Tag Archives: Pistons

You are here: Home / Archive

Projecting The NBA East Playoff Seeding

Down to a dozen games to go and only three spots seem to have been settled when it comes to playoff seeding. Cavs, Celtics and Hawks appear to have locked in their current postseason rank and everyone else with a chance is still battling for position.

The Cavaliers only have a game and a half lead over the Celtics for first and ESPN projects they’ll finish two games ahead at the end of the regular season. Unless coach Lue goes a little overboard on this “rest” concept, only road games in San Antonio and Boston should really present a test to the team everyone has pegged as returning to defend their NBA title. Of course they’ll likely punt a few games unless Boston is really pushing them.

And Boston’s relatively easy schedule just might give them that opportunity to push the Cavs all the way to the end of the regular season. If it wasn’t for those recent unexpected losses to the Suns, Nuggets and 76ers, the ESPN prediction of a 7-4 run to the finish would look unreasonably conservative.

The Wizards will be doing well to finish out the last 12 games going 6-6. Losers of their last two games, they play 5th place Atlanta and last place Nets before heading out on a brutal five game road trip book-ended by Cleveland and Golden State.  They might need to win out in April to go 6-6. Fortunately it looks like the Hawks are too far back to pass them for 4th.

ESPN has Toronto passing the Wizards for 3rd place and if they win the games they are supposed to, the Raptors will be better than the projected 8-4 over their last 12 games and be ready to pounce on any unexpected major slippage by the Celtics for 2nd.

The real battle for playoff seeding begins at 6th and runs through 10th place. Someone isn’t going to make it who thinks they should.

The Pacers are trying to set some kind of bizarre record for alternating wins and losses (now at 14 games of a loss followed by a win) and if they can keep it up, they should grab one of the three remaining playoff spots. However, they have a tough remaining schedule, so the 5-7 ESPN prediction seems reasonable and could be bad news. A 41-41 record might not be enough for a playoff spot.

Milwaukee is hot and got hot at the right time, but Giannis Antetokoumpo turned an ankle and if he misses the usual two weeks, all bets are off on how the Bucks finish out the regular season. With Antetokoumpo, the ESPN prediction of going 6-7 seems ultra-conservative, without him, it might be generous.

The Pistons are in a tie with the Heat now and forecast to still be tied at the end of the regular season. Detroit needs to make hay from now to the end of March when they have seven winnable games because they aren’t making up any ground in April.

The Heat have won a home-and-home against the Cavs in March and then beat Toronto, but they face a tough schedule to the end of the regular season with Toronto twice more, Boston, Detroit, Washington twice and the Cavs again. They’ll have to perform without their third best scorer in Dion Waiters who might miss the rest of the regular season with an ankle injury.

The Bulls have the schedule to make up ground, but they haven’t been playing well and have lost Wade for the season.

The Hornets have a tough schedule ahead of them and just don’t seem to have anything left in the tank.

Playoff seeding 6th thru 8th is decidedly undecided.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA East

Playoff Contenders And Pretenders In The NBA East

As NBA teams prepare for New Year’s celebrations, their coaches and general managers have to start facing up to some tough realities. Are they playoff contenders or pretenders in the East? Is it time to tank for the best possible NBA Draft Lottery ticket or go all in for one of the readily available last four playoff spots?

Currently there are eight teams fighting for the last four playoff spots in the Eastern Conference: Hawks, Wizards, Knicks, Bulls, Bucks, Pacers, Magic and Pistons and the 12th place Pistons are only three games back of the fifth place Hawks. Whoever can get and keep their act together over the final 40-odd games left in the season is in.

Just for perspective, ESPN Eastern Conference predictions have the Hornets, Celtics, Raptors and Cavaliers at better than 95 percent certainty of making the postseason. Although only the Raptors and Cavs are given any chance at advancing to the NBA Finals. Miami, Brooklyn and Philadelphia are already relegated to just playing out the string. ESPN also provides Strength of Schedule and the usual standings details to help round out where the teams in the East stand.

NBA East

The teams, their opponents, the fans or anyone else for that matter is under no obligation to just accept ESPN’s predictions. These eight teams are so close that the right move could solidify, boost or reverse (if the tank is in) the fortunes of any one of them.

Atlanta Hawks – ESPN 6th

The Hawks have made the postseason in each of the past nine seasons and if any organization has shown they can pull out the stops necessary to get back there again, this is it.

This team is full value for their .500 record. They have shown an ability to beat anyone, like the Raptors and Cavs and then lose to anyone as they did to the Timberwolves and Magic recently.

With fully half of this roster expected to hit free agency in July, one might expect the Hawks to do the rational move and cash in a high value player who will be tough to keep for a very mediocre team to get future assets, but pending free agents haven’t produced much in trade talks in recent years and it’ll be easier to just try to ride this group to a 10th in a row postseason appearance.

At this point, it wouldn’t be safe to go against the ESPN prediction.

Washington Wizards – ESPN 9th

The Wizards have reversed a terrible start to the season, but they did it playing a somewhat soft schedule that included a couple of wins over the Nets in December.

The best arguments for not just blowing up this roster are the two wins over Milwaukee and the wins over Charlotte and Detroit this month, all of whom ESPN has finishing ahead of Washington.

The Wizards financially committed to winning this season and should be actively looking for trades over the next six weeks to upgrade their roster, especially that terrible 29th ranked (worse than the Nets) bench. It wouldn’t take much to keep them solidly in the playoff picture.

If the Wizards don’t make a move, ESPN has got this prediction right.

New York Knicks – ESPN 10th

Will the Knicks break the hearts of their long suffering fans once again? Probably and it isn’t hard to see why. It’s challenging to project any team giving up nearly 108 points per game making the playoffs.

They are getting outscored by their opponents by the second biggest margin in this group of eight teams. They can’t beat good teams and the much anticipated string of injuries to this rather brittle roster has yet to really happen.

It’s easy to see the Knicks trying to turn draft picks into players that could help now and it might work – for this season, but hasn’t this organization had it’s fill of being taken advantage of by other teams for possible short term gain?

The Knicks making the postseason would be a real “feel good” story. However, the competition for one of those spots might just be too tough unless a few of their competitors decide to tank.

Chicago Bulls – ESPN 8th

Underachievers sums up the Bulls season and it might just cost head coach Fred Hoiberg his job, but if that happens, just throw out the ESPN prediction of 8th place. This team would be headed back to the Lottery and looking to retool for next year.

The Bulls have enjoyed the easiest schedule in the NBA and they are blowing it. Worse, they don’t seem to know why things aren’t going better and can benching Rajon Rondo in the second half of games really be the answer? Throw out the all the fancy ESPN stats on this one, since beating the Cavs on December 2nd, they’ve lost to every team that matters to go 5-10.

If any team needs to make a deal, the Bulls are it and they have assets other teams should be interested in. Assuming management can keep its focus, but this is one team that seems destined to return to the Lottery.

Milwaukee Bucks – ESPN 5th

A young Bucks team hasn’t fared so well thru a rough patch in the schedule, but they still hold the largest points differential of the teams in the group while playing the second toughest schedule. A 7-8 December includes losses to the Spurs, Raptors and Cavs twice.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker are the present and the future of this team and any tinkering with this roster has to take these two future (all?)-stars into account. Plus Kris Middleton could return from his hamstring injury after the All-Star break, so the pressure is off in terms of needing to add another impact player.

Sorry Greg Monroe, but the Bucks aren’t under any pressure to move you, but if any team has a point guard they’d like to swap for a big man?

This team is going to the postseason.

Indiana Pacers – ESPN 11th

Tied with Chicago for the easiest schedule in the NBA, a team featuring Paul George should be competing with Toronto for second place in the East instead of owning a spot in the Lottery. There were consequences to shaking up the roster and firing the head coach after what should have been considered a successful season last year.

A team that used to be known for playing big is getting crushed on the glass to the tune of almost 12 offensive rebounds given up and a rebounding differential approaching 5. Add that to the third worst bench in the NBA and what’s become a middle of the road starting group, and even a superstar isn’t going to save you.

A trade for a shooting guard that could score would help as would a big that could rebound, but the Pacers don’t have a lot to offer in return. Unfortunately, ESPN’s prediction of 11th place is looking to be rock solid.

Orlando Magic – ESPN 12th

Apparently someone forgot to mention that the NBA is a guard driven league these days?

The Magic have trouble scoring, they aren’t much of a three-point threat and they could use upgrades at both guard spots. Other than that, this team could be really good. Maybe a trade would help?

Bringing in Serge Ibaka on an expiring deal without the guard play necessary to get the most out of him could easily turn this into a terrible trade for the Magic when he walks away in free agency in July. So sooner rather than later, the Magic have to either trade Ibaka to get something back or trade someone else to get the help needed to turn this sinking Titanic around in hopes of convincing Ibaka to re-sign.

Either way, go with the ESPN prediction. The Magic’s plan for this season didn’t work.

Detroit Pistons – ESPN 7th

Stan Van Gundy is a really good coach, but even he seems flustered by the play of this group. Although, playing the second toughest schedule in the NBA could do that to a team expected to finish somewhere between 5th and 8th before the season began.

The Pistons have played 20 games against teams with a .500 record or better. The Bulls have only played 12, the Wizards 13, and the Hawks and Pacers 14. Van Gundy has his excuse for being in 12th place at 15-20 on the season (not that he’s using it.)

A middle of the road group of starters is supported by the East’s 4th best bench, so slipping into a playoff spot is well within reach and Van Gundy isn’t above rolling the dice on a trade. Although, all the Pistons may need to do is to wait on the schedule to turn in their favor and they’ll meet or exceed ESPN’s prediction.

In Summary,

Contenders: Hawks, Bucks, Pistons

Pretenders: Knicks, Pacers, Magic

Let’s Make A Deal: Wizards, Bulls

 

Who do you think can grab one of the final four playoff spots in the East?

Which teams pull the trigger on a deal – to make it? – or tank?

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

NBA Detroit Pistons Andre Drummond and Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Home Opener Features Valanciunas Vs Drummond

The Toronto Raptors tip-off their 22nd season in the NBA by hosting the Detroit Pistons at Air Canada Centre on Wednesday night and a league that has in recent years been overlooking traditional big men, this contest features the recurring rematch of the paint-bound seven footers Jonas Valanciunas and Andre Drummond.

