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NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Kyrie Irving

Six Offers For Kyrie Irving Not Enough For Delusional Cavs

The Cleveland Cavaliers are in a pickle. They don’t want to trade All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, but Irving wants to go and the whole league knows it. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski six teams have made offers, but so far nothing has happened. If the Cavs think what’s been put on the table isn’t reasonable, they’re delusional.

The San Antonio Spurs, LA Clippers, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves, New York Knicks and Miami Heat. There were approximately 20 teams that inquired …, but far fewer have registered legitimate proposals… many simply don’t have the assets to make a deal happen.

What Wojnarowski isn’t saying is some GMs wouldn’t replace their current starting point guard with Irving who isn’t a great playmaker, doesn’t play defense and whose numbers and reputation has almost certainly been juiced by playing along side LeBron James.

No one believes Irving isn’t a worthy All-Star. His handles, shooting and flash is elite. He’s worth all of his $18.9 million salary and he’d get more in today’s market, but let’s not go crazy here. Irving isn’t about to carry any team to the postseason as their top player. He needs to share that load or play with someone better.

The Heat have made a solid offer, one that probably makes the Cavs better than last season, but politics may be getting in the way. This deal should have gotten done.

The Heat are willing to part with Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow as centerpieces for an Irving trade, league sources said. With the Cleveland-Miami history, there’s little chance for a deal unless the Heat offered an overwhelming package.

Aside from taking 4.3 fewer shots per game, Dragic has nearly identical shooting percentages from the field and from three, they had the same number of assists and steals plus, Dragic is half a rebound better. Then there’s Dragic wasn’t playing beside anyone of note to divert attention away from the fact he was his team’s leading scorer. Imagine how much better those numbers could look with James setting him up for open shots and ISO plays driving to the hoop.

Sure Irving is six years younger, that’s why the 21-year-old Lottery Pick Winslow was included in the package.

Dragic will be at least as statistically good as Irving for the two years the Cavs can force Irving to stay in Cleveland and will keep the Cavs as the heavy favorites to come out of the East again this season.

If you’re looking for a REAL REASON the Cavs are balking at this trade, look no further than the luxury tax. This trade would add almost a million dollars to the Cavs payroll with a luxury tax cost approaching $5 million.

Then there’s the five other teams Wojnarowski says have made offers.

San Antonio would be interested with Tony Parker injured, but aside from LaMarcus Aldridge, they don’t have a lot to trade until December 15th. It’s laughable to think the Spurs would trade Kawhi Leonard for anyone on the Cavs including James. Even Aldridge’s departure would leave a hole in the roster that would not be compensated by acquiring Irving.

The Clippers might be interested in building a package around DeAndre Jordan and would be pretty happy if they could knock a million or two off their payroll in the process. Most any other deal would have to wait until December 15th. The Cavs wouldn’t be too excited at the prospect of increasing their already huge tax bill though.

The Suns have assets including a protected first round pick from the Heat and could include Eric Blesoe plus a young player in a deal. The fly in this ointment would probably come from the Irving’s camp. He wouldn’t be too excited about joining a projected Lottery Team that would still be a projected Lottery Team with him on it and he’d almost certainly let the Suns know that.

The Timberwolves are an interesting landing spot. Logically this team doesn’t need Irving as they just signed free agent Jeff Teague to a $19 million per year deal, but there sure is a lot of speculation. Irving would be a big upgrade over Teague, although a trade couldn’t be made until December 15th. What makes this especially intriguing is if the T-wolves and Andrew Wiggins can’t come to terms on a max contract extension. A Teague plus Wiggins for Irving plus Shumpert would be a home run for the Cavs.

The Knicks want to do something around Carmelo Anthony and its a good trade for the Cavs even if they don’t seem all that excited about it. Irving plus Shumpert for Melo knocks almost $3 million off the Cavs payroll and saves almost $15 million in tax. Not sure what the holdup is?

The Cavs can trade Irving before the start of the season for a solid return as long as they don’t get so delusional about Irving’s value that they get in their own way. A deal with either the Heat or the Knicks would leave Cleveland at least as well off on the court after the trade as they were before it next season and likely the season after that. Expecting much more probably means waiting until after December 15th and taking all kinds of needless risks.

 

 

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 San Antonio Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge and Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Should Just Go For It This Season

Already deep in luxury tax territory and unsuccessfully looking to dump contracts even at the expense of potentially getting worse, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri should be looking to do more than just being a top four team in the Eastern Conference. He should got for it and take his shot at getting to the NBA Finals.

