff berth in 2006-07. The way I see it, there is really one spot in the Western Conference eight that is up for grabs and Portland may just have their eyes set on it.

Orlando fan heckles Mutombo : receives death threats

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An Orlando Magic fan, Hooman Hamzehloui, heckled Dikembe Mutombo during a recent pre-season game between the Magic and Rockets calling him a "monkey." The fan, who accompanied the chants with corresponding physical gestures, was rushed by Mutombo, who viewed the heckling as a racial slur.
The fan claims that his heckling was not racially motivated, but rather an ignorant attempt to get up the Zaire native's nose. Well, it certainly worked. He got up the NBA's nose as well. After being ejected from the game, he has been banned from attending NBA games and his season ticket has been rescinded by the Magic.
Hamzehloui has since received death threats. The businessman, of Persian background, tried to make amends with an apologetic letter to Mutombo (which not so surpisingly got into the public domain), offering a $5,000 donation to any charity as well as not to turn up to any NBA game until Mutombo (or the Magic) say that he may. Well that choice has been taken away from him after the NBA's ban.
Magic fan reactions on their Forum are mixed. Many believe it was just an ignorant mistake. Others believe he should have known better and that it was clearly a racist attack, equated to the "monkey" chants which often haunt European soccer players of African origin. This take, from an Orlando Sentinel writer, claims that his attack is "indefensible." Either way, the NBA isn't accepting anything remotely racist in this era of "cleansing" of the NBA image.

Milwaukee : Bogut will suit up in season opener

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Andrew Bogut, originally suspected to be out for the season opener (Nov 1), has been cleared for action against Detroit on Wednesday.
The Australian Boomers Centre, sprained his lower leg after colliding with Steve Blake's knee during practice on October 7. Bogut said, "I did a full session Saturday and a full session today, and I'm feeling fine."
Given that the Bucks have Brian Skinner and Dan Gadzuric backing him up, the Bucks would be foolish to push him with too many minutes in the opener. Charlie Villanueva, acquired from Toronto for TJ Ford in the off-season, will be the starter at power forward and should provide solid minutes.
The other existing injury concern for the Bucks is small forward Bobby Simmons, who will likely be covered for at the three by former Blazer Ruben "the nanny-stopper" Patterson.

// NBA moves : Jalen cut // Warwick + West extended //

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// Jalen Rose out of NYC //
In a last second move before the regular season start, the New York Knicks have cut a large chunk of their league-leading payroll, with news that they have bought out Jalen Rose's contract. There had been cries from Knick fans of further management futility during the off-season when Isiah and co drafted Renaldo Balkman, in addition to signing Jared Jeffries from the Wizards. Many saw these moves, when combined with the existance of Quentin Richardson and Jalen Rose at small forward, as incompetence of the usual Knickerbocker variety.
There's nothing up at the moment, but I will be interested to see what Mutoni's take on the Rose move is, over at Bench Renaldo.
I definitely think it's a strong move for the Knicks -- perhaps one that should have happened sooner (read: last season a trade would have been a good idea). The Knicks have to realise that they are not going to win anything this year -- or the next -- and re-building with young players is the key.
//Grizz extend Hakim Warwick //
The Memphis Grizzlies have taken up the fourth year extension option on F/C Hakim Warrick.
As a rookie Warrick didn't live up to the glory that his College career suggested. In 68 games, Warrick averaged 4.1 ppg and 2.1 rpg. During pre-season play this year, after being afforded 29.4 mpg, he has upped his numbers to 12.4 ppg and 5.9 rpg. The Grizz will be looking for a continuation of that play, in addition to a display of his shot-blocking abilities -- otherwise Christian Laettner may have to go through with his threat of coming out of retirement...
// David West continues the good work in New Orleans //
The New Orleans Hornets have re-signed PF David West to a multi-year contract extension. As usual, terms were not disclosed. If not for the deal, West would have become a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
West led the Hornets in scoring and rebounding last season (17.1 - 7.4) and combined with Chris Paul to make for an exciting combination in New Orleans / Oklahoma City. His re-signing is a very smart move by the Hornets as a cornerstone of the franchise, particularly since his stock may rise even more in 2006-07.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Raef LaFrentz in a Blazers Uniform

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Copyright 2006 NBAE (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)
Raef LaFrentz's line vs Utah (Oct 23) : 7 pts / 4 reb / 1 blk / 16min
Blazers 114 - Jazz 110

SLAM Covers : Big Ben & Amare

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Two great covers have been released by SLAM for the coming Issue 103, featuring Big Ben Wallace and the returning Amare Stoudemire. You can check it out here. I have to say that I think both look great.

Seeing Big Ben on the cover got me wondering: what expectations have Bulls fans set on him? Chicago has a recent history of being used to winning and the city is really looking for a return to that. That massive contract Wallace got comes at a price -- wins. So I thought I would ask the fans at Blog-a-Bull what their thoughts are. We'll see what answers come from it.