Drummond and Valanciunas will always be linked in Toronto as Drummond is the defensive center the Raptors bypassed in the 2012 draft to take three-point specialist Terrence Ross because they had already drafted the young Lithuanian center Valanciunas the summer before and he was set to make his Raptors debut that fall.

Battle lines and future comparisons were set between the two young centers and while the Raptors have enjoyed significantly more team success since the centers rookie seasons, Drummond has easily won the popularity contest and created second thoughts in the Toronto fan base.

The Pistons finally made it back to the postseason last spring with a 44-38 record after six straight trips to the NBA Draft Lottery and were swept out in four straight by the Cavaliers. The 56 win Raptors returned to the postseason for the third straight time and eventually lost to those same Cavs 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Drummond has gotten all the publicity in this “relationship” as he has continued to put up ever more gaudy numbers during the regular season. Last year the Pistons center averaged 16.2 points, 14.8 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks in 32.9 minutes while Valanciunas appeared to lag with just 12.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 26 minutes as he split time with Bismack Biyombo.

Since Drummond and Valanciunas entered the league in 2012, the Raptors are 9-5 versus the Pistons and the two bigs are a lot closer in stats head-to-head than their regular season totals would indicate. Valanciunas averaging 14.9 points on 62.3 percent shooting, 8.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 14 games versus Detroit. Drummond averaging 11.9 points on 50 percent shooting, 11.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in his 14 games. One of the big differences coming at the free throw line where Drummond’s struggles have been epic, scoring fewer points on nearly twice as many attempts (36.5 percent) as Valanciunas (72 percent). Drummond has actually been getting worse from the charity stripe over the past three seasons.

This seems to be the year Raptors head coach Dwane Casey will finally be forced to “free Valanciunas” as Biyombo was lost to free agency and his replacement Jared Sullinger is going to miss a few months with a broken foot. On opening night, the Raptors backup center will be rookie Jacob Poeltl. For Toronto, there couldn’t be a better and more interesting matchup for opening night than Detroit.

Toronto will open the season missing Sullinger (left foot surgery), center Lucas Nogueira questionable (ankle sprain) and point guard Delon Wright out until December (shoulder surgery).

Detroit will be missing Reggie Jackson (left knee rehab).

Last year Toronto won the season series 2-1 outscoring the Pistons 105-103.3 with the edge coming at the free throw line 20.7-27.3 versus 16.3-26 and pretty much all of that discrepancy can be attributed to Drummond’s inability to connect from the charity stripe. So these two teams should be expected to put on a good show.

The Raptors won this year’s preseason game in Detroit 103-92 with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combining for 53 points in a blowout not reflected by the final score.

“They ran their stuff with a lot of tempo, a lot of speed and we weren’t able to match that,” (Tobias) Harris said. “The physicality got to us early on and that’s something we have to adjust to and really adapt to when we’re playing against teams that can impose their will. We have to learn and grow from it.”

But that was preseason and everybody is ready to get beyond what happened in those meaningless games.

“We are really looking forward to tomorrow’s game,” Valanciunas said after practice on Tuesday. “Enough of preseason, we need some real games.”

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 


 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Guards Show Mid-Season Form In Detroit

The preseason tilt between the Raptors and the Pistons in Detroit on Wednesday night gave a good indication about which team was ready to start the regular season and who still has a lot of work to do. The Detroit News James Hawkins reported on Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy’s displeasure with the effort he saw in his team’s final tune-up, a 103-92 loss that was worse than the score indicated.

“I have been happy with our team’s work ethic and how hard we have played throughout the preseason, but I wasn’t tonight,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I was really disappointed. I did not think that we competed hard enough tonight.

“They pounded us on the glass. I did not think we were very aggressive defensively. I do not think we did a great job contesting shots. I just do not think we battled hard.”

Toronto outrebounded Detroit 47-37 and won the turnover battle with 21 points off 14 Pistons turnovers to just 5 points on 12 opportunities provided by the Raptors.

The game was close through the first eight minutes with the lead changing hands three times, but when Van Gundy pulled his starters 8.7 minutes in and three points down, things quickly fell apart.

As Drummond exited for the 19-year-old rookie Henry Ellenson, Raptors head coach Dwane Casey replaced Jonas Valanciunas with third year center Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira and it all went downhill for Detroit. Patrick Patterson, who had subbed in for rookie Pascal Siakam a minute earlier, found Nogueira for a dunk and a minute later Nogueira grabbed Drew Crawford’s miss on a long three-point attempt for a layup. DeMar DeRozan scored his 10 point of the quarter with less than a second left after Nogueria rebounded a Marcus Morris missed three-point attempt with 18 seconds left in the quarter and nearly 12 seconds left on the shot clock.

Nogueira may have been beating up on a rookie, but that’s what he’s supposed to do at this point in his career and what Casey will need from him on most nights during the regular season. Bebe finished with 8 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists in 18 effective minutes.

However, it was business as usual for Toronto’s All-Star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan as they combined for 53 points on 18-35 shooting from the field and outrebounded the Pistons starting backcourt 10-0. Backup point guard Cory Joseph piling on with 10 points, 6 rebounds and a team-high 4 assists. The Raptors guards imposed their will on Detroit.

“They ran their stuff with a lot of tempo, a lot of speed and we weren’t able to match that,” (Tobias) Harris said. “The physicality got to us early on and that’s something we have to adjust to and really adapt to when we’re playing against teams that can impose their will. We have to learn and grow from it.”

Toronto led by 20 points late in the third quarter when Lowry and DeMarre Carroll were subbed out for Joseph and training camp hopeful Fred VanVleet and the Pistons went on an 8-1 run to close out the frame. VanVleet going 0-4 from the field for 0 points, 0 rebounds and 0 assists over the final 15 minutes. The now veteran Joseph providing nearly half of Toronto’s fourth quarter offense with 10 points on 4-4 shooting as his team’s leader on the court with Lowry watching from the bench. The Pistons starters Ish Smith, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Andre Drummond salvaging what the could from this game against Toronto’s 2nd/3rd unit.

The Pistons will get a chance at redemption in the Raptors home opener on October 26th.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 


 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Experts Rank The 2016-17 NBA East

It seems like months since an NBA team has made a move that wasn’t anticipated or mattered, so how the NBA East was ranked really shouldn’t have changed much since the end of July when ESPN forecast the standings for 2016-17. Recently Basketball Insiders Joel Brigham and Steve Kyler threw caution to the wind and talked thru their ranking of the Eastern Conference and Pro Bball Report has come to its own conclusions about where this season is headed.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers, last year 57-25

ESPN – Cavaliers
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Cavaliers
Pro Bball Report – Cavaliers

Even with the Cavs three-point leader J.R. Smith still unsigned for 2016-17, any team LeBron James is on remains the undisputed favorite in the East. Besides, no one believes the 31-year-old Smith really has any other option but to re-sign with the Cavaliers.

2. Toronto Raptors, last year 56-26

ESPN – Toronto/Boston tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Raptors
Pro Bball Report – Raptors

Don’t undersell a 56 win season. ESPN tends to overestimate the impact of the loss of backup (stress backup) center Bismack Biyombo on Toronto who Kyler suggests might have the worst hands in basketball and ESPN ignores the challenge Boston will face with the loss of their best rebounder in Jared Sullinger to Toronto. The Celtics may have picked up a few wins with the veteran savvy of All-Star Al Horford, but a really bad rebounding team got worse this summer. Boston is still going to struggle getting the ball back after playing their brand of stellar defense again this season.

3. Boston Celtics, last year 48-34

ESPN – Toronto/Boston tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Pacers
Pro Bball Report – Celtics

Kyler likes the Celtics here, disagreeing with his senior writer on this pick as he is not sold on the Pacers coaching change and he’s got a point, Frank Vogel is a superior coach. However, everyone seems to agree that the top four teams in the East are the Cavs, Raptors, Celtics and Pacers. It’s easy to like the Celtics here.

4. Indiana Pacers, last year 45-37

ESPN – Pacers/Pistons tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Celtics
Pro Bball Report – Pacers

After watching Paul George in the first round of the playoffs, it’s easy to say the Pacers are back and they have a superstar that can carry the team. The Jeff Teague for George Hill move is likely a wash, but acquiring Thaddeus Young is an upgrade and if Al Jefferson can get his game back on track, the Pacers will be one of the tougher teams in the East. Replacing Frank Vogel with Nate McMillan remains a head scratcher?

5. Detroit Pistons, last year 44-38

ESPN – Pacers/Pistons tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Bulls
Pro Bball Report – Pistons

Basketball Insiders seems to think that as many as 12 teams in the East could have 40 or more wins in 2016-17, although a couple of teams are likely to fall short of expectations. Like last season when 10 teams had 40+ win records, the battle for the last four playoff spots is going to be fierce. The Pistons are building from a solid base with a fiery head coach known for getting the most out of his guys (at least for a few years). All the rest have issues to overcome and the Pistons continuity should give them the edge.

6. Chicago Bulls, last year 42-40

ESPN – Hawks
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Wizards
Pro Bball Report – Bulls

ESPN hangs their hat on the acquisition of Dwight Howard to save the Hawks, but that’s not a limb everyone is going to be willing to climb out on. In Chicago the combination of Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade should be enough to get the Bulls back in the postseason picture and it’s hard jumping on a Wizards revival bandwagon before seeing them play a game.

7. Charlotte Hornets, last year 48-34

ESPN – Hornets
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Knicks
Pro Bball Report – Hornets

Yes the Hornets lost Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee, but this team lives and dies on the play of Kemba Walker and as long as he returns 100 percent from his August knee surgery, the Hornets should be back in the mix for a playoff spot. Kyler’s assertion that this team can’t put together back-to-back winning seasons notwithstanding. Unfortunately, the popular Knicks are a team built to break their fans’ hearts.

8. Orlando Magic, last year 35-47

ESPN – Wizards
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Detroit
Pro Bball Report – Magic

Kyler acknowledges the Magic, among others, can win 40 games, although it will likely take 44 wins again this season to make the playoffs in the East. The Magic have issues to overcome, but talent isn’t one of them. This team will rise or falter on new head coach Frank Vogel’s ability to get the most out of what he’s got and just in case you haven’t been paying attention, betting against Vogel hasn’t been a good idea.

