Thursday, April 30, 2009

Two Sides to a Series

Side I: Usually the conclusion of a playoff series for the losing team simply means the start of a temporary break from basketball before the team regroups and prepares for a more successful season the following year. However, for the San Antonio Spurs, their surprising 4-1 series loss to the Dallas Mavericks represents something more; it represents the end of the Spurs as we know them. This lopsided series provided a dose of humility to the once-strong Spurs, and illustrated the fact that the Spurs can no longer coast through the regular season and expect aging veterans to simply take over once the Playoffs start. For the first time since the Spurs drafted Tim Duncan, it is clear that major changes need to be made. The current team simply lacks the (young) age and explosiveness to keep pace in the ever-exciting Western Conference. A complete overhaul is not necessary, as I believe that Timmy still has a few special years left, as do the other two members of the Spurs’ tremendous threesome (Manu and Tony P). However, some mathematic moves (both additions and subtractions) must be made for the team to continue to be a contender.

The stunning series also solidified (if it needed solidification) the importance of Manu Ginobili to the team. His presence was missed to an extreme magnitude, and without him the Spurs lacked the instant offense they have enjoyed in the past. The team knew it would be an uphill battle without him heading into the series, and his absence only worked to illustrate this point. San Antonio’s inability to win a series without Manu places him on the pedestal with the other elite players who are crucial to their team’s success, such as Kobe, LeBron, CP3, etc. Fret not though Spurs fans. With Tony at the helm of a healthy lineup (mainly the improved health of Manu and Timmy), and some additions to improve the athletic ability and explosiveness of the team, the Spurs will yet again be able to strike fear into the hearts of teams, and continue to contend for a title.

Side II: Although the Mavs were able to defeat the once-Western powerhouse Spurs in 5 games, I feel that there is little to celebrate in Big D. No one expected much from the Mavericks heading into the playoffs, and even after an impressive victory of San Antonio, it seems that very few are actually regarding them as a true championship contender. And with good reason. The Mavericks were simply too late to come up with a successful playoff series victory. Where was such a performance all those years they were struggling in the late rounds of the playoffs to take that step from a good team to an elite team? How come they couldn’t manage to close a series in which they led 2-0 against Miami in the Finals a couple years back? And where was this first round fire when they (a then number one seed) was embarrassed and outplayed by the eighth-seeded Warriors? A series victory in any of these situations would have worked wonders for the franchise, but now it seems as though the Mavericks are simply denying the inevitable. The team’s window of opportunity has slowly but surely slid closed. They are in a similar situation as the Phoenix Suns, another team who sat atop the Western Conference standings for a better part of the decade, but were never able to quite get over the hump and win a championship. The only difference at this point seems to be that the Suns have realized their situation, while the Mavs continue to dissuade themselves into thinking that they are true championship contenders.Sure they have enough talent to make the playoffs, but are they really good enough at this point to challenge for a title? In my opinion, no. Jason Kidd and Eric(a) Dampier are a season or two away from enjoying retirement, and I don’t believe that Dirk can carry the team on his back any longer. So my advice to Dallas fans is to enjoy this playoff success while it lasts, because just as they learned in Phoenix, the Sun is quickly setting.

Update: Dwight Howard suspended for Game 6, Courtney Lee out.

Not only did Dwight Howard's elbow cost him an opportunity to play in a pivotal game 6 (, it also cost Orlando another starter: rookie Courtney Lee, who will miss game 6 and likely more games after suffering a broken sinus at the hands (or should I say elbow) of teammate Dwight Howard. Without two starters, including the Defensive Player of the year, Philly has a great chance to capitolize and send the series back to Orlando for game 7.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sixers/Magic Game 5 Recap

Heading into game 5, a Sixers victory appeared quite possible, especially after the team was merely a Hedo Turkoglu miss away from having an opportunity to take a two game series lead after an overly exciting game 4. But, Hedo did his thing, and the teams headed to Orlando with the score card reading two wins apiece. The winner of this game would capture the edge in the series, and would only need one more victory to escape this first round battle. The Sixes entered the game with great confidence, knowing that if they could continue the style of play that had suited them so well for the past few games, a style which worked well to frustrate the Magic, they would have a great chance to take a commanding 3-2 series lead back to the wild fans in Wachovia. However, such an opportunity must be captured, and thanks to another enormous night from Dwight Howard and the emergence of Rashard Lewis, it was the Magic who were able to obtain the opportunity to close out the series in game 6.

The Sixers busted out of the gate behind a barrage of Willie Green baskets, whose nine first quarter points helped to set the tone offensively. Willie’s 16 points provided one of the lone bright spots for the Sixers in the game, as it was refreshing for Sixers fans to see him in attack mode after a subpar season. After a successful first quarter, the Sixers offense struggled to find a rhythm, settling far too often for contested jumpers. Andre Iguodala finished with an appealing 26 points, a step above his usual output, but a majority of these points came later in the second half, and his offense would have been extremely useful earlier in the game when the team was struggling to score. Andre Miller added 17, but it was far from his most effective or efficient game, as he shot a poor percentage from the floor and tossed in a hand full of turnovers. The rest of the team was virtually nonexistent on the offensive end as the bench totaled a whopping six points, and the two remaining starters (Young and Dalembert) combined for only 11 points. If the Sixers are going to continue to contend in the series, their offensive output must be improved dramatically, and more players must step up to take some of the pressure of Iggy and Andre.