NBA : News & Notes

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Raef LaFrentz debut
Tonight against Utah will finally see the debut of LaFrentz in Blazers colours as he slowly returns from a torn calf muscle. According to the Oregonian, he is not at full strength and will no doubt take things slowly. However his return comes at an opportune time given the injuries to Darius Miles and LaMarcus Aldridge (both still yet to play in preseason action) and Martell Webster's recent soreness.
LaFrentz gives the Blazers a different look off the bench at the four and five spot, given his ability to knock down the three. He will compliment well the inside banging of either Zach Randolph or Jamaal Magloire when on court.
Jay Williams fairytale cut short
Sadly former Duke star Jay Williams' attempted comeback to the NBA with the New Jersey Nets has been cut short, as the Nets cut him from their roster. Williams had been looking for a role as backup point guard after sustaining major injuries in a 2003 motorcycle accident.
Eric Musselman DUI saga
Over the weekend, Sacto Kings coach Musselman was caught driving under the influence. A "teary-eyed" Musselman has apolgized over the incident.
Broadcast changes
There will be plenty of changes to ESPN/ABC broadcasts of NBA games this season.
Chris Andersen
The Birdman flies at SLAM Online! My favourite quote in the article from the Birdman regarding drinking alcohol, "I can put it down."
Celtics News
Sebastian Telfair had his $50k necklace stolen outside of a nightclub and Fabolous, who was shot on the night, is hiring a private investigator to find out the true story of the night.
Meanwhile our good friends at Loy's Place are trying to keep up with all of the Celtics roster positional changes -- very similar to the battles in Portland for playing time.

The Price is Wrong : Mark Price & Todd Fuller out

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Former Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star Mark Price has resigned from his duties as head coach of new Australian National Basketball League franchise, the South Dragons. After a lacklustre start to the 2006-07 NBL season, where the Dragons are yet to win a game, the pressure on Price in Melbourne appeared to be too much and he has decided to move his family back to the States. A move which the club appears to agree with wholeheartedly -- in other words, he was more pushed than anything.
Team Captain Shane Heal, a former San Antonio Spur and Minnesota Timberwolf, will become Head Coach/Captain for the remainder of the season. There is speculation that Heal had become tired with Price's coaching style early on in the partnership and potentially that disapproval of one of Australia's most successful ever players helped push Price on his way.
Former NBA journeyman Todd Fuller, who started the season as one of the team's two imports, was also released on the same day. Fuller had been solid, yet unspectacular. His production was likely slightly below what had been expected of him, yet the main reason for his departure was more likely his ties to Price -- after being recruited downunder by the former Cav. Fuller averaged 16.8 ppg and 8.2 rpg in the 5 Dragons losses to date.
It will be interesting to see if Price can revive his coaching career elsewhere. To date he is yet to prove himself with any meaningful coaching experience and this was one of the key questions asked about him when he was signed as the innaugural coach of the South Dragons.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

NBA Throwback : Buck Williams

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He was the guy that did the dirty work on the Portland Trail Blazer glory teams of the early '90s. Charles Linwood "Buck" Williams did not get the same recognition as Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter or even Jerome Kersey -- but he certainly was a key to the success those NBA Finals Portland teams.
The current prototype NBA power forward is long, agile and multi-talented. He's as comfortable bringing the ball up as making moves in the low post. He's probably also closer to 6'11" than the 6'8" that Buck stood. Williams was the prototype back in the day. He would rebound like a demon, get you enough points on second-chance baskets and would make sure he did it at a very high clip.
Williams started his career as a New Jersey Net after three years at Maryland. The 3rd overall pick in the 1981 NBA Draft, Williams went on to win Rookie of the Year after averaging a phenom-like 15.5 ppg and 12.3 rpg. From there, Buck toiled for the Nets and made the power forward position in New Jersey his own as he continued to average 11.9 rpg or more every season he was in Jersey. He made three all-star appearances as a Net: 1982, 1983 and 1986 -- a fact much forgotten by many fans who went on to see him as a complementary player in later years.