9. New York Knicks, last year 32-50

ESPN – Knicks/Bulls tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Magic
Pro Bball Report – Knicks

On paper the Knicks should be fifth in the East like Kyler suggested, unfortunately at this point in their careers some of the Knicks best players have joints that seem to be made of paper. If Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings, Carmelo Anthony and Joakim Noah can stay on the court, the Knicks can stay in the playoff picture and be a threat in the postseason. Based on recent Knicks luck, that’s a lot to ask for.

10. Washington Wizards, last year 41-41

ESPN – Knicks/Bulls tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Bucks
Pro Bball Report – Wizards

A lot of people want the Wizards to figure it out. Wall and Beal are an exciting pair when they are healthy and don’t appear to hate each other (ok, hate is a little strong, but there are issues here). The Wizards are just one year away from a 46 win season, but that feels like ancient history now and if things aren’t going well by Christmas, changes will need to be made. Maybe Scott Brooks can save this motley crew, but we’re not convinced.

11. Atlanta Hawks, last year 48-34

ESPN – Bucks
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Hornets
Pro Bball Report – Hawks

Two seasons ago the Hawks were a 60 win team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, but since then DeMarre Carroll, Jeff Teague and Al Horford have moved/been moved on and Kyle Korver has had his 35th birthday. The Hawks are good enough to win 40 games, but that record will still end a nine year run as an Eastern Conference playoff team. There’s no love for the Hawks chances from Basketball Insiders. ESPN putting the Hawks in sixth feels like a lot of wishful thinking.

12. Milwaukee Bucks, last year 33-49

ESPN – Heat
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Hawks
Pro Bball Report – Bucks

The Bucks appear to have improved somewhat from last season, but so much of their success will hinge on the development of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker and getting a collection of talent that doesn’t quite seem to fit to play better.

13. Miami Heat, last year 48-34

ESPN – Magic
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Heat
Pro Bball Report – Heat

The Heat’s Big Three are no more. LeBron James left for Cleveland last year. Wade bolted for Chicago this summer and Chris Bosh may or may not ever play again. Add to this to the loss of Luol Deng and Joe Johnson and the Heat are rebuilding – whether they admit to it or not. The only real question outstanding is if Miami is willing to move out the 30-year-old veteran Goran Dragic for young players and a draft pick or do they stay the course and hope for better than the rationally expected outcome?

14. Philadelphia 76ers, last year 10-72

ESPN – 76ers/Nets tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – 76ers
Pro Bball Report – 76ers

A very young and inexperienced roster of top NBA draft picks with veterans Sergio Rodriguez, Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson providing some badly needed leadership that should enable this team to double last year’s win total.

15. Brooklyn Nets, last year 21-61

ESPN – 76ers/Nets tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Nets
Pro Bball Report – Nets

It wasn’t easy to field a team that was worse than last year’s Nets, but with a little work (salary dump), the Nets made it happen. And the Celtics can swap first round draft picks with Brooklyn in June and own the Nets 2018 first round pick. This is what basketball purgatory looks like.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 


 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMarre Carroll

Ranking The NBA Eastern Conference 2016-17

By Danny Thompson, Full Court Press Radio

Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers ended up defeating the Golden State Warriors bringing the Larry O’Brien Trophy back to the Eastern Conference, but the major question is what did the other 14 teams in the East do to keep the Cavs from repeating? Here’s an early season preview on each of the teams.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

Key Additions- Mike Dunleavy Jr and Chris Anderson
Key Loss- Matthew Dellavadova

Outlook – LeBron James just re-signed and although J.R Smith hasn’t (he will), the Cavaliers are the defending NBA Champions with no major losses from last year’s team. Kyrie Irving has turned into a superstar point guard and could be best point guard not named Paul, Westbrook or Curry in the NBA. Dunleavy Jr. brings a solid 3-point marksman off the bench. Now the real question is will Kevin Love still be on this roster on opening night? If he is, then they should repeat with no problems.


2. Toronto Raptors

Key Addition- Jared Sullinger
Key Losses- Bismack Biyombo and Luis Scola

Outlook – Toronto entered Free Agency with one major agenda and that was re-signing DeMar DeRozan as soon as possible. Well the Compton, California native didn’t entertain the chance to going back home and signed a huge contract to stay in Toronto. Playoff hero Bismack Biyombo got a huge payday from the Orlando Magic and the team lost a few spare pieces off a team that won 56 games and took the Cavaliers to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. So why do they stay at number 2? Well Jonas Valenciunas and DeMarre Carroll are both healthy and they added former Celtic Jared Sullinger to help in the forward rotation. Besides you have Kyle Lowry and DeRozan as your starting backcourt. There’s no need to go any further.

3. Boston Celtics

Key Addition- Al Horford
Key Losses- Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger

Outlook – Boston didn’t get Kevin Durant, but they got former Hawks All-Star Al Horford to come play in Beantown. The 31-year-old Horford, brings an interior presence, a solid team defender and inside/outside threat from the post. Armed with so many young players, they let Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger go in free agency, but 1st round pick Jaylen Brown should ease some of the load and remember the Celtics still have 1st time All-Star Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart and All-NBA Defensive wizard Avery Bradley as your lead guard rotation. One can only wonder when will Danny Ainge pull the trigger on a big trade for one more big fish to chase Cleveland and Toronto in the East.

4. Indiana Pacers

Key Addtions- Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson
Key Losses- George Hill, Jordan Hill and Ian Mahinmi

Outlook – No team was more active in the early part of summer than the Indiana Pacers. They made Draft day deals for Teague and Young and during the free agency period and added Al Jefferson from Charlotte. With the additions Teague and Young, the Pacers potentially the best starting 5 in the Eastern Conference. Jefferson brings one of the best low post games to the bench while they still have All-Star Paul George, the always dangerous Monta Ellis and the improving 2nd year stud Miles Turner. Remember CJ Miles and Rodney Stuckey will lead the bench unit along with Jefferson. The major questions is how will new head coach Nate McMillan turn this group into a Eastern Conference contender.

5. Atlanta Hawks

Key Additions- Dwight Howard and Jarrett Jack
Key Losses- Al Horford and Jeff Teague

Outlook – I know when you look at this your wondering why are the Hawks rated this high? Well, adding Howard is going to be bigger than most think. Howard, in this writers opinion, will turn back into the Orlando Howard. Yes he’s a bit older and a lot of his athleticism is gone, that doesn’t mean Howard can’t go back to 18 points, 12 rebounds and at least 2 blocks a game. Howard spending more time in the post will allow Paul Millsap to be able to have more space on the floor on the offensive side. Resigning Kent Bazemore was critical to this team upcoming success especially if one of the draft picks Taurean Prince or DeAndre Bembry can step into the starting Small Forward spot and allow Kyle Korver to come off the bench. But the evolution of Dennis Schroder into an upper ensulion Point Guard is the key for the Hawks to stay in this spot.

6. New York Knicks

Key Additions- Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee
Key Losses- Langston Galloway, Aaron Affalo, Robin Lopez and Derrick Williams

Outlook – New York made some major splashes and took some major risks in the process. By adding Rose and Noah from Chicago they are taking a big risk with guys with no good great injury histories. Noah has had one season since 2009-2010 of playing at least 70 games and we already know about Rose’s history. Bringing in Lee adds another solid role player who knows his role and plays it very well. If the Knicks starting 5 can at least by 65 games together, this ranking might be a bit too low.

7. Charlotte Hornets

Key Additions- Roy Hibbert, Ramon Sessions and Marco Bellini
Key Losses- Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee

Outlook – Charlotte did lose a lot this summer from a team that was one game away from being in the 2nd round of the Playoffs. So after losing 3 key members off last season’s team, how can they stay in the playoffs? Getting a full season from defensive wizard Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the 1st reason. With MKG and Nicolas Batum manning the wings it allows for Kemba Walker to play the passing lanes, which creates more steals. Adding Roy Hibbert at center is a massive upgrade on the defensive side of the floor because Jefferson couldn’t really guard anyone in the post. The main problem once again is can this team score enough points to win. For Charlotte to take that step forward, it’s going to have to be a team effort and they have enough guys who can do that. Watch for Walker to be an All-Star this year.

8. Chicago Bulls

Key Additions- Dwayne Wade, Rajon Rondo and Robin Lopez
Key Losses- Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose

Outlook – The Bulls didn’t make the playoffs last year and they lost Pau Gasol among other players, but this team will end up outlasting Detroit to make the final spot in the playoffs. Any time you have All-Stars in Wade and Jimmy Butler it’s kind of hard to leave them out of the playoffs. Wade has something to prove as he was passed over for a major contract this summer. Now they are issues everywhere when it comes to the roster and the style of play that 2nd year Head Coach Fred Hoiberg wants to play. He wants to be a perimeter oriented team, well with Wade, Butler and Rajon Rondo you won’t get that at all. None of the 3 of them are close to being 3 point threats. Good news for Bulls fans is with the losses of Gasol and Noah, the #FreeBobbyPortis movement can finally see the light.

9. Detroit Pistons

Key Additons- Jon Leuer, Ish Smith and Boban Marjanovic
Key Losses- Steve Blake and Anthony Tolliver

Outlook – Detroit made the playoffs last year and this unit is still young so they miss the playoffs for what reason? Well, Chicago added Dwayne Wade, New York has a better starting 5 and Atlanta and Charlotte are just better teams currently. Someone had to miss the playoffs. The Pistons can easily make the playoffs if Stanley Johnson and Kentanvous Caldwell-Pope can exceed expectations. What Detroit really needs is that star that can take games over in the 4th quarter. Andre Drummond is a free throw liability and Reggie Jackson is not a closer.

10. Orlando Magic

Key Additions- Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, D.J. Augustin and Jeff Green
Key Losses- Victor Oladipo, Ersan Illavsova and Dewayne Dedmon

Outlook – Orlando made some interesting moves this summer to say the least. Good news is that they have the best shot blocking duo in the NBA, added a new Head Coach in Frank Vogel and they created a buzz in Orlando. Now here is the bad news, they don’t have a go-to-scorer, they have forced the potential face of franchise in Aaron Gordon to play out of position at Small Forward to get him playing time and have a serious issue when it comes to outside shooting. They added Jodie Meeks from Detroit, but he’s still hurt currently. Evan Fournier and Augustin are solid from behind the arc, but that’s really it. 2nd year Guard Mario Hezonja better make a tremendous leap or it’s going to be a long year in Orlando. To be honest, I’m not sold on the Biyombo signing, he’s needed but not at over $17 million per season.

