Lazar Hayward, 2010 NBA First Rounder?

7 07 2009

A 2010 NBA mock draft has Lazar Hayward, the senior Marquette forward, picked late in the first round.

I’m a big Lazar fan but I’m equally surprised to see him getting so much respect. The guy’s got the physical tools — he was a 4-star recruit coming out of high school. But his tremendous heart, rebounding savvy and sweet stroke during the last three years was overshadowed by the spectacular play of the Three Amigos (Jerel McNeal, Dominic James and Wesley Matthews).

Those players have now graduated and are fighting for spots on various NBA teams. And now Lazar is pulling a Macaulay Culkin.  He’s alone and coming into his own, making USA Basketball’s World University Games team.  His challenge next season will be maintaining highly-productive numbers with a very inexperienced Marquette squad.

If Jerel McNeal, universally-lauded for his collegiate play, couldn’t get a team to bite on a no-strings-attached 2nd round draft pick, I highly doubt Lazar can get himself selected in the first round.

The names and orders on NBA mock drafts are completely different before and after the NCAA basketball season.  At least a dozen college ballers you’ve never heard of will play their way onto that list, meaning that some of those names will drop off.

For example: before UNC’s Ed Davis physically dominated in the paint during the Final Four, do you think he was a consensus top 5 pick?

All that to say, I think it’ll be tough for Lazar to keep his footing.  I’ll be rooting for him though.


Vinsanity Joins the Light Show

26 06 2009

Are you ready for a light show that will eclipse Disney’s?

The New Jersey Nets’ Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson have been traded to the Orlando Magic for Rafer Alston, Tony Battie and Courtney Lee.

You knew the Magic were going to move Rafer.  One: Jameer Nelson, their injured All-Star point guard, will be 100% healthy on opening day.  Two: if the tail-end of the Finals were any indication, Rafer would have gotten absolutely no burn next season had they kept him.  Three: Rafer’s a solid veteran rotation player with an expiring contract.  But I did not expect they would get Vince-freakin’-Carter.

If the Magic are able to lock Hedo Turkoglu, can you imagine how much firepower their starting five will have?

Nelson will be running the offense.  Vince and Rashard Lewis will be near the wings. And Dwight Howard would lock down the paint.  This is a recipe for success especially if Dwight Howard develops some semblance of a post-game or at least a countermove.

A major acquisition by a team fresh off a Finals berth bucks the recent trend.  It is a bold move by Magic GM Otis Smith but I think it’s ingenious.

Generally, Finals teams sit on their rosters during the next summer.  They may pick up a player with a mid-level contract but they have not made any huge splashes. After their recent Finals appearances, the Heat, Mavericks, Spurs, Cavs, Celtics and Lakers all sat on their hands during the summer.  With the exception of the Lakers, none of the other teams really had enough potential to get better with their transactional inertia.

Losing Courtney Lee is a marginal loss because Mickael Pietrus is still around to provide solid defense and can hit system-created 3-pointers.  Losing Tony Battie is also a marginal loss because of Marcin Gortat’s wonderfully-adequate defense and rebounding.

It’s a huge win for everyone on the Magic and it finally gives Vince Carter a real opportunity to silence his doubters.  He can follow in the footsteps of Kevin Garnett and shed the erroneous “loser” label like a Jonas Brother stepping into a middle school.  I’ve got my Mickey Mouse ears on and I’m ready to go.

Meddling NBA Owners

6 03 2009
I like long walks on the beach and yelling.  Lots of it.

I like long walks on the beach and yelling. Lots of it.

A few days ago, the Dallas Mavericks (36-24)  lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder (15-45).

The Thunder, playing without Kevin Durant and Jeff Green, rocked the Mavs on their way to a 96-87 win.  The Thunder were only up by four points at the half and then they came out and outscored the Mavs 31-to-15 in the third quarter.

Mark Cuban, the owner of the Mavericks, blamed it on a lack of effort and energy. 