On June 24, 1989 the Blazers decided it was time to bring that interior toughness to Portland. The infamous Sam Bowie (yes, he could have been Michael Jordan) and a draft pick which ended up being Mookie Blaylock (whom NJ traded a year later to Atlanta for Rumeal Robinson) were sent to Jersey to gain Williams' services. I would argue that without that trade, you don't see Portland in the Finals in 1990 and 1992.
Prior to Buck's arrival, Portland had dipped out in the first round of the playoffs in four consecutive seasons. The results were immediate: three straight Western Conference Finals and the only thing between Portland and a title being the Detroit Bad Boys (1990) and a man named His Airness (1992).
Buck was famous for his trademark goggles -- and his regular double-doubles and solid field goal percentage. Battling down low for the Blazers in an era which pinned him against the likes of Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Charles Oakley, Dennis Rodman, Larry Johnson, Kevin Willis, Larry Nance, Horace Grant, Shawn Kemp, Otis Thorpe, Derrick Coleman and Wayman Tisdale, there was cetainly a challenge every night for Williams and without his presence the Blazers would have struggled on the boards.
Williams had a reputation as a tough but fair competitor, a clean reputation which earned him the position as President of the NBA Players Association for a period.
Primarily a starter for the Blazers, alongside Jerome Kersey and backed up by Cliff Robinson in the glory years, Buck left the Blazers as their all-time leader in FG% at .550.
In 1996 Williams moved to New York to play one and a half injury-interupted seasons with the Knicks which put to a rest an honourable career which saw him tally more than 16,000 points and 13,000 rebounds -- only 7 players have achieved that double.
Other honours: two time All-Defensive 1st Team, two time All-Defensive 2nd Team, one time All-NBA 2nd Team, NBA FG% leader (1991, 1992) and NBA Minutes leader (1985).
In recent times, Williams has spent three seasons as an Under 16s AAU Maryland Madness coach (coaching to a top 5 national finish in 2005) and has recently been announced as a 2006 inductee to the Rocky Mount Twin County Hall of Fame.
"It's not who jumps the highest -- it's who wants it the most." -- Buck Williams

Ime Udoka : Making the Most of Opportunities

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For the casual NBA observer, the name Ime Udoka raises not much more than eyebrows.
For Portland Trail Blazers fans, Ime Udoka represents a local hero looking to capitalize on a very tough situation.
Udoka received an invitation to training camp with the Trail Blazers in early October and the former Portland State swingman and Portland native has finally seen his opportunity to impress with the Blazers. But it sure came at a hard time for the 29 year-old.
Just before Udoka's first appearance with the team was due, against Golden State, his father passed away. Fighting through the pain of his loss, Udoka managed to play the following game, against the Jazz. Opportunity had knocked with a sore back ruling Martell Webster out of the game and Udoka put up 16 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in 31 minutes off the bench.
Saturday against Seattle, Udoka started and played 35 minutes, again producing 16 points along with 5 assists and 4 steals in the Blazers' first pre-season victory. When asked if the promise the local has shown will lead to a permanent roster position, Nate McMillan said, "he did a nice job... we can't say right now if he'll make the team."
Udoka's path home to Portland has not been a smooth one. After not being drafted, he played 4 games for the Lakers in 2oo3-04 and 8 games last season for the Knicks, giving him career averages of 2.5 ppg and 1.8 rpg. The return home would be a fairytale for the Jefferson High School alum. However a roster spot will be hard to come by.
At 6-6 and 215, Udoka has good size to play shooting guard however the Blazers already have Brandon Roy, Webster and Juan Dixon who all play the two. Add into the mix Travis Outlaw and the eventual return of the mercurial Darius Miles at small forward and it's a tightly contested area of the roster -- as it seems every position is for the Blazers this season.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Preview : Portland v Utah (Oct 19)

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After two strong pre-season tests, against Seattle and Golden State, next up is the Utah Jazz. If the Jazz's match-up with Detroit is anything to go by, this match may not be as useful a preparation as the previous two, with Utah coming in slightly undermanned. Both Andrei Kirilenko and Derek Fisher sat out the Detroit game with minor injuries.
PG: Deron Williams v Jarrett Jack
A quality match-up for Jack. Williams was highly impressive at times last season for Utah and much like Jack, is this season expected to break out and take over the point position as his own. Williams distributes the ball well, whilst Jack has proven a tendency for efficient scoring so far this pre-season. This should be fairly even.
SG: Gordon Giricek v Brandon Roy
Fans will be looking for the continued exciting play of Roy that we have seen to date. Giricek can realistically be described as one of the weakest starting SG's in the league, so this is hardly the match-up of a Ray Allen. Look for Roy to standout here -- particularly with his allround game, including ball distribution.
SF: Matt Harpring v Travis Outlaw
Harpring is a solid veteran who knows how to put some points on the board and could prove a handfull for Outlaw. The only real advantage that Outlaw holds is a large edge in athleticism, but the scoring of Harpring sees this as an area of strength for the Jazz.
PF: Carlos Boozer v Zach Randolph
Z-Bo has a chance to continue his impressive play against the hard-nosed Boozer. Based on the hard work Randolph has put in during the off-season, he should dominate against the Jazz with anything they can throw at him.
C: Mehmet Okur v Joel Przybilla
Memo's ability to knock down the outside shot makes him a threat which may draw Przybilla out from where he feels most comfortable and is most useful -- the key. Okur shocked many in 2005/06 with his strong season, where he translated a complimentary role with the Pistons into being more of a focal point with the Jazz. Similarly, Przybilla was impressive for the Blazers, particularly on defense, despite injuries limiting his season. The ongoing challenge with Jamaal Magloire for starters minutes will be interesting to watch here.
Key Bench Players
Utah: Randy Brewer, CJ Miles, Jarron Collins
Portland: Jamaal Magloire, Martell Webster, Dan Dickau
Brewer scored 15 points in a scrappy game against Detroit, whilst CJ Miles has shown promise at the 2/3 positions. The Blazer bench is clearly stronger however, with former All-Star Magloire pressing for more minutes and Webster's pure shooting looking more confident than ever.
The Blazers will be disappointed if this game ends in a loss, despite it being a pre-season match. This should be an opportunity to solidify some teamwork amongst the many new teammates in Portland.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Portland 120 : Golden State 124 (OT)