11. Washington Wizards

Key Additions- Ian Mahinmi and Andrew Nicholson
Key Losses- Ramon Sessions, Nene, Gary Neal and Jared Dudley

Outlook – Washington has been going through the injury bug for years, especially with newly paid Bradley Beal. If All-Star Point Guard John Wall could finally get his main guys healthy long enough, this team has enough talent to potentially breakthrough and make the playoffs. New coach Scott Brooks is very good at getting the most out of his teams and if gets this unit in the playoffs, then he should be a serious candidate for Coach of the Year. If Beal and others can’t stay healthy, Wizards fans will be looking forward to next years draft.

12. Milwaukee Bucks

Key Additions- Matthew Dellavadova and Mirza Teletovic
Key Losses- Jerryd Bayless, OJ Mayo and Grievis Vasquez

Outlook – For a team that has one of the best groups of talent in the NBA and were in the playoffs 2 years ago, to be out of the playoffs for potentially a 2nd season in a row is head scratching. Lets be honest, the major hole on this roster was at point guard going into the summer. They went out and drafted Thon Maker (a 7’0 power forward/center) in the lottery, let Bayless and Vasquez go to other teams and went out and overpaid for Dellavadova from Cleveland. They would be better, if Michael Carter-Willams played with a pulse or the team could acquire a point guard for out of place Big Man Greg Monroe. Otherwise it could be a wasted year for young studs Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton in Milwaukee.

13. Miami Heat

Key Additions- Dion Waiters, Derrick Williams and Wayne Ellington
Key Losses- Dwayne Wade, Luol Deng and Joe Johnson

Outlook – It could be a long year in South Beach in 2016-2017 for Heat fans. They have lost the face of the franchise in Wade, key veterans in Deng and Johnson and they still don’t know about the health of Chris Bosh. This spells a recipe for disaster for head coach Eric Spolstra and company. On a positive note, this youth movement will allow Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson to grow as the leaders with Hassan Whiteside anchoring the low post.

14. Philadelphia 76ers

Key Additions- Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson
Key Loss- Ish Smith

Outlook – For the 1st Time in years the Philadelpha 76ers aren’t the worst team in the NBA. They added Ben Simmons, Saric and Joel Embiid to the front court that already has Nerlens Noel and Jahil Okafor in the rotation. Now if they can either be bad for one more year and draft a guard of the future or deal a big man or two to get an established one, then we are talking something special in Philly. Simmons alone is one of the few players worth getting NBA League Pass for in the upcoming season.

15. Brooklyn Nets

Key Additions- Jeremy Lin, Grievis Vasquez and Luis Scola
Key Losses- Jarrett Jack, Thaddeus Young and Wayne Ellington

Outlook – It could get really ugly in Brooklyn this year. I mean REALLY UGLY. They tried and failed in free agency, offering contracts to Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe only to have them matched by their teams. Their previous 1st round pick went to Boston and their upcoming pick will in most cases head right back to Boston as well. Unless the Brook-Lin connection is the basketball version of wrestling’s Rock and Sock Connection, they will not get out of the cellar in the Eastern Conference.

 

 

Danny Thompson Full Court Press Radio hostDanny Thompson is the Creator and Host of NBA Full Court Press Radio and Lead Columnist for FULL COURT PRESS RADIO.

Check out more from Danny here.
Reprinted with permission.

 

 

 


 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James and Kyrie Irving

NBA Eastern Conference’s Best Starting Lineups 2016-17

By Danny Thompson, Full Court Press Radio

Barring in major trades or injuries between now and the start of the NBA Season at the end of October, most teams across the league have their starting lineups pretty much in place.

Starting units are very important. Just ask the Detroit Pistons, who had one of the the best starting lineups last year by many metrics, which carried them to the playoffs despite having one of the worst benches by those very same metrics. Who has the best one currently in the Eastern Conference? Number one should be no surprise:

1. Cleveland – Kyrie Irving, J.R Smith, LeBron James, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson

They are the defending champions, so why wouldn’t they be at the very top. With Thompson and Love, teams have a hard time grabbing rebounds against them. We all know that Smith can go off from behind the arc at any point in time and Irving has entered the discussion being a top 5 point guard. By the way they have LeBron James on their team as well.

2. Toronto Raptors – Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Jared Sullinger and Jonas Valanciunas

This unit made the Eastern Conference Finals without Carroll or Valanciunas being anywhere near healthy. DeMarre Carroll was brought in to be a defensive stopper and glue guy, and this will be the year he makes good on that reputation. Sullinger brings another scoring threat who can take pressure off the Eastern Conference’s best backcourt.

3. Indiana Pacers – Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis, Paul George, Thaddeus Young and Myles Turner

So much talent here among this group of five. The three returning starters, Ellis, George, and Turner are very good. George is an MVP candidate, Turner could very well be the 2nd best player in his draft class, and Ellis is still a dangerous scorer. Now they add Thaddeus Young and Jeff Teague to the mix? This Pacer team has a group that could be very special.

4. Detroit Pistons – Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris and Andre Drummond

Detroit had one of the best starting 5’s in the NBA after they traded for Harris at the deadline, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be in the top five now, giving the young age of this group. Caldwell-Pope is the real key for the Pistons this year.

5. Boston Celtics – Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Al Horford and Amir Johnson

This rating would be higher if they can find a way to replace Johnson without having to move Horford away from the Power Forward spot. Johnson is a talented defensive player, but he has a lot of issues especially with fouling that keeps this unit from being higher. Like last year’s Warriors, The Celtics best lineup may not be the starting one, given the strength of Boston’s guards.

6. New York Knicks – Derrick Rose, Courtney Lee, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis and Joakim Noah

This team would be higher on this list, but there are so many injury flags with this group. If Rose and Noah can each play at least 65 games with this unit, Porzingis continues to develop, and Carmelo decides to lead this group like he’s leading Team USA this summer, then this rating is too low.

7. Charlotte Hornets – Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Ghilchrist, Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller

Charlotte has one of the best defensive units in the league, especially with Kidd-Ghilchrist coming back off of injury. Batum, along with the departed Jeremy Lin, allowed Kemba Walker to play off ball a lot last season, which helped Walker to have the best season of his career. Williams is very underrated at Power Forward, and Cody Zeller has to step up and play at an even higher level if the Hornets want to back in the playoffs.

8. Chicago Bulls – Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez

Fred Hoiberg wants a team that can go up and down the floor and be able to hit outside shots. The major issue is, well, none of the five listed here can do that. Maybe a style change will be in order in Chicago.

9. Milwaukee Bucks – Michael Carter-Williams, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Greg Monroe

This could be worse, Jason Kidd still wants to run Giannis at Point Guard and then this unit would have to use Rashad Vaughn or John Henson in the starting lineup. But the current 5 here is solid, especially if Carter-Williams can go back to his 76ers rookie season numbers.

10. Atlanta Hawks – Dennis Schröder, Kyle Korver, Kent Bazemore, Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard

Kyle Korver will start the season at the shooting guard spot until one of the rookies ( Prince or Bembry) can adjust to the small forward spot which will allow Kent Bazemore to move to shooting guard. Millsap and Howard are All-Stars and Schroder is going to be very good in his first year as a full-time starter.

11. Washington Wizards – John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Jr., Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat

The talent is there, but there are glaring issues. Bradley Beal hasn’t proven to be a consistent 70+ game a year player, but Markieff Morris should have a better season after looking lost after the trade to Washington. Wall is one of the top Point Guards in the league and Gortat was outstanding last year which was a good thing. Now, if Beal can live up to his contract and Porter can finally live up to his 3rd overall draft pick from a few seasons ago, then Washington could get back into the playoffs.

12. Orlando Magic – Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Serge Ibaka and Nikola Vucevic

After a season of having poor paint defense, they traded for Ibaka to be able to play beside Vucevic. Payton has very good court vision, but still haven’t proven to be a good shooter. Fournier had a career year last year after being given starters minutes and will put up simlar numbers this year. The key for success is Gordon’s adjustment to the Small Forward spot.

13. Miami Heat – Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Chris Bosh* and Hassan Whiteside

I know there is an asterisk beside Bosh’s name; We don’t know if he is going to play at all this year. Whiteside is an elite defensive center and Dragic is a solid point guard, but the youth of Richardson and Winslow playing major minutes is going to be the key in Miami this year. Without Bosh, you’re looking at either Derrick Williams or Josh McRoberts at Power Forward.

14. Philadelphia 76ers – Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson, Ben Simmons, Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel

The 76ers are so imbalanced right now; all of their talent is in the front court positions. If they can flip a big man or two for help in back court, then this rating is bit low. Simmons has so much star potential, it’s ridiculous. Having Henderson and Bayless off the bench is fine, but starting is not a good sign.

15. Brooklyn Nets – Jeremy Lin, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Trevor Booker and Brook Lopez

Brook Lopez is a very good center, and Lin is an upgrade over last years group of Jarrett Jack, Shane Larkin and Donald Sloan. Hollis-Jefferson is a solid wing defender, and Booker can provide a decent option at Power Forward. All five of these players are certainly fine on their own, but outside of Lopez, are all fringe starters.

 

 

Danny Thompson is the Creator and Host of NBA Full Court Press Radio and Lead Columnist of FULL COURT PRESS RADIO.

Check out more from Danny here.
Reprinted with permission.

 

 

 


 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Raptors Can Clinch A Playoff Berth On Monday Night

Someone check a calendar, it’s still March isn’t it? The Toronto Raptors don’t play again until Wednesday in Boston, but they may have already clinched a playoff spot if any one of Indiana, Detroit or Chicago loses on Monday night according to the NBA and Elias Sports Bureau.

The matchups that matter to Toronto on Monday night are:

76ers (9-61) at Pacers (36-33)
Bucks (30-40) at Pistons (36-34)
Kings (27-42) at Bulls (35-33)

Those should all be wins for the home teams, but each of them are 5-5 over their past 10 games, so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise if one of them has an even worse than lately off night.

In reality, any scoreboard watching should be of the Nuggets at Cleveland to face the Eastern Conference leading Cavaliers (49-20). The Raptors (48-21) are only one game back of the Cavs and can almost taste first place for the first time in franchise history this late in the season.

“We are in this to compete,” head coach Dwane Casey said after the win over the Magic.