Luckily for the Sixers, their defense has been playing well, allowing them to remain in games despite the lack of legitimate offensive output. With that being said, the Sixers continued to struggle guarding Dwight Howard, and another supersized game from Orlando’s superman, was to be expected, as it has been demonstrated that no one on the Sixers body with the big man. He finished with 24 and 24, and it seems as though the Sixers’ frontcourt has taken the attitude, “we can’t stop him, we can only hope to contain him.” Andre Igoudala’s hounding defense on Turkoglu limited the game 4 hero to only nine points on 3-14 from the field, as Andre continues to demonstrate that he is one of the elite defenders in this league. However Andre could not guard everyone, as the rest of the team picked up Hedo’s slack. It was only a matter of time before the Magic began lighting it up from beyond the arc, and in game 5 they provided a glimpse as to why they were one of the most potent three-point shooting teams in the League during the regular season, knocking down eight long balls, including three from Rashard Lewis on his way to a series-high 24 points. With Dwight and Rashard leading the charge, the rest of the Magic team chipped in, providing enough offensive output to overpower and outscore the struggling Sixers.

Heading into a potentially decisive game 6, it does not appear that any enormous adjustments need to be made by either team. Defensively, the Sixers must continue to try to limit Dwight’s impact, along with limiting the number of long balls attempted by the Magic’s potentially potent perimeter players. On the other side of the ball, Iggy needs to continue to attack for all four quarters, and the others (especially Young, Dalembert, and Williams) need to increase their output. Also, the team should look to push the ball as much as possible, which is where they have proven to be most effective. The Sixers have the parts and the potential to win in Wachovia and force a game 7; it is now just a matter of seizing the opportunity.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Big Fundamental

Throughout his NBA career, Tim Duncan has been continuously written off (by myself as well) as being predictable, bland, and sometimes just straight boring. He never had the flash of an Allen Iverson, or the scoring ability of Kobe Bryant, or even the off-court antics of his fellow superstars such as Shaquille O’Neal. Thus, he didn’t become the average NBA fan’s favorite player, or one the majority felt worth watching. That one word has haunted Tim throughout his NBA days; boring. And it is this exact word that has caused fans and critics alike to overlook Tim’s quiet consistency, and for many to take him for granted, not realizing that we were allowing the career of one of the all-time greats to slip right by unnoticed.

I was guilty of this, as on my list of superstars I enjoyed watching, Tim annually ranked near the bottom. I felt as though I knew what I was going to get from Timmy when I watched a Spurs game: 23 points, 12 rebounds, a block or two, and a solid shooting percentage off of an array of bank and hook shots. Not the most exciting stuff compared to watching potential 50-point outbursts from A.I., Kobe, or LeBron. I kept this attitude year in and year out, as Tim stubbornly remained the same, and continued to rack up awards, rings, and all-star appearances. The Spurs playoff series would annually rank amongst my least favorite, and after each win for Timmy and the Spurs I wondered, when is this guy gunna change? When is he going to cater to the fans and put some excitement in his game? But, Tim’s response always remained the same; putting up all-star worthy numbers, while leading the Spurs deep into the playoffs, and almost half of the time (4 times in Tim’s tenure) winning the title. As Duncan continued to decorate his rap sheet, I became increasingly less enthralled with him and his accomplishments, and this distaste plateaued last year, when the Spurs defeated the Suns and their new addition of one of my favorite all-time players, the more flashy, Shaquille O’Neal, potentially ending Shaq’s last chance at another title. I remember lamenting the fact that I had to suffer through more rounds of boring, Tim Duncan-filled playoff basketball, while the explosive and enthusiastic Shaq sat at home.

Heading into this season, my feelings toward Duncan remained unwavering. I still had no desire to watch him and the Spurs, and would often watch a Warriors-Clippers game on League Pass rather than be subject to the unavoidable blandness that was the Spurs. However, during this season a strange thing happened. I noticed the slightly decreased production from Tin Duncan, and the uncharacteristic struggles the Spurs were facing. It was then that I realized that Tim Duncan was not going to be in the L forever, and that the accomplishments that he has compiled throughout his career were unparalleled, and certainly someone deserving of all this accolades could not be as boring as I had always thought, and so I decided to take a second look. It was during this second look, that I noticed the hustle and passion Tim plays the game with, along with his ever-present knowledge, understanding, and consistency. I was still not captivated by his offensive arsenal, but I certainly found a newfound appreciation for the two-time MVP and four-time champion. I realized that rather than wishing that Tim would be like other all along, I should have been wishing that there were others more like Tim. He represents a model of consistency and passion for the game that is rarely seen. His dedication to one organization and his ability to bring so much success to it has yet to be duplicated in today’s NBA, and it is time for people to appreciate this. Because one thing is for sure, when Tim Duncan retires, the NBA will be a little more boring.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Doomsday in D-Town

I was a Pistons fan for about three weeks this season, when Iverson was first traded to D-Town and I thought the team might have a legitimate chance to compete for a title (I also felt the same optimism about the pairing of A.I. and Melo when The Answer was first shipped to Denver). However, I quickly realized one thing in my short time as a member of the Piston fan base: This is a terrible time to be a Piston fan. They are about to be stuck at the bottom half of the inevitable cycle that is professional sports. The cycle in which a team enjoys prolonged success with a core group of players, but realize that the dream will eventually dismantle. The current Piston team is a living example of the phrase, “all good things must come to an end.” For longer than I would like to remember I have been jealous of my Piston-fan friends, who have enjoyed consistency and success, while my Sixers have stumbled around in prolonged mediocrity. But after a promising campaign by the Sixers which landed them two seeds above the Pistons in the playoffs, the tables have finally turned.

I compare the Pistons current situation to that of a college program in which the batch of veteran players which led the school to success is graduating and moving on, while the new class of up-and-comers, although talented, is not yet ready to lead the team back to the prestigious pedestal it had become accustomed to.