It’s only one game, which I keep reminding myself of but let’s just say I wasn’t happy with our preparation, execution or effort. Not only did it look like we had no idea what we were doing, but we did it without effort. The effort and energy, on both sides of the ball, by each player will decide their future with the Mavericks.

If each player can’t take the personal initiative to make every game important and play like it, I don’t see them being here next season

Looks like the NBA’s most meddlesome owner is trying the tough love approach.  But since his players get chewed out for displaying the wrong on-court behavior, shouldn’t Cuban be accountable for his distracting just-off-court antics?

According to a 2006 statement, Dirk Nowitzki isn’t ready to give Cuban the green light:

Do I think it’s a bit much sometimes? Yeah. He’s got to learn how to control himself as well as the players do. We can’t lose our temper all the time on the court or off the court, and I think he’s got to learn that, too. He’s got to improve in that area and not yell at the officials the whole game. I don’t think that helps us.

We all know what Mark brings to the team, how he supports us. We live with who he is, and we love him that way. But do I think it’s good for us always? No.

But does Cuban really affect the on-court performance on his players?  The man bought a majority share of the Dallas Mavericks effective January 20, 2000.  Since the 2000-2001 season, the Mavericks have gone 495 and 222 — they won 69% of their games.

But why is it that Mark Cuban is generally thought of as the driving force behind the Maverick’s resurgence?  Shouldn’t Don Nelson get most of the credit for establishing the Mavs as a perennial playoff squad?

After all, Dallas’ record improved as soon as Nelson was hired; it didn’t wait until Cuban showed up.

Dallas Mavericks record with Nelson on-board:
’97-’98 | 16-50 (24%) – replaces Cleamons midseason
’98-’99 | 19-31 (38%)
’99-’00 | 40-42 (49%)
’00-’01 | 53-29 (65%) – Cuban buys majority share
’01-’02 | 57-25 (70%)
’02-’03 | 60-22 (73%)
’03-’04 | 52-30 (63%) 
’04-’05 | 42-22 (66%) – replaced midseason

Pre-Cuban, Don Nelson was both the head coach and the acting general manager. He was responsible for drafting Dirk Nowitzki and he also acquired Steve Nash.

If it weren’t for a 4-1 first-round playoff loss to the Sacramento Kings, escalated by growing tensions between coach and front-office, Nelson should still be the coach of the Mavericks.

Mark Cuban isn’t afraid to throw his money around.  No one can deny that.  The Mavericks have, unarguably, the most luxurious locker room and ancillary facilities known to the NBA.  But is Cuban really that relevant?

A Skip Away From Disney

27 02 2009
Skip to my Lou

Skip to my Lou

Orlando has acquired Rafer Alston, who has been given the keys to the Orlando offense in wake of Jameer Nelson’s season-ending injury.

I like this move for Orlando.  Supposedly, the Magic asked about Pacers guard Jamaal Tinsley prior to the trade deadline.  But pulling the trigger to get Alston was a better move because of his familiarity with the coach.

Alston played for Stan Van Gundy in Miami five years ago.  Plus, Alston was coached by SVG’s brother Jeff.  I’m sure Skip has been invited to more than his fair share of Van Gundy Astro Jump-enchanced barbeques.

The Magic offense is really constructed around dumping the ball into Dwight Howard.  Other than that, the point really just does drive-and-kicks out to Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu.  It can definitely play to the strengths of Alston.

Although Alston’s averaging 2.75 turnovers a game since joining the Magic, I would expect that number to drop to 2 which is right around his career average.  He just needs to get accustomed to the Magic’s sets, calls and what not. 

It seems as though Alston is playing the passing lanes a little more.  You can afford to gamble more on defense with Howard around to erase any mistakes or lapses.  Alston’s stealing the ball 2.25 times a game since joining his new squad compared to his career average of 1.2.