But when asked if being one game out of first place was front and center Casey responded,

“It is, but still, I’d rather have health than anything else and freshness. That’s so important. Nobody wants to win more than me … but it’s a double-edged sword. I understand that it’s important to this organization, this city to fight for a championship. To even talk about playing for a championship is important. It’s never been done here before, so I think it’s important to say hey, we’re fighting for a championship and playing for that pride.”

The Toronto Raptors are only one win shy of tying the franchise record for wins in a season that was set just last year at 49 and they still have 13 games remaining. They are a team that is now on pace for a 57 win season having never cracked the 50 win barrier.

A playoff spot in March? First place in the East a possibility? No one saw that coming – maybe it’s time to suggest this team is actually pretty good?

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Can The Raptors Catch The Cavs For First In The East?

If Toronto can keep pace until April, they have a shot, in part because they own the tie-breaker having taken the regular season series with the Cavs 2-1. In the last two weeks the Cavaliers face a list of teams fighting for playoff position and possibly a playoff spot right thru to the end of the season in Atlanta twice, Charlotte, Indiana, Chicago and Detroit.

 

 

NBA Orlando Magic Tobias Harris

Magic Dump Tobias Harris for Two Pistons Veterans

The Orlando Magic signed forward Tobias Harris to a four-year $64 million contract this past summer and today they traded him for a pair of Pistons veterans in point guard Brandon Jennings and power forward Ersan Ilyasova.

“Brandon (Jennings) and Ersan (Ilyasova) are two veterans that will help balance our roster and provide valuable experience to our team,” General Manager Rob Hennigan said. “Both players bring scoring, competitiveness and added depth to our roster. We want to thank Tobias (Harris) for his contributions, both on and off the court.”

The Magic were underachieving this season and Harris’ scoring was down 3.4 points per game as his three-point shooting had dipped from 36.4 percent last year to 31.1 percent so far this season and his field goal attempts had dropped from 14 per game a year ago to 11 currently.

However, it is unusual for a team to give up on a 23-year-old player with impact potential so soon after signing him to an extension.

Ilyasova turns 29 in May and is in his eighth NBA season. He played two years in Europe after his rookie season before returning to the NBA.  He is averaging 11.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in 27.6 minutes this season and is a reliable journeyman stretch-four. His contract is only partially guaranteed for next year.

Jennings suffered a ruptured left Achilles tendon on January 24th last year and has played in just 23 games for the Pistons this season averaging 6.8 points, 2 rebounds and 3 assists. He is a free agent at the end of this year. Jennings was a dynamic volume scorer prior to his injury and he has shown flashes of potential since his return at the end of December.

There is no nice way to describe what the Magic did with Harris. They dumped his contract for two players they don’t have to keep beyond this season.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Official Press Release:

The Orlando Magic have acquired guard Brandon Jennings and forward Ersan Ilyasova from the Detroit Pistons in exchange for forward Tobias Harris, General Manager Rob Hennigan announced today.

“Brandon (Jennings) and Ersan (Ilyasova) are two veterans that will help balance our roster and provide valuable experience to our team,” said Hennigan. “Both players bring scoring, competitiveness and added depth to our roster. We want to thank Tobias (Harris) for his contributions, both on and off the court.”

Jennings (6’1″, 169, 9/23/89) has played in 23 games (one start) this season with Detroit, averaging 6.8 ppg., 3.0 apg. and 2.0 rpg. in 18.1 minpg. He has led (or tied) the team in scoring once, in rebounding once and in assists three times this season. Jennings has scored in double figures six times this season, including a season-high 22 points on Jan. 30 @ Toronto.

Originally selected in the first round (tenth overall) of the 2009 NBA Draft by Milwaukee, Jennings has played in 435 career regular season NBA games with Milwaukee and Detroit, averaging 16.0 ppg., 6.0 apg., 3.2 rpg. and 1.34 stlpg. in 33.1 minpg., while shooting .800 (1,233-1,541) from the free throw line. He has also appeared in 11 career playoff games, averaging 16.7 ppg., 3.7 apg., 2.7 rpg. and 1.55 stlpg. in 34.7 minpg. Jennings was named to the 2009-10 NBA All-Rookie First Team and earned NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month four times (October/November 2009, December 2009, January 2010 and March 2010), becoming the first Eastern Conference rookie to capture monthly honors four times during one season. He poured in a career-high 55 points on Nov. 14, 2009 vs. Golden State.

Ilyasova (6’10”, 235, 5/15/87) has played and started in 52 games this season with Detroit, averaging 11.3 ppg., 5.4 rpg. and 1.1 apg. in 27.6 minpg. He has led (or tied) the team in scoring four times and in rebounding three times this season. Ilyasova has scored in double figures 30 times this season, including a season-high 23 points on Dec. 2 vs. Phoenix. He logged a career-high 54 minutes on Dec. 18 @ Chicago.

Originally selected in the second round (36th overall) of the 2005 NBA Draft by Milwaukee, Ilyasova has played in 505 career regular season NBA games with Milwaukee and Detroit, averaging 10.8 ppg., 6.0 rpg. and 1.1 apg. in 24.3 minpg., while shooting .369 (506-1,372) from three-point range. He has also appeared in 17 career playoff outings, averaging 9.8 ppg. and 6.2 rpg. in 24.5 minpg.

Harris (6’9″, 235, 7/15/92) has appeared and started in 49 games this season with Orlando, averaging 13.7 ppg., 7.0 rpg. and 2.0 apg. in a team-high 32.9 minpg. Originally selected in the first round (19th overall) of the 2011 NBA Draft by Charlotte, he was acquired by the Magic from Milwaukee, along with Doron Lamb and Beno Udrih, in exchange for J.J. Redick, Gustavo Ayon and Ish Smith on Feb. 21, 2013. Harris played in 205 games (168 starts) with Orlando, averaging 15.6 ppg., 7.0 rpg. and 1.8 apg. in 33.2 min pg.

Detroit Pistons Media Day

Who Wants The Pistons Josh Smith?

The Detroit Pistons have requested waivers on forward Josh Smith and will eat the balance of his $54 million contract rather than give away draft picks and take back players they would rather not have. It is commendable of Head Coach, President and chief bottle-washer Stan Van Gundy to admit that a very expensive player simply isn’t working out with his team and risk paying a very athletic forward to help out some other team. So who wants Smith?

Sacramento Kings 12-15

The obvious first choice is the Sacramento Kings who may have been the only team that Van Gundy was able to generate any trade interest in his rather expensive forward.

The Kings have looked like a potential playoff team in the West when DeMarcus Cousins has been in the lineup and adding a talented player like Smith would seem to be the type of move that could tip the scales in their favor. From the outside looking in, the only fly in that ointment could be Rudy Gay. How many tweener forwards that like to drive and aren’t known as effective floor spreaders can a team put on the court at the same time without clogging up the paint?

The Kings don’t need Smith’s rebounding and definitely can’t afford his three-point shooting, but they could use his help defense to boost their weak steal and block numbers.

The Kings probably don’t make the playoffs this year in a very competitive Western Conference without a significant addition, so they should be willing to give Smith a chance to be the guy that gets them over the hump.

With the Pistons paying out the balance of his contract, Smith should be willing to take the NBA veteran’s minimum over the next couple of years, but if he wants more cash, there are teams out there that can offer more. The Hawks, Bucks, Magic, 76ers, Suns and Jazz all have salary cap space available according to Basketball Insiders. The Celtics, Rockets, Thunder, Spurs and Raptors have their Bi-Annual Exception available and at least a dozen teams still have some usable portion of their Mid-Level Exception left. However, Smith will be in the favored position every NBA veteran seems to love – the ability to join a true contender without having to worry about getting paid.

The bigger question every contender will be asking is, will Smith be willing to accept the role his new head coach assigns him? There should be no doubt Smith could help a lot of teams, but it could be by coming off the bench or playing significantly reduced minutes from what he has been used to.

Smith has been to the playoffs six times and if that’s enough, he has lots of viable options and he can likely have a lot bigger say in how he is used, but if he wants to join a conference contender, his options suddenly get a lot tighter and the Kings really shouldn’t be on that list.

Houston Rockets 19-7

The Rockets could use help at small forward, but Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones have been great at power forward, so Houston doesn’t need help with their bigs. There may be mutual interest, but Smith probably doesn’t make them better and past history says playing Smith at small forward is inviting disaster.

Dallas Mavericks 20-8

After trading for Rajon Rondo, the Mavericks suddenly have an obvious depth issue at power forward and a win-it-all-now mentality. If Smith wants his shot at an NBA title, he’ll be hard pressed to find a better situation than backing up Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas on the NBA’s highest scoring team. Add in Dallas having about $2.5 million in salary cap space and this looks like an easy deal for both sides.

Portland Trail Blazers 22-6

Another top Western Conference team with depth issues at power forward is Portland. The light-hitting Thomas Robinson is backing up LaMarcus Aldridge and the Trail Blazers could really use a backup to reduce their star player’s minutes and provide some security in case Aldridge misses a few games here and there. Sitting at second place in the West, it shouldn’t take much to convince Smith that Portland is for real.

Los Angeles Clippers 19-8

If any team in the West could use a jolt to the system it is the disappointing Clippers. A team loaded with talent that has underperformed expectations and backup power forward is the obvious weak link in the chain. The Clippers would have to cut someone – say goodbye to Hedo Turkoglu or Glen Davis ( or Jared Cunningham’s salary isn’t guaranteed) – and add to their luxury tax bill, but they need Smith – maybe more than he needs them.

Toronto Raptors 22-6

The Toronto Raptors find themselves unexpectedly in first place and leading the Eastern Conference by two games over Atlanta and Washington. The only knock on the East’s highest scoring team has been in their decidedly average ability to grab rebounds and protect the rim – something Smith excels at.

The Raptors are a collection of players where team chemistry has made the total significantly better than the expected sum of their parts and any tinkering might upset the balance, so President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri won’t face any criticism if he passes on Smith. However, if Smith were to buy into the concept of putting winning ahead of personal playing time and stats, he could be the missing piece the Raptors need to come out of the East this season.

If Smith wants a bigger payday and/or lots of playing time, he should check out the Lakers, Knicks, HEAT, or any number of other teams he could likely talk his way onto without too much difficulty. A player like Smith on a cheap contract will be too hard for most general managers to pass up.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

DET_Smith_Josh

Detroit Pistons Waive Forward Josh Smith

In a shocking move the Detroit Pistons have requested waivers on forward Josh Smith.  Smith was signed to a free agent contract on July 10, 2013 to a $54 million contract for 4 years by the Pistons, but it simply hasn’t worked out as the player and the team had hoped.  New Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations Stan Van Gundy decided the best way to move forward was to give Smith his freedom to find an opportunity elsewhere.