For the Pistons, the regular season played out much like a bad movie; one which had potential to be good, but the characters struggled with their roles throughout the duration. Movies like this can often be saved by the ending, but after watching the soon-to-be MVP and the Cavaliers dominate the usually pride-proned Pistons in the first two games of the series, it is safe to say that the ending will be just as disappointing. This season will end the Pistons impressive streak of six straight trips to the Conference Finals, granting them a much longer summer vacation than they have become accustomed to. Maybe this extra time will be beneficial, because the front office sure has some work to do, figuring out to return the franchise to its position as the envy of the East. They have a core group of talented young players (Stuckey, Bynum, Maxiell, Afflalo) who should be, and more than likely will be, retained. Outside of the potential generated through these promising young players, they have another factor that will help them in the short and long term: cap space. The expiring contract of the (incorrect) Answer, will free up an enormous amount of room to allow them to sign up-coming free agents. Assuming they don’t resign Rasheed Wallace (which I don’t see why anyone in their right mind would, considering he averaged a head-scratching 12 ppg this season –placing him at 113th in the League, behind such notorious scoring threats as Ryan Gomes and Luis Scola) they will have even more room to spend on the flurry of free agents that will be flying free in 2010. They should hold on to Tayshaun Prince, as he is still relatively young and serves as a (difficult to find) multi-facetted utility man. What to do with Rip Hamilton, who has served as the team’s offensive anchor for the past half decade, is one of the biggest questions facing Detroit. His production has slowed with the loss of his running-mate, Chauncey Billups, and when his contract is up age will be a factor. Also, with the development of the young backcourt players, he may see his production and playing time drop even further, leaving one to question his overall worth to the team’s future. Changes will certainly be made to Detroit’s roster, which had served as a model of consistency through six trips to the conference finals and an NBA title. The direction of the team is yet to be determined, but as of right now one thing is definite: I’m glad I’m not a Pistons fan.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Crowning of the King

Although I try to be creative and different in my style of writing, when it comes to selecting the NBA’s MVP, once can only stray so far from the norm. Sure I could develop a case saying that Derrick Rose of even Jason Kidd are deserving of the award, but such arguments may strip me of the little credibility that I currently have. Therefore, my selections largely resemble those of the majority. However, while most are billing this as one of the largest MVP fields in recent memory, I see it as a one horse race. Sure, I have noticed what Dwight Howard has done for Orlando, and I love watching Chris Paul pick apart a defense with his pinpoint passing and precision, but this is simply not their year. Their time will come, most likely in the very near future, but this is the present. I have three finalists in mind, whom (if you have paid any attention to the NBA this year) you could easily guess.

The first is the League’s reining MVP, Kobe Bryant. When Kobe was awarded the MVP last year, it felt like one of those “well you’ve had a great career and there’s no clear cut MVP, so it will go to you” situations. Not to say that he did not deserve the award, because he surely did, especially after leading the Lakers back to the Finals for the first time in the post-Shaq era, but I did not feel that Kobe dominated the League as most MVP’s do, or even as Kobe has done in the past. A large reason for this was the improved team that was assembled around Kobe, allowing both his minutes and shots to decrease. Over the past couple seasons his supporting cast has developed into a spectacular one, headlined by Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and a young Andrew Bynum. This lineup makes the Lakers dangerous even without Kobe, therefore making it difficult to say that Kobe is the most important player in the league to his team. This was my argument against Kobe last year, and it carries over completely into this one as well. So, another stellar season from Kobe Bryant; good enough to propel the Lakers into the number one seed in the West, but not convincing enough to justify a second straight MVP trophy.

The next candidate is Dwayne Wade, who had his best year as a pro while carrying the Heat back into the playoffs after a dismal campaign last year. Wade played extraordinary ball all season, and the success he has been able to get out of a young, inexperienced team is impressive. He certainly has the numbers of an MVP, and if his 2003 draft mate wasn’t having a career year of his own, than Dwayne may be placing a new trophy next to his Finals MVP one from a couple years back. Unfortunately for Dwayne however, he is. Despite the drastic turnaround from last year and the impressive numbers put up by their leader, most still do not view the Heat as true contenders, therefore hurting Wade’s chances at the award.

This leaves one player for my selection of NBA MVP; Lebron James. I will skip the discussion of the ridiculous numbers that Lebron puts up, because it simply does not explain what Lebron means to the championship-favorite Cavaliers. His ability to dominate a game, the improvements he has made on the defensive end, and his ability to lead his team are all signs of an MVP, not to mention that it appears as though the Cavs have the most fun in the League behind Lebron’s oft-documented off-court antics. He led the Cavs to the League’s best record for the first time in team history, along with developing them into a bonafide title contender this season. It is difficult to do justice to what Lebron has done on the court this season, and the only proper way to recognize it, is to crown The King.

Monday, April 20, 2009


(I guess Igoudala read my post questioning his ability to lead the Sixers and develop into the star that they need -- see: Andre the (Not So) Giant. But before we hail him as the true successor to the first A.I., keep in mind that before his game-winning shot, his 18-8-8 stat line was actually underwhelming, and more will be required from him if the Sixers hope to actually win the series.)

Parallels are often drawn between the world of sports and that of superheroes, with players often being depicted as having incredible powers, above and beyond those of the average human. If this parallel has any merit than the Sixers must have gotten their collective inner-Superman on, because they sure dodged a bullet in game 1 of the Orlando series. It did not look promising for a while, as the Sixers were flat-out outplayed in the third quarter, giving the Philly faithful that sinking feeling of similarity that they have become so familiar with over the past few years of first round exists. However, thanks to major contributions for the apparently ageless Theo Ratliff and Donyell Marshall, along with some late-game heroics from their star, the Sixers managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and gain the upper hand in the series.