Alston’s game is predicated on him doing some good things but also making a few mistakes along the way.  So while the turnover/steal ratio isn’t too surprising, the rate at which he’s doing it is.  Maybe the trade has made him a little hyperactive.  Only time will tell.

I would have been excited had the Magic acquired Stephon Marbury.  Clearly, losing an All-star in Jameer Nelson is a big loss but I think Orlando would have seen a better reprieve in Starbury.  He would have been custom-made to jump in and contribute on a PG-less team.

Free Agents, Don’t Get Too Excited About 2010

20 02 2009

Brett Ballantini, of, drops some Walt Whitman and describes why you shouldn’t get too excited about the lauded NBA free agent class of 2010.  

We’re starting to see some scary signs of the real world creeping into the NBA, and not just in the form of “clearing cap space.” Seats near and far from the sidelines sit empty—a small-market club like the Bucks feel lucky to avoid hearing echoes dribbling in a half-full Bradley Center these days. And now news has leaked of a league “emergency fund” of borrowed monies, intended to help keep the weakest NBA teams afloat.

The salary cap is going down—perhaps as fast as it shot up.

A conservative estimate might peg the ‘09-10 salary cap at $50 million, a drop of 15 percent. If all things economic aren’t righted by miracle cure, it’s reasonable to think the recovery might not be underway by 2011, so expect the cap to take another plunge from there.

When the dust settles on the storied Class of 2010, teams could be squeezing players into a salary cap that’s rolled back to $45 million or less.

It’s a very good, informative and well-researched piece.  Read the rest of it here.

First or Last: The Win Is All That Matters

17 02 2009

"Kerr, for the win!"

“If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

It’s a funny Will Ferrell quote from Talladega Nights.

The line is also a succinct assertion about our society and, specifically, our society’s relationship with sports.

You can find this attitude everywhere: from the after-school park district basketball court to the Staples Center.

Playing to win all the marbles is not a mentality, it’s a framework in which all sports actions are judged.

When Dave (nbaroundtable) shared his thoughts on the recent Vlade Radmanovic-for-Adam Morrison trade, I was struck by the home run-or-nothing sentiment.

…the Bobcats just keep cutting off their options and with each solid role player that they acquire they also remove themselves from the running for a high lottery pick (they win more games).

His argument is certainly very logical and I agree with it to an extent.  But permeating that thought is this value statement: NBA champions or bust.

Suns GM Steve Kerr’s actions over the last couple years are indicative of this core value.  Kerr brought in Shaquille O’Neal, forced Mike D’Antoni out because an offensive-minded coach doesn’t win championships and has now replaced Terry Porter because, I guess, a defense-oriented coach can’t win a championship.

Robert Sarver, the Suns owner, is obviously complicit in all of Kerr’s actions but the sentiment is still “win or else,” regardless of who is driving it.

I hear the same call-to-action from Chicago Bulls fans around town.  “We have Derrick Rose!  Let’s just start over!”  Everyone I talk to thinks they should literally trade away the entire roster and “rebuild” around Derrick Rose.

I’ve lived in Chicago since 1998 and the Bulls have won 312 regular season games.  They’ve lost 529 out of 841.  That’s a .37 winning percentage.  I’m sure there are junior college kids next door that have a higher BAC.  As much as I would love a seventh trophy, I wouldn’t mind seeing them at least field a competitive (ie. non-lottery) team for more than three consecutive years.

So if you don’t win everything, what constitutes success?

Consider that the NBA has 30 teams in the league.  Only one of them will “succeed” each season.  Twenty-nine other teams will effectively be “worthless” to the vast majority of their stakeholders.

Think about the San Antonio Spurs and how successful they have been this decade.  Not only have they won several NBA championships, the Spurs own one of the top win-loss records in the four major American sports.  The organization is a blue-print for success.  Their success is so heralded that a few business meetings I’ve gone to have referenced their winning culture — and I work in the healthcare industry, far from the hardwood.