There should be several NBA teams in need of front court help that can use this very talented player.

Detroit will use the NBA stretch provision to spread the reminder of his salary over several years.

 

Official Release

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — The Detroit Pistons announced Monday the club has requested waivers on forward Josh Smith.

“Our team has not performed the way we had expected throughout the first third of the season and adjustments need to be made in terms of our focus and direction,” said Stan Van Gundy, Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations for the Detroit Pistons. “We are shifting priorities to aggressively develop our younger players while also expanding the roles of other players in the current rotation to improve performance and build for our future. As we expand certain roles, others will be reduced. In fairness to Josh, being a highly versatile 10-year veteran in this league, we feel it’s best to give him his freedom to move forward. We have full respect for Josh as a player and a person.”

The 6-foot-9, 225-pound forward has averaged 13.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists while shooting 39.1% from the field, 24.3% from three point range and 46.8% from the free throw line. In 105 games with the Pistons, the Georgia native averaged 15.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.

Smith was acquired by the Pistons as a free agent on July 10, 2013. Drafted with the 17th overall selection in the 2004 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks, the former Oak Hill Academy product has averaged 15.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.0 blocks and 34.2 minutes in 781 career games (758 starts).

James Johnson warmup line Paul Saini FYLMM

Toronto Raptors Own The Pistons Palace In A Wild 110-100 Win

A game between the best and the third worst teams in the Eastern Conference might not sound compelling, but the Toronto Raptors and Detroit Pistons put on a show in a game that must have felt like home away from home for the visitors. The Palace was rocking with Raptors fans and they got their money’s worth for taking the long bus trip to Detroit.

“I thought Detroit was hosting a Toronto Raptors night,” said forward James Johnson.

Johnson must have loved the attention as he put down what might just be the slam dunk of the season over the outstretched arms of Andre Drummond to put the Raptors up by 20 points midway through the fourth quarter.

“I cocked that thing back and banged on him,” Johnson said.

Apparently Drummond didn’t appreciate being ‘Mozgoved’ by Johnson and on the very next play he sent Johnson crashing to the court with a shoulder block as the Raptors forward was about to embarrass him again. The foul and ensuing scuffle resulted in Drummond receiving a flagrant one and technical fouls to Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson, Greg Monroe and Drummond. Johnson made the two foul shots and Lou Williams hit a three-pointer as the Raptors got the ball back because of the flagrant foul for the elusive 5-point play.

“Drummond did what he was supposed to do when somebody is about ready to dunk on you and James and Chuck and Pat did what they are supposed to do and standup for their teammates,” explained Head Coach Dwane Casey. “No harm, I’ve seen far worse than that in the old days.”

The game wound down from there without incident and little intensity as the teams still had to kill 6:42 before they could call it a night. In the process the Pistons brought the final score to a less offensive 10 point loss.

This late incident would have made the trip to Detroit worth it if nothing else happened, but the fans were treated to so much more and they showed their appreciation.

“I thought our fans – the buses that came up – our fans were unbelievable,” Casey said. “I thought that got us going once we got our plays, our energy going, our fans took over and gave us a huge boost. We out-cheered – if there is such a thing – Detroit’s fans.”

Toronto fans were loud from the start, however, the Pistons put a damper on it with a strong first quarter. Other than the ‘M.V.P.’ chants for Kyle’s Lowry’s two trips to the free throw line, the Raptors fans were left waiting for something to cheer about.

The Pistons dominated early with 7 blocked shots – 3 by Drummond – and came away with a 31-25 lead after 12 minutes. Unfortunately for Detroit, the Raptors bench could be considered even tougher than their current starting unit and the Pistons didn’t get another block after the first quarter and the game started turning in Toronto’s favor for good.

“I give our bench a lot of credit,” Casey said. “They came in and did their job. Really, really excited (about the) way (they are) coming in and establishing a style of play, establishing an identity that you need with your second unit.”

The Raptors reserves outscored the Pistons bench 59-41 with everyone contributing. As has been the case several times already this season, it was Hayes coming in for limited minutes that took the Pistons big men off their game – a change in momentum from which they never recovered.

“Chuck is a pro, he’s a pro’s pro,” Casey said. “He is a veteran, knows how to play, knows every play, knows every defensive scheme. He was exactly what we needed.”

Midway through the third quarter as the Raptors were beginning to open up a lead on the Pistons, Landry Fields fell hard to the deck after going for a pump-fake by Kyle Singler. Fields landed on the back of his head and was bleeding profusely as he walked off the court after several very anxious moments.

“It scared me, especially when I saw the blood gushing out,” Casey said. “It scared me, but he’s fine. They had him doing different tests and stuff, so he’s fine.”

Raptors Media Relations reported Fields needed 8 stitches to close the cut on the back of his head, but he passed the concussion tests.

Jonas Valanciunas led the Raptors with 17 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks. James Johnson ended up with 12 points and 8 boards. Lowry and Williams combined for 30 points.

Brandon Jennings led Detroit with 22 points and 8 assists. Drummond only played 20.7 minutes and had 7 points, 11 boards and 3 blocks.

The Raptors won 110-100 and with all that went on in one NBA game, the Pistons will probably find it even easier to sell tickets to the Toronto fans when the Raptors return on March 24th.

 


 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

photo credit: Paul Saini Fylmm.com

 

 

Valanciunas and DrummondStagnating Andre Drummond Vs Rising Jonas Valanciunas

The Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas’ star has been rising with his team’s as the young center is off to the best start in his brief NBA career. Andre Drummond, on the other hand, is still putting up numbers that are comparable to his encouraging rookie year as the 5-21 Detroit Pistons could only wish this season was as good as last year’s disappointing campaign.

 

 

Jonas Valanciunas leaping warmup by Paul Saini FYLMMValanciunas Is Rebounding But Raptors Coach Casey Wants More

“He’s a lot stronger this year that’s for sure,” Amir Johnson said. “It’s hard for guys to box out a 7-footer, especially when you are in the paint. He has been able to hold his ground and grab boards for us which we need him to. He’s our big man in the paint and he’s been getting the job done for us and that’s all you can ask from a starting center. He’s been doing well.”

 

 

 

Valanciunas and Drummond

Stagnating Andre Drummond Vs Rising Jonas Valanciunas

The Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas’ star has been rising with his team’s as the young center is off to the best start in his brief NBA career. Andre Drummond, on the other hand, is still putting up numbers that are comparable to his encouraging rookie year as the 5-21 Detroit Pistons could only wish this season was as good as last year’s disappointing campaign.

Drummond’s stock fell in the 2012 NBA Draft to ninth overall as no one was quite sure if this physically gifted center was going to have the work ethic necessary to succeed in the NBA. Those worries were quickly dispelled. The Pistons were terrible (29-53 in 2012-13), but Drummond wasn’t. The big man averaged 7.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and a steal in just over 20 minutes per game. The only fly in the ointment was his beyond ugly 37.1 percent shooting from the free throw line and a back injury that rose concerns and shortened his season to just 60 games.

The Raptors drafted Valanciunas fifth in 2011, but he stayed in Lithuania before coming to the NBA as a rookie in 2012. The big European arrived with an armload of honors from the Euroleague and international tournaments and expectations were high. Valanciunas averaged 8.9 points, 6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in just under 24 minutes per game and started 57 times. The most dramatic differences between the two players was Valanciunas shot 78.9 percent from the free throw line and Drummond collected more rebounds, blocks and steals – at least that was the biggest difference until one dug a little deeper.

The two teams had little to brag about during the players’ rookie seasons, however, head-to-head over 4 games Valanciunas averaged 13 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3 blocks to Drummond’s 10 points, 7.3 rebounds and 0.8 blocks – a personal rivalry in the making?

However, it was impossible to ignore Drummond’s season stats on a per 100 possessions basis of 20.2 points, 19.4 rebounds, 4 blocks and 2.5 steals. On this basis, Drummond’s advantages over Valanciunas stand out with 6.1 more boards and 1.2 more blocks.

Things changed between the two teams the next season as Detroit remained bad and Toronto became a solid playoff team. The Raptors took all 4 games from Detroit last year and Valanciunas averaged 14 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 27.3 minutes. Drummond wasn’t overshadowed as he averaged 12 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocks in 33.3 minutes per game against Toronto, but he still couldn’t hit his free throws.

In year two, Drummond largely held pace with his rookie production with small gains in scoring and rebounding per 100 possessions and a significant drop off in blocks. However, Valanciunas started to figure things out and improved his rebounding from 13.3 boards per 100 possessions to 16.4 and matched Drummond’s small improvement in scoring. The Raptors center had shown steady improvement over the year.

The Pistons are currently having a terrible season and there were big concerns being raised about Drummond during his first dozen games, however, those concerns were premature. Drummond is back to his old self and his scoring and rebounding rates are now actually up slightly from last year. If Detroit had a better record, Drummond would be getting a little more attention. 12.3 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 30.3 minutes per game are good numbers for a center, even if Drummond is still a bricklayer from the charity stripe.

Valanciunas is on a team outperforming their own high expectations and Head Coach Dwane Casey is still using the early hook on his young center when he doesn’t like the matchup or Valanciunas isn’t giving him what he wants. 11.8 points, 9 rebounds, 1.2 blocks in 26.8 minutes represent another step up in scoring but more importantly in rebounding. Valanciunas leads the Raptors on the boards this year and he has been averaging 12.7 points and 12 rebounds over his last 6 games.

This season’s first head-to-head matchup between Drummond and Valanciunas couldn’t have come at a better time. Drummond is averaging 15.8 points and 13.3 rebounds over his last 14 games and is playing markedly better than earlier in the season – even if Detroit is 2-12 during those games. Valanciunas has put together some monster games of his own lately.

Bring on the battle of the young big men. No one expects the Pistons to put up much of a challenge for the 20-6 Raptors, but the chance to watch these two young studs going head-to-head makes this game worth catching.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Valanciunas and CaseyValanciunas Is Rebounding But Raptors Coach Casey Wants More

“He’s a lot stronger this year that’s for sure,” Amir Johnson said. “It’s hard for guys to box out a 7-footer, especially when you are in the paint. He has been able to hold his ground and grab boards for us which we need him to. He’s our big man in the paint and he’s been getting the job done for us and that’s all you can ask from a starting center. He’s been doing well.”