Over 75% of teams that win the first game go on to win the series. However, with that being said, this is already not an ordinary series with the underdog Sixers serving as the kryptonite to Orlando and their own Superman, Dwight Howard, in the first game. The Magic are certainly going to come out determined and focused in game 2, making them very difficult to beat as they have demonstrated all season. But, the Sixers have Orlando on their heels, and should come out on the attack. Overcoming a double-digit, second half deficit against one of the L’s best teams is an extremely difficult task and the Sixers should avoid putting themselves in this position, regardless of their wisdom-defying win in game one. In order to do this, they must take the game a quarter at a time, and not allow themselves to get dominated as they did in the third. This will put them in position to win the game in the fourth, without requiring Iggy to put on a cape and serve as the Sixer’s superhero. Despite his spectacular last shot, slightly more production out of Iguodala will be necessary for the Sixers to win the series. His 20-8-8 resembled his season averages, which need to be bumped up come playoff time, especially considering he is the team’s de-facto star. The surprising offensive output from the aforementioned Marshall and Ratliff were well-appreciated, and their continued contributions will be crucial throughout the series. More production must come from Thaddeus Young, who developed into the team’s second-option in the regular season, and Samuel Dalembert, who added a paltry seven points in seventeen minutes. Lastly, the Sixers must do a better job defensively on Dwight Howard, who had a monster game with 31 points and 16 rebounds (both improvements from his MVP-caliber regular season numbers). Luckily, this responsibility does not fall on one man, but can be diffused between several players. Thus, it will be up to Dalembert, Ratliff, Speights, and Evans to slow the superstar. If the Sixers can successfully make these adjustments, they may just be able to pull the upset in the series and spoil the Magic’s stellar season, which will certainly take a super heroic effort from the squad.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Preview of the 76ers/ Magic First Round Matchup (From a Philly Fan's Perspective)

The city of Philadelphia has experienced an emotional roller coaster over the past six months. The journey started with the slow upward climb that was MLB’s regular season, reaching its peak when the Phillies captured the city’s first major sports title in 25 years. It looked as though the success was going to continue, as the hype around the Eagles continued to build, with many picking them as the favorite to win the Super Bowl. This hype however, subsided after an inconsistent regular reason, which came down to the final weekend. An improbable run in the postseason put the Eagles just one win away from another Super Bowl appearance. The city was once again on a high, daydreaming about back-to-back championships. These daydreamers were quickly awoken by the Arizona Cardinals, who ended the Eagles post season run, pulling the city’s fans back down from their sports pedestal. With so much excitement surrounding the world champion Phillies, and the ever-popular Eagles, it is quite easy to overlook the quiet consistency the Sixers have developed this season, headlined by their march back into the postseason. This lack of a buzz around the Sixers current campaign is not surprising, as a 76ers appearance in the first round of the Eastern Conference has become commonplace. So too, however, has a first round exit. Since the departure of #3 (and arguably even before then) the Sixers have been stuck in mediocre mode. They are a formidable opponent for any team, however are never regarded as a true contender. This situation leaves fans at a crossroads; hoping for the best, while not becoming too emotionally invested in the team. Therefore, a breakthrough is necessary; something to ignite the team and its fans, and generate interest in the club that has not been felt since their 2001 Iverson-led charge to the Finals. Luckily, it does not take much to get Philadelphia fans excited, as they are seemingly always ready to explode (as demonstrated throughout the past half year), and a victory in a playoff series would certainly propel the Sixers back into Philly’s focal point.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, the Sixers still need to win a series, which has proven to be quite difficult over the past few years, and a first round matchup with Orlando and their bruising big man, Dwight Howard, certainly does not lighten the load. For a while it seemed as though there was potential that the Sixers would be able to slide into the five seed and secure a first round matchup with the young and athletic Atlanta Hawks, who the Sixers would be able to match with their own up-tempo style. However, a several game skid cost them this opportunity, and their fate was finally determined on the final night of the NBA’s regular season with an overtime victory over the Lebron-less Cavs, landing them a postseason date with Orlando.

Earlier in the season many would have said that a matchup with the Magic would be highly preferable to meeting the ever-focused Celtics in the first round. However, after a cool conclusion to the season (compared to their sizzling start) and big questions surrounding the health of the Big Ticket, the Celtics began to look vulnerable. In a way, the two teams are quite the opposite. The Boston Celtics are a veteran-led team coming off a championship season, looking to defend their title, while the Sixers roster is largely filled with young, ambitious players looking to carry the franchise back into NBA-prominence. It would have made for an interesting storyline. But, this is not Hollywood, and the Sixers are instead set to face the Orlando Magic, who head into the postseason with a potent offense and prolific three-point shooters (not to mention the walking double-double they have at center). Heading into this series I feel that it is important for the Sixers to view the Magic as what they really are; an obstacle; An obstacle standing in the way of the Sixers return to NBA-prominence, and the restoration of pride amongst the Philly faithful.

Despite the 0-3 regular season record against Orlando I feel that the 76ers have a legitimate shot at winning this series (or maybe this is just the optimist in me sneaking out). Overall, I question Orlando’s ability to keep pace with the Sixers up-tempo style for an entire series, and on top of this I believe that the Sixers have some favorable matchups as well. They have the edge in the backcourt with the rotation of Andre Miller, Willie Green, and Sweet Lou over-matching the threesome of Rafer, Anthony Johnson and rookie Courtney Lee. Orlando has outstanding perimeter players in Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu, but I believe that the new A.I. and Thaddeus can work to neutralize their attack by forcing difficult shots and making them work on the defensive end. This leaves one man in Orlando’s rotation, who just might be the X-factor in this first round matchup; Dwight Howard. Coming off a season in which he led the L in blocks and rebounds, and heard his name tossed around in every award discussion from MVP to Defensive Player of the Year, Dwight looks primed for a playoff run, and slowing him down will be no small task, literally. Dwight has the ability to dominate a game and swing a series, and there is certainly not one player in this Sixers lineup that can match up with him physically. However, if some of their frontcourt players step up and find a way to minimize Dwight’s impact, the 76ers will put themselves into a position to push into the second round of the playoffs. So, my advice to the fans of Philadelphia: Get ready for another roller coaster ride.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Top 10 Players Most Deserving of a Ring

Success in the National Basketball Association is largely defined by the accumulation of championship rings. Over a career a player can build an outstanding individual career, however without the inclusion of NBA titles his resume appears incomplete. Championships add to the lure and legacy of a player, and are viewed by many as the true measure of greatness. This is why we celebrate the Michaels, Magics, and Shaqs of the League; those who were able to achieve the highest level of success multiple times.