As Basketball Insiders senior writer Joel Brigham reported recently, overall the East has gotten weaker with Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Paul Millsap heading west. The top four in the East aren’t about to change, although maybe things between the top teams could become at least a little more interesting.

Cleveland, Boston, Toronto and Washington look almost certain to keep their top-four status in the conference simply by bringing back the same players they had a year ago. Add Milwaukee to that conversation, too

Chicago, Indiana and Atlanta all made the playoffs last year but each will vie for the conference’s worst record next season after losing their stars

Boston took the first steps towards becoming more competitive with the Cavs by getting Gordon Hayward’s commitment for next season. Although they still have more moves left to create the needed cap space to sign Hayward and they’ll probably want to do something about carrying four small forwards that all need to play next season.

Expect the Wizards to match anything restricted free agent Otto Porter signs on July 6th.

The Raptors will bring back starters Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, but have lost rotation players P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson to free agency and are rumored to be looking to dump salary because of luxury tax concerns.

All three of these pretenders will be competitive during the regular season, but unless they have another major move up their sleeve, no one is going to give them more than a puncher’s chance at knocking off a healthy Cavs squad in the playoffs.

The Celtics with Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward still need rebounding and they have the trade pieces to go get a difference maker. Of course the Celtics with Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Brooklyn’s 2018 first round draft pick could choose to tread water as a 50-win team while their young guys develop instead?

Built around John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards will have continuity and if they can find some offense off the bench, it can be argued they don’t need anything else, but they really need that bench to step up.

The Raptors are built around Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Ibaka, but like the Celtics, they need another impact player if they are going to be more than pretenders in the East.

(Players shown in the positions they would like to play)

The Raptors could make do with the players they have, even if it isn’t practical luxury tax wise. Delon Wright has the size to play on the wing. DeMarre Carroll can play both forward spots and Ibaka can play power forward (like he has for most of his career.) But this isn’t the best use of team resources.

The favored move seems to be to find a team to take on Carroll’s salary to solve the luxury tax issue, but this doesn’t help re-balance the roster or help move the needle of the team’s outlook for next season.

No, Ujiri needs to go big if this team is going to be significantly better than last season. He needs to add an impact player, preferably while reducing his luxury tax position.

Once teams can actually start signing free agents on July 6th and reality sets in around the league, trade season can start in earnest and there is one multiple-time All-Star rumored to have shopped around at the draft because he wasn’t happy, the Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge.

The almost 32-year-old five-time All-Star power forward wasn’t named to the All-Star team for first time since 2012 last year. He posted his lowest scoring (17.3 points per game), fewest field goals made (6.9) and worst rebounding numbers (7.3) since his rookie season way back in 2006-07. However, he was still an impact player and as has been a big man trend, he added a three-point shot and hit 41 percent of his 56 attempts last season.

In addition to Aldridge being unhappy, general manager R.C. Burford isn’t going to have star point guard Tony Parker to start the season, if at all. It doesn’t look like free agency is going all that well either besides the return of Patty Mills, so an aging Spurs team could use some young ready-to-go players for next season.

If the Raptors sent Jonas Valanciunas, Cory Joseph and Lucas Nogueira to the Spurs for Aldridge, the Raptors would get another impact player who can shoot plus shave $4.5 million off their payroll, and the Spurs would get to fill some holes with a young starting center, a backup point guard they know well and a young developing big man.

The Raptors tax situation becomes a lot more palatable and the players fall into roles they prefer/fit.

If Aldridge can re-gain his All-Star form of a year ago, which should be a lot easier in the NBA East, Toronto would at least get a second look as a potential competitor for the Cavs come playoff time.

At this point in early July, nothing is set in stone, however, expect the Celtics to make a move to address those rebounding concerns, look for the Wizards bench to improve and the Raptors will do … something.

Ujiri created a three-year window with the contracts of DeRozan, Lowry and Ibaka, so he may as well go for it this year if he can and there may be no better opportunity to snag an impact player than the situation in San Antonio with Aldridge. That is unless Danny Ainge beats him to it.

 

 

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 San Antonio Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge

Don’t Overlook Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge This Trade Season

The ink was barely dry on the contract LaMarcus Aldridge signed with the Spurs in 2015 when questions began to arise about how happy he was with his decision. Speculation abounded about the Spurs trading Aldridge during his initial season and the honeymoon seemed to be over after the Spurs lost in the second round of the playoffs. Heading into this year’s draft, the trade rumors have started up again, stronger than ever as reported by Sam Amick of USA Today Sports.