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The second pre-season game for the Portland Trail Blazers was a pleasing one, despite losing by 4 in OT to the Warriors. The Trail Blazers did not lead at any point during the game, but some inspired play from Zach Randolph and Martell Webster pulled the Blazers back to tie it up at 114. The Blazers had a chance to win it in regulation but a shot with 10 seconds to go missed. The Warriors went on to win in OT, after Webster, Brandon Roy and Jarrett Jack had fouled out.

A loss is by no means normally a positive for the team, but the way in which the Blazers finished OT, after being down by 11 with 6 minutes to go certainly bodes well for the character of the team. Key notes from the game:

- In contrast to the first pre-season game, Jamaal Magloire started at C (with Joel Przybilla on the bench). This was likely due to the smaller lineup the warriors had, running Troy Murphy at C and Mike Dunleavy at PF. It would still appear that McMillan's preferred rotation would involve starting Randolph and Przybilla at the power positions, with Magloire getting about 20 minutes off the bench backing up both and Zendon Hamilton getting the remaining scrap minutes (LaMarcus Aldridge to replace him when healthy).

- Magloire was largely uninspiring with zero FG attempts, 6 turnovers, 5 fouls and 3 blocks in 17 minutes.

- Despite fouling out -- and picking up a tech foul -- Jarrett Jack replicated his productive performance of the Seattle game with 16 points (5/7 FG, 6/6 FT) and 4 rebounds in 20 minutes.

- Webster came off the bench to play the majority of the minutes at SF (33 min) and did not disappoint. 25 points (6/11 FG, 3/6 3PT, 10/12 FT), 3 rebounds and 2 steals including a very strong close to the match before fouling out, inspired the Blazers and no doubt will do no harm to his playing time heading into the regular season.

- Roy seemed to play exclusively at SG during the game, despite bringing the ball up on occasion. With Jack, Sergio Rodriguez and Dan Dickau totalling about 72 minutes on court, there was no great need for the star rookie to switch to the point. Offensively Roy showed a strong all-round game once again, with 19 points and 9 rebounds, displaying leadership and ability to get to the rack along the way.

- Randolph was impressive. 27 points on 10/17 FG and 7/8 FT, to go with 12 rebounds and 3 assists showed that his off-season conditioning work has paid off. He certainly looks like he has slimmed down and toned up, regardless of any off-court distractions reported in the media.

- Travis Outlaw played a solid yet unspectacular complimentary role, starting and playing 36 minutes. His 12 points and 6 rebounds is likely what the team needs, but I'd like to see more on the defensive end from him, as I'm sure McMillan does.

- Juan Dixon appears to be well and truly on the outer. He only entered the game in OT after Jack, Webster and Roy had fouled out and a shooting guard was needed. McMillan definitely wants to promote the future of the team and sadly for Dixon, who was a good scoring option for the Blazers last season, he doesn't fit the mould. Whether he stays around past the all-star break will be interesting.

Boxscore here.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Stephen Jackson : Paternal Instinct

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Stephen Jackson has explained the events of October 6, which saw him fire a pistol into the air a number of times outside of a strip club. Jackson claims that he was protecting his teammates when the incident happened, after a brawl had broken out in front of Club Rio. Jackson certainly seems to have an instinct for protecting his teammates. He was the first one into the crowd to protect Ron Artest in the Detroit 'massacre' for which he is still on probation.
I witnessed another such incident when Jackson played with the Sydney Kings in Australia's National Basketball League. In a pre-season game at Sutherland Stadium, Kings teammate Ben Melmeth was hit with a hard foul. Jackson was the first player to join the fight in 'protecting' his teammate from the unnecessary roughness of the play -- a teammate he had only known a short time. Jackson was injured not long later and did not manage to contribute much to the Kings before joining the Spurs in the NBA.
Worringly for Jackson and the Pacers, prosecutors in Detroit have now said that they will pursue jail time for the shooting guard, should he be found guilty of violating his probation. I wonder if they wish they'd held on to Fred Jones now, who incidentally is looking quite promising in pre-season form for the Raptors.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Deng for Maggette trade unlikely / Pacers resemble Blazers of old