There are of course many excellent players who enjoyed illustrious careers but were never able to capture that often elusive ring. Some had the poor fate of playing in the Jordan era, while for others, all of the pieces never fell properly into place. Regardless of the reasoning, some players are truly worthy of a ring and that final cementing of their legacy.
Below is my list of the ten NBA players most deserving of a ring, in no particular order.

(Note: This list only includes championship-starved players that have been active since I began closely following the NBA, circa 1990.)

1. Karl Malone

2. Charles Barkley

3. Allen Iverson

4. John Stockton

5. Patrick Ewing

6. Reggie Miller

7. Gary Payton

8. Jason Kidd

9. Steve Nash

10. Dikembe Mutombo

Monday, April 13, 2009

Andre The (Not So) Giant

As a lifelong, diehard Sixers fan it irks me to see the team trapped in this current state of perennial mediocrity, which has been the fate of the team since that memorable, Iverson-led Finals run back in 2001. Each year, the team shows flashes of excellence and plenty of potential, only to ultimately fall well short of anything that resembles a title run, and the pessimist in me expects this year to be no different. Sure, they’ll make the playoffs, but this is not enough in a city spoiled by the successes of Moses, Charles, and Allen. The consistently half-empty arena demonstrates to me that the fans are in search of something more, and to be honest, since A.I. was shipped to Denver, it seems as though the team itself is in search of something else as well; something that is obviously not there.

The Sixers hit the lottery. The number one pick. The reward for an unrewarding season. And this pick saved them from over a decade of uninspired basketball. The Sixers were lucky enough to get that number one pick in’96, and smart enough to use it on Allen Iverson, who single-handedly (in my opinion) carried the team on his back for a decade. He took the team from the bottom to the top. He filled the seats, he won games, he won awards, he did everything for the franchise. It can be argued that drafting Allen Iverson was the one great personnel move the 76ers have made in the past decade and a half, because honestly nothing else has seemed to work. I have watched too many players pass through the Sixers organization and become successful elsewhere after their tenure in Philadelphia for it to be a coincidence: Jerry Stackhouse, Larry Hughes, Tim Thomas, Raja Bell, Kyle Korver, Matt Barnes, and John Salmons serve as a solid set of examples. None of these players fulfilled their potential in Philly, but were able to thrive in other places, leaving the Sixers in a constant state of uncertainty. This is why I argue that without Iverson, the past decade would be quite the forgettable one for the Sixers. However, this article isn’t about Allen, but rather about another A.I.

When Andre Iguodala was drafted, he was one of those players that was tagged with having endless potential. His athleticism and defensive ability made him a keeper in the Sixers rotation, as he served as the budding star next to the other A.I. for his first couple seasons. When Iverson was traded (and it’s safe to say that Iguodala was a big reason why the Sixers felt so comfortable in dealing Allen) most felt that it would now be Iggy’s turn. Kind of a passing of the baton from one A.I. to another. He did not jump into the superstar role right away, and 76ers fan accepted this. We figured it would take him some time to grow into the role, so we were content with patiently waiting for the development of our next superstar. It has now been over two full seasons since the original A.I. was traded and.. we’re still waiting. Sure Andre’s improved. His scoring average has gone up each year, and he has developed into the team’s main offensive threat. However, he has not turned into the bonafide star that many thought he would, and the Sixers nation is still waiting for this to happen. The sad fact that I have already accepted, and one that my fellow Sixers enthusiasts will soon have to embrace is that it may well never happen. For all of his athleticism and potential, I simply do not think Andre Iguodala is cut out to be a first-option, all-star caliber player in this league. That is not to say that he won’t make an all-star team or two in his career. It simply means he is not the caliber of player to build a franchise on.

Since his rookie year, I have always told my friends that Andre reminds me of a Scottie Pippen-type player; a great player with superior athleticism and strong defensive skills, but not built to be the leader of a franchise –but rather an extraordinary second option, who could feed off someone else and use his athleticism to become a nightmare for opponents. For example, thoughts of Andre serving as Lebron’s running-mate brings back flash backs of Jordan-to Pippen-to Jordan fast breaks. However, just as Scottie proved that he could not carry the Bulls on his own, Andre has demonstrated that he needs a first-tier teammate to push this teetering team over the hump. With the epic free-agent circus that is the summer of 2010 approaching, it is imperative that the 76ers make a move for a player who can serve as the Michael to Andre’s Scottie. Otherwise, the franchise will soon have to hope for more luck from the lottery.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Last Link

Memories tend to be jaded, and often things in the past were not actually quite as good as remembered. With that being said, despite my current love for the NBA, I cannot help but to reminisce back to the 90’s on occasion, and longingly linger on the state of the League at the time. Nothing against the players today, but everything was better in the 90’s; basketball, hip-hop, shoes.. The 1990’s era of NBA basketball is what got me hooked on the game, and regardless of my affection for any of the game’s future or current talent, I don’t imagine that I will ever be quite as captivated as I was then; watching Michael and just knowing that you were witnessing something special; watching a crop of first-ballot hall of famers, who looked as though they generally enjoyed playing the game, trying to dethrone His Airness year in and year out. Every game seemed like it mattered to these guys, and watching this passion on the NBA on NBC was a weekly highlight. I watch more basketball now than I did then, and I know much more about the game, which is maybe why I appreciated it more then. Regardless, despite my excitement and enthusiasm regarding the upcoming playoffs, part of me still wishes it was the 1990’s and I was sitting listening to a new 2pac album (one that he actually released, not one that’s been stitched together a decade after his death), while watching Miller vs. Ewing in a first-round matchup as an appetizer, and then enjoying Malone and Stockton battling David Robinson as the finale.