 

 

Jonas Valanciunas leaping warmup by Paul Saini FYLMMCan A Traditional NBA Center Like Jonas Valanciunas Survive?

“One play you can make a mistake, but you know what to do next play,” Valanciunas said. “I am trying to learn from my mistakes and do better next time. You can’t think about your mistakes (during the game). Now (post game) is the time to think about your mistakes, fix things and do better tomorrow.”

 

 

Garnett Hibbert Vucevic Drummond

Raptors Next Six Games Are Like An Early Christmas Present

The 16-6 Toronto Raptors are 3 wins and 3 losses in games since their All-Star DeMar DeRozan was lost to a groin injury two weeks ago. However, they are about to get an early Christmas present from the NBA schedule makers over the next 10 days.

On Friday the Raptors are at home to the injury ravaged 7-15 Indiana Pacers. The Pacers leading scorer is Rodney Stuckey at 12.7 points per game. Indiana has to work to score their 93.5 points per game average and their once feared defense has been giving up over 100 points with regularity. The Pacers have lost 6 games in a row.

On Sunday Toronto travels to New York to face the 4-20 Knicks. On a 10 game losing streak, the Knicks have lost the most games in the Association. Carmelo Anthony has a sore knee and is questionable. J.R. Smith has a sore heel and the Knicks are in a general state of complete disarray.

The Raptors return home to play the 9-15 Magic on Monday. Toronto has beaten this team at home and on the road already this season. Orlando is probably the toughest opponent the Raptors will face in this stretch of games.

As of Thursday night, the 8-12 Brooklyn Nets hold down 8th place in the East, however, the Nets have lost 3 in a row including a thrashing by the Hawks – a team the Raptors have beaten up on twice this season already. With the breaking news about every player on the Nets roster being up for grabs, this opponent is not likely to be thinking a lot about what’s happening on the court. The Nets visit Toronto on Wednesday. Maybe one of them doesn’t have to leave after the game?

Toronto visits Detroit on Friday to face the 3-19 Pistons who are presently riding a 13 game slide into oblivion. Maybe the Pistons can win a game by the time they play Toronto, but since they face 4 Western Conference teams first, it doesn’t seem likely.

The last gift from the NBA schedule makers is a return trip by the Knicks to Toronto on Sunday December 21. The Knicks feature former Raptors Jose Calderon, Quincy Acy and Andrea Bargnani. It is worth the trip to the Air Canada Centre to see them even if Bargnani is likely to be wearing a suit.

The current combined record of the Raptors next 6 opponents is 35 wins and 101 loses. That should translate into 6 wins in a row for Toronto. Merry Christmas.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

Jonas Valanciunas leaping warmup by Paul Saini FYLMMCan A Traditional NBA Center Like Jonas Valanciunas Survive?

“For me personally it is way better to play against a typical center, a big guy who is in the paint wrestling because I do the same thing, for me (that) is much easier,” Valanciunas said. “It’s tough. It’s tough. I am not used to going (out to) the three-point line and cover stretch big guys who can really shoot the ball. I just don’t like that. I am not fast enough.”

 

 

Aaron Gray scrum

Former Raptors Center Aaron Gray Waived By Pistons

The Detroit Pistons announced today that they have requested waivers on center Aaron Gray.

The 7-0, 270-pound center missed training camp while rehabbing from a cardiac episode suffered following a voluntary workout in late August.

Gray played in the NBA for seven seasons from 2007 to 2014 and most recently played for the Kings after a mid-season trade from the Raptors last year. He had just signed a two-year $2.6 million free agent contract with the Pistons on August 18, 2014.

Gray was popular with players, coaches and the media for his easy-going style and willingness to share his experience and accept whatever role was assigned to him. In his 2-plus seasons in Toronto, he became popular with the fans for his hard work on the court and even received MVP chants from the home crowd back in February of 2012 for his blue-collar work ethic.

Gray was good with the young big men and could have a future career as an assistant coach in the league. He is a genuinely nice guy to talk to, we wish him well.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

TOR_Gray_AaronRaptors Aaron Gray: A Coach-In-Waiting
Ask almost any of the younger players hanging around the room who has been helping them out and Gray’s name comes up a surprising number of times. This friendly giant of a man who is better known as a hard-nosed immoveable object stationed under the basket might just be an NBA assistant coach-in-waiting.

 

 

Bosh and Anthony

Ranking The Middle Of The NBA Eastern Conference Pack

The Heat and Pacers will not be fighting it out for Eastern Conference supremacy in the NBA this season. Both teams took huge hits to their rosters this summer and it will be a fight for them just to remain in the playoff hunt.

Other teams see their opportunity with the changing of the guard. There will be a battle to make the playoffs in the East this season and backing in with abysmal play like Atlanta did last spring may not be an option.

As usual injuries, hidden agendas and plain old fashioned luck will impact the final standings.

Ranking The Middle

6. Miami HEAT – Projected 44-38, last season 54-28

For all intents and purposes the HEAT have exchanged LeBron James and his career average 15 win shares for Luol Deng and his 6 win shares. It doesn’t require a lot more analysis than that.

The HEAT still have their hobbled superstar Dwyane Wade who will win them games when he isn’t too sore, too tired or just flat out being even the night off in an attempt to extend his career. They also have Chris Bosh who can significantly up his scoring and rebounding if he backs off on his defensive effort like he did in Toronto.

Miami won’t be a bad team, but Wade isn’t going to suddenly become “Flash” again and Bosh proved he couldn’t carry a team when he played for the Raptors. The HEAT are a decent enough collection of talent to have a good season and a thanks-for-coming handshake at the end of the first round in the playoffs after making their opposition work for it.

7. Atlanta Hawks – Projected 43-39, last season 38-44

The Hawks were three games above .500 with Al Horford and nine games under without him. Not a whole lot has changed in Atlanta. The good news is a torn pectoral muscle is kind of a fluke injury and there is reason to hope the Hawks will have their two-time All-Star back for the entire season.

This is a team that appears to be trending water at the back end of the Eastern Conference playoff picture with little reason to believe they will overachieve and only injuries knocking them out of their spot. A big concern is still Big Al. Horford torn his left pectoral muscle in 2011 and his right pectoral muscle in 2013, fluke or not, a reoccurrence would be bad news for the Hawks.

Atlanta is heading into a season full of distractions that will be hard to quantify on the court. The team is up for sale and new owners always signify change and that is a major distraction. General Manager Danny Ferry stuck both feet in his mouth this summer and how this eventually plays out is yet to be determined. As he’s on an indefinite leave of absence pending something or other, front office stability may be in short supply all year.

Fortunately, the Pistons, Knicks and the Nets can’t exactly claim to be bastions of stability either.

8. Detroit Pistons – Projected 40-42, last season 29-53

There is only one reason for believing the Pistons will resemble a cohesive basketball team and that’s Stan Van Gundy. The impact of coaching is often underestimated and a team with as much individual talent as Detroit should be better. Van Gundy will scream at Andre Drummond until he plays defense instead of chasing blocks. Josh Smith might actually start to cringe when he receives the ball on the three-point line and is thinking about shooting and Brandon Jennings will be hearing very loud messages about what a point guard’s job is. There’s a chance Van Gundy’s style of coaching will even get a very unhappy Greg Monroe to start buying in.

The revolving door in the coach’s office looks like it’s been fixed and the players should believe its Van Gundy’s team now and that can go a long ways to getting everyone on the same page and pulling together instead of working for themselves.

9. New York Knicks – Projected 37-45, last season 37-45

Front office logic might stop this franchise from ending up in ninth place for the second season in a row. If ever there was a team that should tank a season, the Knicks are it. In 2015, the Knicks have their first round draft pick (they don’t in 2016) and this team could desperately use an influx of high-end young talent.

New York made some moves during the summer to add pass-first point guard Jose Calderon and defensive center Samuel Dalembert, but it would be a stretch to say these changes have improved the Knicks prospects. Even the Knicks expected Amare Stoudemire to breakdown before the end of his contract and he cannot be relied upon. They also took on an injury prone Andrea Bargnani last summer and he’s lived up to that reputation.

Carmelo Anthony re-upped with a monster five-year deal and he could lead the NBA in scoring, but that isn’t going to result in more wins. It will be a year of waiting for contracts to expire and breaking in rookie head coach Derek Fisher.

10. Brooklyn Nets – Projected 35-47, last season 44-38

The Nets shot their load last season with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett supposedly taking Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams to the Eastern Conference Finals. However, Garnett showed his age, Williams’ ankles were worse than a senior citizen’s and Lopez’s feet literally broke down again. The season was salvaged by Shaun Livingston and Pierce, but they both moved on during the summer.

The over/under on big men’s feet should probably be set at two surgeries and Lopez blew past that to become a charter member of the “show-me” club. The Nets need Lopez to just maintain last year’s pace and even at that, the season remains in some doubt. The 38-year-old Garnett and 33-year-old Andre Kirilenko are the Nets best forwards. 33-year-old Joe Johnson is their best player and 30-year-old Deron Williams has many more years of wear-and-tear than his age. A couple of injuries – which shouldn’t surprise anyone – and the Nets season could implode.

The best rationale for the Nets holding it together in the face of adversity is the hiring of Lionel Hollins as Head Coach. It was the best long term move the team could have made this summer. Then there’s the Hawks right to swap 2015 first round draft picks to motivate the front office.

Risks and Obstacles

Anyone in the middle of the pack could be a playoff team in the East if the breaks go their way and the Pistons, Knicks and Nets should all believe that last spot belongs to them. However, the risks in this group of teams are substantial. Injury prone players, new head coaches and controversy will make claiming one of the final spots in the postseason an adventure.

Who do you think takes 6, 7 and 8 in the NBA Eastern Conference and makes the playoffs? Which one of the teams in the middle will be first to embrace tanking? Can any of these teams crack the top five in the East? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

Ranking The Top Five 2014-15 NBA Eastern Conference Teams

Irving and Rose
There is change coming to the anticipated top five teams in the NBA Eastern Conference for 2014-15. Teams that stepped up unexpectedly last season are looking for more, player movement during the summer will have a huge impact and risks abound all around the Conference.