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Sam Smith today floated the idea of a Luol Deng for Corey Maggette trade in order to improve the Bulls. The main thrust of Smith's idea is sound: the Bulls have a solid defensive core in place with Big Ben and PJ Brown on the roster, as well as numerous other nice pieces in Kirk Hinrich, Chris Duhon, Ben Gordon and Andres Nocioni, but need more of a scoring punch to take them over that hump.
The problem with the idea if I was the Bulls' GM: those knees of Maggette. The last thing you want is to pick up a guy who has had constant injury problems hampering his promising career. Maggette relies on his athleticism to get to the hoop and pick up the trips to the three throw line which score him a large number of his points. Deng is a solid forward who will never be a superstar but had a strong body and will be a constant contributer for years to come -- ala Xavier McDaniel. Thus a trade I wouldn't make if I were the Bulls who seem to be onto a good thing at the moment.
Smith also went on to mention the newest saga with the Indiana Pacers. If you didn't catch it, Stephen Jackson fired a gun in the air in public after he was hit by a car -- apparently in self-defense. The rest of the Pacers have rallied around Jackson in support. Reggie Miller does not agree with this approach. As Reggie said, "You shouldn't stand behind a player that is someone slapping you guys in the face during the middle of training camp being out at a strip club at 3 o'clock in the morning shooting it up like it's the Wild Wild West." I have to say I agree.
Smith compared the Pacers' current situation to the 'Jail Blazers' of old. The similarities are strikingly similar. A team full of talented players with questionable personalities that management is trying to turn a blind eye to in -- the ostrich's head in the sand approach -- which is destined for a disappointing conclusion. You would think that a guy like Jermaine O'Neal, having witnessed the Blazers' problems from the bottom up, would have some solid advice for his teammates to put an end to this sort of behaviour. Well, any sensible person would have thought that the problems had stopped after the biggest brawl in professional sports. But of course that is the opinion of someone living in the real world -- not in the world of seemingly unlimited money and glittering fame which goes to one's head.

Steve Patterson : Finally the Blazers' GM

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The Portland Trail Blazers have finally removed the "interim" tag from Steve Patterson's General Manager role with the team. After orchestrating roster-shaking moves in the off-season the move seemed to be the most logical for the Blazers.
Kevin Pritchard was elevated to Assistant General Manager on the same day.
The stability brought about by confirming these front office moves can be nothing but good for the team.

Luke Walton smokes too much

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In the past week we've heard LeBron James come out and say that the Cavs can win the championship this year. Seems a stretch, but vaguely possible -- this is LeBron after all. We also heard Dwight Howard say the same thing. Well, the Magic do have a pretty decent squad.

Now Luke Walton has come out and said the the Lakers will be in the finals this season. "I expect to be in the Finals this year. We could've done it last year," said Walton. Comments like that make you wonder how much weed Bill Walton smoked when he conceived young Luke. Maybe call it the misguided confidence of youth. Need I remind Luke that the LakeShow is still going into this season with Kwame Brown as its starting power forward and with Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom as its only viable scoring options. Surely he hasn't fallen for the Andrew Bynum hype too? When his dad is commentating on the games and screaming "Get the ball to the big guy!" who will they be throwing it to? Certainly not Brian Cook or Chris Mihm I hope.
Looking at the team that stumbled through last season, living and dying by the sword known as the hand of Kobe, the only additions are Vladimir Radmanovic (a nice outside shooter, but not a game changer) and rookie Jordan Farmar ( a guy with potential but at this stage likely to be similar in game to Reggie Jordan rather than Michael). So Luke's comments may be a little too soon. Another year and a quality big man and then the Lakers can start talking Finals.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

NBA News : Around the traps

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The New York Knicks have once again maintained that they are not making any moves prior to the season starting to re-jig their roster and thin out the backcourt logjam. Mention is made of the non-completed rumoured Darius Miles trade with Portland.

Alonzo Mourning is ready to go for the coming season continuing to fulfill his fate, destined as he has been since he was drafted second in 1992, backing up Shaquille O'Neal. There was speculation that Zo would retire at the end of last season with the Heat's Championship success, however that Zo competitive spirit does not allow him to quit. Mourning is definitely a key to the Heat's title defense as he provides a solid backup when Shaquille increasingly plays less minutes with age, in addition to his value as a replacement starting centre when the inevitable injured pinkie toes come along for the Diesel.

Over at ClipsNation, they've analysed the ill-fated moves of Clippers draft picks in past seasons.