Luckily, the transition from Nas, Biggie, Wu-Tang, Michael, Scottie, and Charles to the era of ringtone rap, big endorsements, and even bigger egos has been bridged by one of my favorite players of all time, allowing me to adapt to the new generations of players, while still having someone to fall back on to remind myself of NBA seasons past. He represents the last remaining link between the golden era of 90’s NBA basketball to today’s batch of ballers. He has managed to not only stay relevant, but actually managed to dominate the game for the better part of two decades. I am of course talking about Shaquille O’Neal. One could argue that there has never been a brighter personality in the NBA. Between his comedic nicknames and interviews, his bigger-than-life off the court swagger, his movie roles, his rap albums, and even his hilarious on-court mannerisms, Shaq is certainly a once in a lifetime type character. Shaq was drafted in the early 90’s, just as I began to heavily follow the game, so naturally I paid attention to the big man, who has since always been there to remind me of the glorious past of the NBA, while serving as a sign of hope for the future as well. When Michael retired for the first time, Shaq filled the excitement void by carrying the Magic to their first Finals (despite losing to another all-time great center once there). He was a member of the ’96 Dream Team when the U.S. still dominated the world with superior basketball. When Michael retired the second time, along with many of his contemporaries, Shaq welcomed the new generation of talent by leading the Lakers to 3 straight titles alongside the biggest star of the new wave of warriors. Then, when all the other legends that made up the all-star teams of the 90’s were golfing, broadcasting, relaxing, and enjoying their retirement, Shaq continued to roll along, adding another NBA title to his resume, coupling with another budding superstar in Dwayne Wade.

And even now, while watching his peers being inducted into the hall, he continues. Shaq himself has little left to prove; rings, scoring titles, all-star selections, records, MVP awards –everything that we use as a standard to rate the career of an individual, Shaq has. And yet, there he is, looking recharged and rejuvenated in Phoenix, having one of his most statistically efficient seasons, despite the Sun’s struggles. Shaq’s woes last year demonstrated to me that a man I have always taken for granted and considered to be ageless, would one day no longer be able to illuminate the NBA with his presence. Although some predict this day to be sooner than later, I hope for the sake of myself and all NBA fans that this is not the case, because when Shaq retires, so does the only active bridge between two separate generations of basketball. When Shaq retires, we not only lose a legend, but that last link as well.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Agent (Worth) Zero

Another NBA season is winding down, which means the real season, the playoffs, is about to begin. The playoffs are a time of uncertainty as far as seeding, matchups, and favorites go. However, heading into this year’s competitions there is one certainty; viewers (and not to mention the Cavaliers) will not be subject to the postseason presence of the Washington Wizards and their oft-injured star, Gilbert Arenas. I have stated for quite some time that I feel Gilbert Arenas to be the most over-paid, and over-rated player in the NBA today. Up until this season, regardless of Gilbert’s presence in the lineup, the Wizards have proven to be an out-spoken, underachieving, mediocre team. I felt that their team remainded consistant with him in or out of the lineup. This is something that should never be said about an alleged superstar. Would the Lakers be the Lakers without Kobe Bryant? Would the Cavaliers be nearly as dangerous if Lebron was sidelined for an extended period of time. These are of course rhetorical questions, as the impact of a superstar's presence on a team usually need not be questioned. However, this is not the case with Agent Zero, as it seems that the Wizards remain largely unchanged with him out of the lineup, leading to questions about his overall worth to the team. Gilbert has never propelled this team to a deep playoff run. He has never carried them to a noteworthy regular season record, which would have helped to land them a spot in the playoffs that could potentially prevent their annual first round loss. Hell, he isn’t even on the court half the time anyway!

I am not trying to completely discredit Gilbert Arenas. In fact, if he wasn’t often touted as one of the best players in the league, I might feel quite different about Agent Zero. He can score with the best in the league, he has a bright personality, and a knack for hitting big-time shots. However, never has less results been rewarded with more praise and pay. Up until this season, in which the Wizards had a long-overdue collapse, the team remained consistently mediocre during Gilbert’s tenor as the team’s de-facto star. They would repeatedly finish with a record that hovered around .500, grab a lower seed, and then continue to be readily handled by their competition (The Cavs beating the Wizards in the first round seemed as though it had developed into a yearly tradition; one that will not be missed this year). Despite various injuries to Gilbert throughout these seasons, the Wizards continued down their path to mediocrity, at no point collapsing without their superstar. And once he returned to the lineup, Gilbert never delivered to the fans of Washington, except some spectacular highlights.

After finishing at the bottom of the pedestrian Eastern Conference, the Wizards are clearly in need of some adjustments. I am no executive, but I have to imagine that the $100 + million dollars they are dishing out to an injury-prone Gilbert Arenas could be dispersed in more beneficial ways. Regardless, two things are certain: Agent Zero and the Wiz will not be appearing in the playoffs this April, and they will not be missed.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

L.A. Confidential

In my previous post I basically stated that in order for Kobe Bryant to rightfully take his place next to His Airness in the pages of basketball history, he must first bring a championship to L.A. in the post-Shaq era. This will cement his status as one of the true all-time greats (atleast in my mind). Luckily for Kobe, this season might just be his opportunity. Although I did not originally intend for it to be, I will use this post as any opportunity to announce my prediction of the Lakers as this year's NBA champions.