 

 

TOR Lowry and DeRozan

Toronto Raptors Tie Franchise Record With 47th Win

The Toronto Raptors had already secured the top spot in the Atlantic Division as they headed into Detroit with only the battle for third place overall in the Eastern Conference to shoot for. The Pistons are locked into the eighth spot for the NBA Draft Lottery and are playing out the string. Their top 8 protected first round draft pick belonging to the Bobcats is almost certainly going to be theirs to keep.

The game started out as should have been expected, the Raptors scored a season high 42 points in the first quarter against one of the NBA’s worst defenses and then seemed to lose their intensity. The Pistons fought back from 18 points down and even briefly took a lead in the fourth quarter before Toronto ramped things back up again to win 116-107.

The play in this game became sloppy and inconsistent and even the referees seemed to have trouble concentrating. Kyle Lowry was fouled out on successive lazy calls by the referees who couldn’t bother to pay attention long enough to get it right. Lowry was fouled out when Drummond tripped over his own feet all by himself. No one on either team had touched him, he just lost his balance. If the referee had of been actually watching the play instead of not paying attention, he would have gotten the non-call, nothing happened situation, right. It must be almost the end of the regular season and some of the referees – along with any number of the players – have one foot on the plane heading out on vacation already.

With their 47th victory, the Raptors tied the franchise mark for wins in a season with games against the Bucks and the Knicks left to go. A new record should be in the books by the end of the regular season. It was also Toronto’s 22nd road victory, further extending their franchise’s best season on the road and first time this team will end a season over .500 away from the friendly confines of the Air Canada Centre.

Once again, it was Lowry with 28 points and DeMar DeRozan with 30 points who did the heavy lifting for Head Coach Dwane Casey. Casey, however, played 11 different players double-digit minutes and it was only in part caused by a very strange whistle from the officials. The Raptors coach has made a point of saying he was going to be watching the minutes of his main guys. The games that count haven’t started yet.

Jonas Valanciunas contributed 18 points and 8 boards. Greivis Vasquez scored 14 points off the bench and was key to the Raptors offense after Lowry fouled out. Chuck Hayes grabbed 10 rebounds in 14 minutes.

All of the Pistons starters scored in double-digits. Andre Drummond had 14 points and 17 rebounds as the Pistons dominated the Raptors on the glass 55-40, but allowed Toronto to shoot 48.1 percent from the field, those stats in a loss kind of summing up the entire Pistons season.

Soon-to-be restricted free agent Greg Monroe had 23 points and 10 rebounds and Brandon Jennings had 17 points, but took 18 shots to get them.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

Check out:

Toronto Raptors Love Being Atlantic Division Champs
“We won the Division, it’s a great thing,” Salmons said. “Us four guys coming over from Sacramento from where we started, from where the Raptors started at the beginning of the season to where we are now, it’s a great thing.”

Amir Johnson Gives Back To Raptors Fans Big Time Again
“It’s big just letting the fans know they are part of the team,” Johnson said. “They are just as big as players – they are pretty much what makes this team. They have been supporting us since day one, so it is just a token of my appreciation to the fans.”

NBA Detroit Pistons Andre Drummond and Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Toronto Raptors In Detriot For Pistons Final Home Game

The Toronto Raptors travel to Detroit to take on the Pistons in the last NBA game at The Palace of Auburn Hills this season, the Raptors hoping to retake third place in the Eastern Conference and the Pistons playing out the string.

To say Detroit’s year has been a disappointment would be an understatement, they haven’t been playing for anything in quite a while. It’s their own fault, the Pistons have talent, however, they have struggled to stop anybody this season and rank near the bottom of the NBA in points allowed and opponent’s shooting. For a team with very talented big men in Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith, all of whom are capable of blocking shots, they are 29th in opponent’s field goal percent from two-point range. This team has work to do in the off season.

This is their last game in front of the home crowd, so it’s possible the Pistons will be inspired to go out on a high note. There isn’t much they can do to change their seeding in the NBA Draft lottery at this point, win or lose.

The Raptors still have something to play for. Only one game back of the Bulls for third, they have the easier schedule remaining and could end up in the more favorable seed if they can win their last three games. A solid effort against the Pistons should produce a win. Toronto has beaten them 112-91 in January and 101-87 in March, neither game was much of a contest.

If the Pistons haven’t already packed in for the season, the matchup to watch will be the two young centers Jonas Valanciunas and Andre Drummond going head-to-head once again. In their two games this year, Valanciunas is averaging 12 points and 12 rebounds while Drummond is averaging 11 points and 12.5 rebounds.

On the season, Drummond has the better numbers, but head-to-head, it’s been the more disciplined Valanciunas with the edge over the more athletic Drummond. Both players have been putting up their best numbers of the season in April and should be fun to watch.

The Pistons currently have Chauncey Billups, Will Bynum and Josh Harrellson out for the season. Josh Smith is doubtful and there isn’t a good reason to rush him back.

The Raptors have all of their rotation players back after several weeks of dealing with injury situations.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

Check out:

Toronto Raptors Love Being Atlantic Division Champs
“We won the Division, it’s a great thing,” Salmons said. “Us four guys coming over from Sacramento from where we started, from where the Raptors started at the beginning of the season to where we are now, it’s a great thing.”

NBA Detroit Pistons Andre Drummond and Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Coast to Easy Win Over Pistons 101-87

The Toronto Raptors didn’t face a whole lot of resistance from a disappointing Detroit Pistons team that really looked like they would have rather been somewhere else and Toronto coasted to the 101-87 win taking a significant amount of time off during this game themselves.

The Raptors starters began laying a beating on the disinterested Pistons early and the 29-21 first quarter lead should have been at least 2 points higher except Toronto missed their last 4 shots of the quarter and Tyler Hansbrough blew an easy layup just before time expired. This story line became something of a theme for the night as the Raptors second unit minus Patrick Patterson was decidedly out of sync.

Toronto missed their first 5 shots of the second quarter allowing the Pistons to tie the game at 29 before Head Coach Dwane Casey had enough and started making changes. Not to worry, the Pistons were not really all that interested in a comeback and the Raptors lead was back up to 8 points in a couple of minutes.

“I thought our second unit was playing in mud a little bit,” Casey said. “We need to keep the pace going. I thought the game slowed down and that’s the unit that really gave us a boost in Brooklyn and for whatever reason tonight they kind of got stagnant and lost a couple of leads.”

The middle two quarters saw the Pistons take advantage of the Raptors second unit to wipe out double-digit leads and keep the score respectable, but in the fourth quarter, Toronto turned it back on like a switch, this game was never in doubt.

The Pistons have issues and the biggest one might be a defense that seems to vanish after a couple of passes or the most common of basketball plays.

Amir Johnson had a field day blowing by Greg Monroe who just couldn’t keep track of the Raptors power forward. Johnson finished with 20 points and 9 rebounds.

Andre Drummond often looked overmatch by the Raptors young center Jonas Valanciunas who had 8 points and 13 boards. Valanciunas generally just looked like he knew where to go and what to do and Drummond didn’t.

Monroe had 13 points and 10 boards and Drummond had 16 points and 9 rebounds, but neither player had much of a positive impact.

The Raptors were packing the paint and Brandon Jennings did take advantage of the situation by scoring 24 points on 10-15 shooting. Toronto read the scouting report that says Jennings is shooting 37.4 percent from the field this year and he is the guy you want to keep hoisting away, but in this game, Jennings scored 15 points on 8 shots in the third quarter to keep his team within reach of a comeback that was never going to happen.

DeMar DeRozan led all scorers with 25 points and Kyle Lowry kicked in 19 points for the Raptors.

Toronto was +30 points with DeRozan in the game. The Pistons were -33 points while Drummond was playing. Those 2 stats largely sum up what was witnessed during this contest. Unexpectedly, the Raptors dominated the Pistons on the glass 54-39 as well, but that result would only surprise someone who hadn’t watched the game.

The 25-40 Pistons haven’t won a game on the road in over a month and return home to face the Pacers before heading out on a 4 game Western Conference road trip. Detroit’s pain isn’t about to end anytime soon.

The 36-27 Raptors play their next 2 games at home where they are 19-12. On Friday they play the Grizzlies who they beat 103-87 in November and on Sunday they face the Suns who they lost to 106-97 in the game before the Rudy Gay trade.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

Check out our Raptors Game Info page.

And:

Raptors Jonas Valanciunas Owes A Lot To Jamaal Magloire
“Jamaal, he gives me a lot,” Valanciunas said. “It is good to go against him because he’s physical, really strong and he’s a veteran. He knows how to defend me, so it is best to practice against him because it is really hard.”

Detroit Pistons Media Day

Detroit Pistons Fire Head Coach Maurice Cheeks

NBA News is reporting that:

A person familiar with the decision says the Detroit Pistons have fired coach Maurice Cheeks.”

However, the big question should be whether to blame Cheeks for the Pistions 21-29 record or to lame the blame squarely on the shoulders of Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars.

It was a big summer for Dumars and the Pistons, but it was really hard to not draw comparisons between the disastrous summer of 2009 and the moves he had just made.  In August we asked, Is Dumars Repeating Pistons 2009 failure? By firing Cheeks, the Pistons President may have given his answer.

This summer, Dumars was again sitting on a mountain of available salary cap space and looking for a new head coach … but one could question if coaching has really been the problem in Detroit.

Dumars hasn’t been shy about spending his available cash and he went after one of the biggest names that was actually available in free agency and quickly landed forward Josh Smith with a four year, $54 million offer. This deal was even larger per season than the generous contract Dumars gave to Gordon in 2009 and the internal risks seem strikingly similar.

Jennings is a skilled player who is only 23-years-old …However, it still hard to understand why the Pistons are not developing the much cheaper Knight instead.

The Pistons have been been a big disappointment this season.  A collection of obviously talented players that just don’t seem to fit together.

Why Dumars brought in Smith as his team’s starting small forward after the Hawks had failed to shift him to that position for years remains a mystery.  Equally confusing was, if Smith is the guy Dumars wanted, why wasn’t Greg Monroe moved for a small forward of equal value.  Monroe has trade value, there had to be a deal out there if Dumars had of looked for it.

There are more questions than answers in Detroit.

Update, official press release:

Detroit Pistons Relieve Maurice Cheeks of Head Coaching Duties

 

“This was a difficult decision for the organization to make but we needed to make a change,” said President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars. “We have great respect for Maurice and appreciate his hard work.”