I thought it was worth a look at the history of the McDonald's Open (otherwise known as the World Club Championship) which pits top club teams -- including NBA and Europe -- against each other to determine the top club team in the world. To date, the NBA squads have been perennial winners. However given the tidal shift in world basketball, I would venture to say that it is only a matter of time before a non-NBA team goes on to win the Open.

NBA Europe Live : Barcelona defeats 76ers

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Barcelona Winterthur became just the second European team to defeat an NBA squad, as they beat the Philadelphia 76ers 104-99 in Barcelona on Thursday.

There is a highly detailed report of the match here:

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Vin Baker a T-Wolf

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Continuing the old-school feel of late, Vin Baker has been signed by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Recent news has seen Shawn Kemp (almost) try out with the Chicago Bulls, Christian Laettner talk about a comeback with his new investment -- the Grizzlies -- and Kenny Anderson attempt to get a look-in with the Blazers. Now Baker has signed a deal in Minneapolis, backing up Kevin Garnett. It will be interesting to see how he performs, though I'm sure the T-Wolves are not expecting too much from the 8th pick in the 1993 Draft, who did not see much burn last season with the Clippers.

Grizzlies sale : Laettner weighs in

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We noted here a couple of days ago that a 70% controlling stake in the Memphis Grizzlies was to be bought out by former Blue Devil, Brian Davis. As it turns out, his College teammate Christian Laettner will be partnering Davis in the purchase. The former Dream Teamer may look to insert himself in the lineup as part of the purchase, according to Davis. Laettner retired at the end of the 2004-05 season with Miami, but the power forward may look to join the Grizz for the up-coming season.

Eva Longoria is single

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I was just reading over at this German blog, HoopNation that Eva Longoria and Tony Parker are no longer... as Tobias, the author said, he has always wondered why someone as ugly as TP had a woman like Eva. Well, wonder no more. This of course is an opportunity for some gratuitous Eva Longoria photos, so here goes.

NBA Europe

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In case you hadn't noticed, the NBA has hit Europe this month. As part of their NBA Europe Live Tour, the Spurs, Clippers, 76ers and Suns will play against European club sides in Barcelona, Lyon, Moscow and Cologne.
To coincide with the games, the NBA has announced a range of products being released in Europe, including special edition NBA jerseys of the teams, NBA Live '07 with covers featuring European NBA stars and the sale of the new NBA ball.
Speaking of the new ball, Shaquille O'Neal has been the latest player to voice his disdain with the new leather that will be used in the NBA this season. Shaq maintains that the ball becomes slippery when wet and "feels like one of those cheap balls that you buy at the toy store, indoor-outdoor balls." I have to say, that was my first impression on seeing images of the new ball too, it does look like a composite leather ball rather than the real deal and just doesn't have the 'genuine' look of the leather balls that have always been used. Shaq thinks that shooting percentages will go down and turnovers will increase -- and I think that the ball will revert back to the old leather style in 2007-08.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Aaron Miles fails physical

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The search for a third/fourth-string Blazer point guard continues, with Aaron Miles having failed his physical due to a sprained ankle, as reported by this Blazer press release:
The Portland Trail Blazers announced today that due to a mid-ankle sprain, Aaron
Miles did not pass his team physical today and therefore the club is unable to
tender him a contract at this time. Miles is expected to make a full recovery
within two weeks.

The most sensible option at this point would be to try and snare an experienced backup like Anthony Carter. Stay tuned for what happens next.

The Logo may be out of a job

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NBA great, Jerry West may be pushed out of his position as Team President with the Memphis Grizzlies after it was announced that former Duke Blue Devil, Brian Davis is to buy out a controlling 70% of the team. West's position would be eliminated as a cost-cutting measure, reports ESPN.
Upon purchasing a team, I can't understand why you would want to remove an icon of the league and an element of respectability such as the Logo. West has made some solid moves for this team and transformed them from an expansion team into a squad which has caused some headaches for other teams in the west.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Bonzi Wells : Patience doesn't always pay

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Former Trail Blazer and renowned bonehead, Bonzi Wells has finally gotten himself a contract. The Houston Rockets lucked out in the Bonzi sweepstakes as they ensnared the solid rebounding and scoring two-guard with a 2-year $5m contract. Many teams have sought the signature of Wells since he rejected a $37m, 5-year offer from Sacramento (with whom he played last season).
Wells is a solid addition for Houston, who are constantly seeking ways to support superstars Tracy McGrady (who has been "pushing hard" to get Bonzi to come to Houston) and Yao Ming. He provides an additional scoring option on the perimeter and can even move down into the low block to back down smaller guards, using his superior strength. He will certainly challenge new Rocket Shane Battier for minutes and a spot in the starting five if he keeps his head in the game. It appears certain that Bonzi will then try his chances again next Summer, in the hope of getting a bigger deal.