It makes sense. Last year's Lakers were a dynamic group who was clearly the best in the West, but fell short of landing the title. It is now a year later and I would make the argument that the Lakers have done nothing but improve. They now have a full season under their belt with both Gasol and Ariza in the lineup, rather than plugging them in on the go as they did last season. They are better equipped to deal with Andrew Bynum's seemingly yearly injury this season, as they struggled to figure out how to handle it last season. Also, Andrew should be back for the playoffs, providing them with another weapon they did not have last year. Couple these factors with the ever-determined Kobe Bryant, and you have a bonafide championship contendor.

However, not only have the Lakers improved, but it seems the competition has moved in the opposite direction, at least in the Western Confrence. All season, I had mentioned the Spurs as the only true threat to the Lakers chance of repeating as Western Confrence champions, and with Manu out for the remainder of the season/playoffs, I can confidently remove them from that spot. Otherwise, when scanning the West I see a lot of solid teams, but none that can pose a legitimate threat to a hungry and determined Lakers team. The Rockets have been playing well, but still lack a clutch performer and have not demonstrated an ability to perform well in the playoffs in the recent past. The Hornets, althought still talented, are nowhere near as dangerous as they were last season. They have often struggled to get into a rhythem, proving that they can beat any team on a given night, but also lose to any team on a given night. Then we have the Nuggets, Blazers, and Mavericks, all potientially dangerous teams, but none that I see becoming a true obstacle for L.A. This leaves the Jazz, who at this point I feel to be the team most capable of beating the Lakers in a seven game series. Their depth and defense could cause problems for a Lakers team that is likely to shave their rotation come playoff time. Overall though, I do not feel that the Jazz are dangerous enough to carry Jerry Sloan back to the finals, leaving the door wide open for the Lakers to cruise back to the finals.
The only teams in the East that I consider to be legitimate contendors are the Cavs and the Celtics. (Yes, I left the Magic out on purpose. Although they have made great strides this season and have the look of a sooner-than-later contendor, until they prove something to me I will chalk my snub of them up to their inexperience). After a torrid start, the Celtics have slowed (to a near-crawl at times) and are not entering this year's playoffs with nearly the same amount of momentum that they had last year. Couple this with the injuries that they have been dealing with, including a lingering inury to Kevin Garnett, and recent news of a hurt ankle by Rajon Rondo, and the Celtics are facing an uphill battle. They have also had trouble with depth all season, stating with the loss of James Posey. Starbury and M. Moore were added to help with this issue, but both have struggled to fit in the rotation completely. With these issues facing the Celtics, it seems as though it would be extremely difficult to pull a repeat. This leaves only one team from the East to head to the finals; the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Defeating Lebron and the surging Cavs in a series will be extremely difficult, especially if the Cavs obtain home court. However, I feel that the Lakers are capable of it, as they are 2-0 against Cleveland this season. Kobe, and Laker fans alike, should wonder, if not now, then when.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A New Comparison for Kobe

Kobe Bryant may have the hardest job in professional sports. Not only is he the centerpiece of the Las Angeles Lakers, one of the NBA's and professional sport's proudest franchises, but he may be the most scrutinized player in the league as well (If not he takes a second place only to the guy that plays in Cleveland). And on top of all this, he has had to hear himself endlessly compared to Michael Jordan throughout his career; a comparison that places expectations and pressure on an individual that no one may ever be able to fully realize.

There are those out there who feel that Kobe is on Jordan's level, and that KB is the closest we may ever get to MJ. I have a plethora of arguments against this claim, but will pull out just one that relates to the impending NBA playoffs; until Kobe Bryant wins an NBA title for the Las Angeles Lakers in the post-Shaq era, he should never be considered to be on the same level as Jordan. Michael Jordan has 6 NBA rings... and 6 NBA Finals MVP awards. Kobe Bryant has 3 NBA titles, and.... 0 NBA Finals MVP awards. Why? The answer is quite simple; because he was not the best player on those championship teams. If anyone should be compared to Michael in terms of dominance it should be Shaq with his 4 titles, and 3 Finals MVP awards (but that's another story). I'm not saying that Kobe has to win six NBA titles to be compared to Michael. All I'm saying is that for him to realistically be placed on the same pedestal as Jordan, he should be the LEADER of at least one championship team.

To clarify, I am not taking anything away from Kobe's impact on those championship teams. He was an integral part of the team and an enormous factor in their success. They may have fallen short in each of those finals without Kobe, just as Jordan's Bulls may have fallen short without their second option, the often undercredited Scottie Pippen. So maybe instead of being so quick to label Kobe as the second coming of Jordan, one should take a step back and label him more aptly: The Lakers version of Scottie Pippen. Think about it. When Jordan retired Scottie developed into one of the top players in the league and carried the Bulls to the playoffs, but fell short of winning another title. When Shaq left L.A. Kobe blossomed into the league's premier player, carrying the Lakers to a championship, but could not bring the title home without the big fella. This debate could be ended rather quickly; if Kobe brings another title to L.A. then the debate is off. If he completes this task, than the comparisons to Scottie Pippen will be void, and he may take his spot on the pedestal next to Michael. Until then, I'm going to continue comparing Kobe to a member of the 1990s Bulls dynasty; just not the same one most others do.

Still The Answer

I have always felt that Allen Iverson would leave the game on his own terms. I did not see him as one of those players who would stick around past their prime in search of an elusive ring(although no one in the NBA is more deserving of one). I felt that his pride would not allow him to continue playing if he could not continue to play at the highest of levels which we have all come to expect from him.

And, after his worst statistical season as a pro, and a mutual split from the Pistons for the remander of the season...... I feel the same way.

As a diehard Sixers fan, I watched Allen torch opponents and dominate the league for the better part of a decade. I watched him rack up scoring titles, All-Star Selections, an MVP trophy, and I watched him carry an otherwise mediocre team to the NBA Finals on his back. These are the images I have of Allen Iverson the player; the 50 point outbursts, the electric steals for fast-breaks, the never-say-die attitude, and the will to win. These are the images that turned Allen into not only my favorite NBA player of all time, but my single favorite athlete in history. Thus, I do not take his struggles this season, nor the criticism that has befallen him lighty. Granted he is not without his baggage, but what athlete isn't. I am not saying that Allen Iverson is the same player today that he was in 2001 when he dragged Eric Snow and co. to the finals. I am simply saying, this dog has more fight left.