Now, keep the Spurs’ winning percentage and their culture but extract their four championships since 1999.  Would a typical sports fan consider these theoretical Spurs a “successful franchise?”

My guess is a resounding no.

I’m not against “reach for the stars.”  The NBA championship should still be the primary goal.  But should we place the value of a team solely on whether they get a ring at the end of every season?  Is “first or last” the lesson we want to impart in our sports?

The Treatment of Oden vs. Bynum

10 02 2009

The phrase “injury-prone” is completely subjective when comparing Greg Oden and Andrew Bynum.

Greg Oden’s major injuries

  • June 2006 – surgery for torn ligaments in right wrist
  • Sept 2007 – surgery on right knee

Andrew Bynum’s major injuries

  • May 2008 – surgery on left knee
  • January 2009 – current right knee injury

Supposedly, Bynum’s newest injury won’t require an operation.  However, after he injured his left knee in January 2008, the team doctors stated in mid-March 2008 that he’d be “a couple, three weeks before he’s doing some things on the court.”  I guess they meant he’d be in street clothes because they waxed optimistic until Phil Jackson kept it real in mid-April.  That May, Bynum went under the knife two months after the “doing some things on the court” statement.

Is history repeating itself?  Phil Jackson said, “if it’s not an operation… we have to be pleased with it.”

The LA Times comes to the rescue, stating that “the latest injury to Andrew Bynum probably has more to do with bad karma than inherently bad knees, medical experts say.”  They report that Bynum’s two knee injuries “are unrelated… and don’t foreshadow a career punctuated by knee problems.”

And then they contradict themselves here:

Bynum will not walk away from back-to-back knee injuries completely unscathed, however. His kneecap injury suggests that he is a bit loose-jointed. And both knees probably will be sensitive to contact injuries in the future, DiNubile said.

Good thing basketball isn’t a contact sport.  Oh, wait…

What’s interesting is how Greg Oden’s injuries have been treated in relation to Bynum’s.  Although an SI article points out after Oden’s surgery:

What makes all of this complicated — as anyone with a serious medical issue will attest — is that different doctors will have different opinions. Provide the 30 NBA franchises with the same MRIs and medical results, and their team doctors will arrive at a variety of diagnoses and predictions.

And yet Oden has been called the “glass man” or “as brittle as a saltine cracker.”  People called this kid everything but a leper.

The beat down got to a point where JA Adande wrote that Oden “complained of fatigue after making the news conference-talk show-promotional appearance-ESPY rounds in the weeks after the NBA draft. Now, after a college season of 32 games (50 fewer than in the NBA regular season), he has a serious knee injury.” 

Ever heard of fatigue?  You know, like maybe when a 19-year-old kid travels from suburban Indiana and gets thrust into the national media spotlight.  Apparently, multiple television appearances and a cross-country trip are sure-tell risk factors for major knee injury.  Hurry, someone should warn Suri Cruise.  She could be next…

It seems as though the label “injury-prone” is more for those with selective labelling skills.  When one article is named “Oden following in footsteps of misfortune in Portland,” and another is “Andrew Bynum’s injuries probably just bad luck,” you’ve got to scratch your head for a second. 

It must be noted that Oden is the top pick of a more recent draft.  There is definitely an expectation of immediate results from a #1 draft pick as opposed to #10, where Bynum was taken in 2005. 

High school players — even those drafted in the lottery — generally garner more patience than collegiate players.  There’s definitely an expectation that former NCAA players are more polished than their high school counterparts.  So expecting more production from Oden at a much faster rate is certainly normal for the public.  However, it should be noted that Oden had spent only one more year playing collegiately than Bynum did.

Oden and Bynum have suffered arguably the same amount of injuries.  Both have great potential, they’re three months apart in age and yet criticism of Greg Oden, by far, outweighs that of his NBA colleague.

Once again, consistency matters.