Aaron Miles invited to camp for Blazers

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The Blazers have announced on their site that Portland native Aaron Miles has been invited to join the team at camp, bringing the number of players on the roster at camp to 14. Miles, who played sparingly with Golden State last season is a fantastic passer and will be looking to get minutes at backup point guard. Given the injury-cloud surrounding Dan Dickau and the inexperience of Sergio Rodriguez, he may be given an opportunity to hit the court in some stints.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Dwight Howard guarantees Magic championship

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Well, Portland may as well give up any hope this season of a title. Dwight Howard has gone ahead and guaranteed that the Orlando Magic will win the championship THIS season. Perhaps Dwight has been watching some old tape of Grant Hill back in the day or heard his recent comments about coming back with a vengence. Then again, I'm not going to argue with that big boy -- at 270 pounds he's a formidable presence that is only going to get scarier in years to come (see Malone, Karl).
In light of this, it's lucky for the Dallas Mavericks that they have secured the services of Dirk 'Diggler' Nowitzki for another three seasons, so that they have a shot at a title in years to come (after the Magic win this one). The Mavs have not disclosed the amount of the deal, but it rumours are that they have laid $60m on him over the period of the contract.
Speaking of the Mailman, he has been cleared of any wrong-doing by a judge, after his business partner alledged a bribe offered by Malone to take the blame for an illegal elk hunting trip. I just love the mental-image of big Karl dressed up in his hunting costume. Even moreso, it leads my mind back to that incident where Karl Malone told Vanessa Bryant that he was hunting "little Mexican girls." Quality comedy, the whole scenario -- there's a good re-counting of it here.
The guys at Celtics Green asked me to write an article on Sebastian Telfair, for the benefit of Boston readers who are pumped for his input at the Celtics this season -- you can see it here. I hope for Bassy's sake that he can have that breakout season -- just not in the games against the Blazers...
Meanwhile, Pat Riley has confirmed that he's ready for another crack at the title. Will Miami do it? I don't know. Those big Diesel legs are another year older. Alonzo Mourning will similarly play even more of a backseat role. The Glove has some holes in it. On the other hand, D. Wade will be even better as he showed over the Summer at the World Championships and they still have a stacked roster of talent. Detroit has lost Big Ben and a lot of other teams have gotten a lot better -- leaving the East wide open this season.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

New balls please : the NBA updates its software

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The NBA announced recently that a new type of ball will be used this coming season. All of the players in the league have been given a ball to try out and get used to before the season starts. Apparently this new rock will give added grip. I have to admit I don't really like the look of it, but hey, the NBA didn't ask me.

I was reading over at True Hoop that Kwame Brown "hates" the new ball and basically thinks his overall performance will decrease with it. Look out Laker fans! If Kwame is going to become more unco-ordinated with this new ball, that's a scary sign.

Australia wins Womens World Championship

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A little delayed in the recognition, but I thought it was important to give a round of applause to the Australian Opals for winning the FIBA Womens World Championship of Basketball in Brazil this week. The Aussie girls, starring Lauren Jackson (top scorer in the tournament and second top rebounder) and Penny Taylor (third top scorer), defeated Russia in the Grand Final, 91-74.
Team USA defeated the home team, Brazil to take the Bronze medal in a walkover, emulating the medal achieved by their male counterparts.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Veteran backup point guard

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Nate McMillan is looking for a veteran point guard to back up and mentor Jarrett Jack as he is pushed in at the deep end this season. Word from the Oregonian is that Kenny Anderson has offered his services to return to the team -- he has been politely declined. Perhaps Kenny A is too much of a bad reminder of the bad times of the past. Or perhaps staff have been more enamoured with a younger candidate, such as Anthony Carter, who has been also rumoured to have been working out with the Blazers.
Carter would be a solid option. A career backup who has started when needed, he has played with Miami, San Antonio and Minnesota over seven part-seasons.

Shifting Randolph and Miles

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Jake Appleman at SLAM Online has come up with a trade idea. Zach Randolph and Darius Miles to Philly for Chris Webber. I have to say I don't like it.

Webber was a solid talent in this league. He still may have some talent in him. However, he doesn't have much.
The Blazers are a young team that are looking to build for the future. A player like Webber is someone you pick up if you are looking to add that last piece to the puzzle to win a championship now or very soon. In other words, he doesn't fit the Blazers.
Secondly, I think we can get more for Randolph and Miles. Sure, maybe they are in severe need of a good PR agent at the moment to improve their collective image, but these are talented players. Miles is yet to show the extent of his talent -- a ceiling which is sky-high. Unfortunately his IQ can not be similarly described. Z-Bo also has room to improve. He should be a solid 20-10 guy and potential all-star for the remainder of his career.
Buy high and sell low. Now is not the time to move these players -- you simply are not going to get even close to 100 cents in the dollar -- not with all of the negative publicity surrounding them. It's like calling collectors to a garage sale. They're looking to rip off little Tommy on the price of his G.I. Joe collection because they know his mother is forcing him to sell them.
Miles and Randolph need to play out this season and be given a chance to prove that all of the negativity this off-season was ill-founded. There is every chance that with all of the hard work Z-Bo has put in prior to and during training camp that he will have his best season yet. Miles may have his mid-season brain explosions again -- but that is the time that we will trade him (and him only). His value is not going to decrease any more than what it has.
I just hope I am not going to have to eat my words on that last sentence.