The Pistons were a bad fit from the beginning for The Answer, and the speculations since day one that the trade was made simply to unload his expiring contract at the end of the season surely worked to bruise Allen's enormous ego. We all know that Allen likes, or rather needs, to have the ball in his hands to be effective, and all of a sudden this is a problem. Complaints of his selfishness or his inability to work in a cohesive unit such as the Pistons surfaced almost immediately. (Interesting that these complaints were never heard when the same style of play was leading the league in scoring and elevating his role-player-ridden teams to elite status). Allen was stuck into a ready-built system and forced to learn on the fly, and the results were subpar; similiar to last year's Shaq to the Suns and Kidd to the Mavs flops. And because of this failed experiment people are beginning to write Allen's career off, just as they did to Shaq's after last season (still talking?).

How quickly we forget. Just last year, Allen played in all 82 of the Nuggets' games, averaging 42 minutes, 26 points, and 7 assists per. Allen is still capable of playing at an extremely high level and being one of the elite players in the league, he just needs the right opportunity, and contrary to what many experts are saying, I believe that opportunity exists. Allen's stint in D-Town is presumably over, and I eagerly await the next stop on his course, as I reminisce on what has already been an extraordinary career.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Saddened by the Setting Suns

A year ago when the Suns lost to the Spurs in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, I was ready to write the franchise off as a pretendor, and was ready to bid farewell to one of my favorite NBA players of all time. It wasn't that I wanted Shaq to retire, it was just that after several injury-plagued seasons with slumping numbers, the Big Cactus's future didn't look too bright, especially after he was not able to help the Suns complete the task that they had acquired him for in the first place; to contend with the Spurs in the playoffs. I was devestated by this loss, as the high-tempo Suns had become one of my favorite teams in the past half-decade, and the addition of Shaq left me with high hopes. Many were skeptical of the trade, but there was always that gleaming ray of hope, and the feeling of "hey, this might actually work."But once again, the Suns fell short in the playoffs, leaving many wondering if they would ever be able to get over the hump and become a true title contendor.

A year, and a seemingly rejuvinated Shaq later, only one thing remains the same: the Suns are once again not a title contendor, and they won't be until changes are made. The Suns playoff hopes were basically ended yesterday as the Mavericks solidified their hold on the 8th spot by dropping 140 on Phoenix . Now comes question time for the Phoenix Suns. Where to go from here? For a team full of aging veterans (Nash, Hill, O'Neal) and dispensable parts (Richardson, Barnes, Lopez) the answer may not be so simple. No team wants to dive head first into the rebuilding process, but at this point, there seems to be little else for the Suns to do. They have already proven that they cannot be successful with the run-n-gun style used by Mike D'Antoni, or with the slower, more defensive-minded scheme run (sort of) by Terry Porter. At this point, it is usually time for a franchise to unload and re-tool, and Phoenix should be no exception. Although beginning the rebuilding process may cost them their young superstar, the Suns have already proven that they are not opposed to dealing Amare, as he was shopped around at the trade deadline.

The high-tempo, explosive offense employed by the Suns since Alvin Gentry took over is fine, but not when you are allowing other teams to score upwards of 125 point on a nightly basis. For this team to be successful a commitment to defense must be made, and it may simply not be possible with their current rotation. Shaq proved that he still has some Diesel fuel in the tank (thankfully), but he is no permenant fixture in Phoenix, as the Suns looked to deal him at the deadline as well. Nash is a two-time League MVP, but his age and lack of defensive ability may make him a liability in the future, especially when time comes for a new contract after next season. Where to go for the Phoenix Suns is a question that cannot easily be answered, and will unfold over time. However, it is safe to imagine that we have seen the end of the Phoenix Suns as we've known them.

Two Questions Answered in One Game: The Cavaliers Edition

The Cleveland Cavaliers bounced back from their second two-game skid of the season today with a big win at the Q against the San Antonio Spurs, to improve to 37-1 at home. Although many would question the game's worth for the Eastern Confrence's top team this late into the season, a victory against the team that swept them in the Finals less than two years ago was extremely important to the Cavs, and this importance was personified by the play of their leader early in the game. Lebron called the two game skid "embarassing," and vowed to take it upon himself to lift his team. The win proved two things to me: The validation of the Caviliers as a legitimate championship contender, and possible favorite, along with the solidification of LeBron James as the league's MVP.

The Cavs were a loss away from panic mode, facing an excellent Spurs team on the heels of only their second back-to-back loses of the season. Many were wondering how the Cavs would respond, and their merit was sure to be questioned had the dropped three straight in the home stretch. Questions about their ability to handle loss and survive adversity were already beginning to buzz, and a loss to a contender at home would only add more gas to the fire. However, Lebron and co. ended all speculation by securing a resounding win at home, headlined by another stellar night from Lebron James.

Speaking of Lebron James he illustrated why he should be the league MVP in today's game. Feeling that his team was in need of a spark after their past two dismal performances Lebron came out of the gate like a man on a mission, scoring 18 first quarter point, and setting the tone for the game. After a monstorous first half, Lebron removed his superhero cape and changed back into ordinary clothes, becoming a facilitator, playing a role and helping his team cost to a double digit victory. This performance showed that Lebron has the ability to completely dominate a game when he feels it necessary, along with the ability to trust his teammates in other situations. This is a lesson Kobe Bryant finally embraced last year, when he was rewarded with his frist MVP trophy, and his first trip to the Finals in the post-Shaq era. If today's game was any indication, Lebron should be enjoying similiar rewards this season.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

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