Friday, September 22, 2006

NBA Fantasy Basketball : Hints + Tips

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Fantasy basketball -- every armchair enthusiast's chance to be GM. But it's more than just being Elgin Baylor, it's personal. It's about beating your buddies. Rivalries that go on season after season.
The Basics
If you haven't gotten into Fantasy NBA already, now is the time to do it. Get a group of like-minded budding basketball experts together and start those battles which are going to bring that added level of interest to the NBA season.
The popular choice for most Fantasy Basketball veterans is Yahoo! Fantasy NBA. The guys at Yahoo! have been running FNBA for years now and the product is top quality and gets better every season. The actual "prettiness" of the interface has been a little lacking at times, but they have certainly upped that this season with the advent of the NBA's own entry into the Fantasy market. has noted the popularity of FNBA and how it attracts a new level of fandom to the sport, so have decided to bring this aspect of the game in-house. NFL and other sports run top-notch fantasy games from their own sites and now NBA is offering Ultimate Fantasy Commissioner. At this stage it's hard to say which one is going to be better, so if you're like me, you'll enter a team in both versions this season. If you just want to go for one, I would recommend Yahoo! purely based on their track record.
There are also various Fantasy games out there where you have to pay, providing you with extra features and prize money sums. I prefer to stick with the free one myself and make the wagers on the side with friends.
With the NBA season approaching and thus Fantasy drafts approaching, I thought it a good time to start with some tips for putting together a winning strategy for your team. If you want to analyse the full details of the rules, I recommend you go to one of the sites above and read up on their Help sections (which are quire useful). Rules do vary from league to league and can be adjusted by individual commissioners.
What I am going to discuss here are some key tips for getting over the line in your league. These articles will continue in the coming weeks as we wait for the season to start. Today's topic is potentially the most labour-intensive part of preparation: ranking players.
Ranking Players
No matter what type of league you are competing in, the key is that you need to put a spreadsheet together. That is of course assuming that you want to win. If you just want to select players that you like to add some enjoyment to the season, then do it. But believe me, you will soon grow bored of your fantasy team as it languishes at the bottom of the ladder and your co-competitors will not want you to join their league next season.
The difficult truth -- a good player in reality does not equal a top fantasy NBA player.
Most Rotisserie FNBA leagues involve the following categories: FG%, FT%, 3PM, REB, AST, STL, BLK, T/O (less is best) and PTS. The objective is for your fantasy team to rank highest in each of these categories with comparison to your competing FNBA teams.
Your spreadsheet needs to take into account the statistics from 2005/06 for every player. You then need to rank each of these players with respect to the average for the league in each category. For example, if Tim Duncan averages 20.0ppg for the season and the average ppg across the league is 11.0ppg, then Duncan is 9.0ppg above average. This increases his fantasy value. However Duncan also shoots significantly below average from the free throw line. This decreases his fantasy value.
The reality of this means that a player such as Duncan may kill your fantasy team in one category, despite the fact that he is highly useful in many others (blocks, rebounds etc). A player such as Shaquille O'Neal is a FNBA rookie mistake from this perspective -- he will absolutely demolish your chances of winning the FT% category. If you have him on your squad, you might as well give up on that category and get every other poor FT shooter in the league and concentrate on their other categories.
The techniques of ranking using a spreadsheet can get a bit daunting if you are not too keen on mathematics or use of Excel, but try to follow this analysis. In order to rank your players, you need to do the following:
1. Copy the 2005/06 NBA statistics for every player in the league in the categories listed above.
2. Make adjustments to the statistics to reflect what you predict the players to output during the 2006/07 season.
3. Insert rookies to the list and make conservative estimates of their statistics.
4. Work out the average for each category of all players (eg work out the average PPG, the average FG% etc).
5. Calculate the standard deviation for each category. Your spreadsheet software should be capable of doing this for you.
6. Take each player's output in each category, subtract the average for that category. Divide this number by the standard deviation.
7. The resulting number if ABOVE ZERO, is GOOD. If BELOW ZERO, is BAD.
8. Tally all category results as per 7 (remember that turnovers is a negative). This total determines the rank for each player - the higher the better.
That's enough to get you started in your preparation. More hints and tips to come in future posts!