The Spurs are known to be talking to several teams about the possibility of trading Aldridge

According to a person with knowledge of the Spurs forward’s situation, it’s the 31-year-old’s unhappiness in San Antonio that is the driving force behind the Spurs’ trade talks

It was just two summers ago that Aldridge was the hottest free agent target actually available and he made stops in Phoenix, Toronto and elsewhere before heading to San Antonio and a perceived shot at contending for an NBA title.

Well that dream has run headlong into a Golden State Warriors team that doesn’t look like they’ll have to face a major decision about their devastating roster until Klay Thompson becomes a free agent in the summer of 2019.

The soon-to-be 32-year Aldridge isn’t enjoying the same level of personal success any more either. This past season was the first time Aldridge wasn’t an All-Star since 2012. He posted his lowest scoring (17.3 points per game), fewest field goals made (6.9) and worst rebounding numbers (7.3) since his rookie season way back in 2006-07.

Then in the playoffs with Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard injured, Aldridge averaged just 15.5 points on 41.3 percent shooting and 5.8 rebounds in the Conference Finals as those impressive Warriors swept the Spurs out in four straight.

The Spurs are well enough run to never let it leak they are looking to dump Aldridge and the $21.5 million owing next season plus the 2018-19 player option for $22.3 million, but there is virtually no doubt he was made available during the NBA Draft.

The Spurs have already used up what would have to be considered the best two years of Aldridge’s four-year deal, but that won’t stop them from trying to extract maximum value for a player who should still be able to make an impact on a good team.

However, just as the Pacers are experiencing in their attempts to trade Paul George, teams are justifiably reluctant to give up too much for a player that has the option to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Expecting a Lottery pick in this year’s draft for Aldridge was never very realistic, but the Spurs have plenty of other needs heading into July.

At 35-years-old Tony Parker may have suffered a career-ending injury and even if he eventually gets back in time to play in the second half of next season, no one should be expecting he’ll be the same. Add in half the roster will be testing free agency, plus rumors of Danny Green being dangled and the Spurs need everything.

The Raptors had a good meeting with Aldridge two summers ago, however, there have been no indications as yet if their interest then translates into interest today.

Even though nothing got done, the Raptors, like several other teams, were active at this year’s draft. If Toronto wants to remain a top four team in the Eastern Conference, president Masai Ujiri has accumulated a surplus of young players still on their rookie deals that needs to be cashed-in. The only concern with trading any of them to Spurs general manager R.C. Buford is, if he wants them, you’re probably losing the trade.

Despite the down year Aldridge will generate interest from teams hoping to take a step up next season and the Raptors should be included in that group. However, who will step up to get fleeced by Burford remains to be seen.

 

 

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 Houston Rockets James Harden and OKC Thunder Russell Westbrook and Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Three Is The Key As Small Ball Rules The NBA

The traditional center in the NBA might not be dead, but unless he can hit a three, small ball rules and he’ll be sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter.

“That’s what the game is going to,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “The days of boom, boom, boom, pound it, pound it, pound it (are over) – you can do it two or three times, but as the game goes on they are going to send bodies, send traps off cutters, traps baseline and it’s clogged up and you’re not going to get anything done.”

The 51-win Raptors were in the bottom third of the league averaging 8.8 made threes on 24.3 attempts and improving on those marks will be a top off season priority.

This year the NBA averaged 9.7 made threes on 27 attempts with Houston leading the charge at 40.3 three-point attempts and Cleveland (33.9), Boston (33.4), Brooklyn (31.6) and Golden State (31.2) rounding out the top five.

It wasn’t all that long ago the leading scorer in the NBA wasn’t expected to ever hoist a three-ball, but today every single player in the top 25 averages more than one three-point attempt a game as do 94 percent of the top 50. More players are firing threes every year and more of them are firing with at least acceptable efficiency.

The reason for change probably comes down to simple math for most teams. A player that can hit on 33.3 percent of their threes, in theory, scores just as effectively as someone putting down half of their two-point attempts. Trading twos for threes is a good bet.

No where was the power of small ball lineups firing up three-pointers more obvious than in this year’s postseason.

The only conference finals team that wasn’t one of  the top five regular season three-point shooting teams was San Antonio and they led the NBA in three-point shooting percentage (39.1).

The Rockets led the postseason with 38.5 three-point attempts, but it was the Cavaliers leading in three-point makes (14.2). Houston (12.8 makes) barely edging out the better shooting Celtics (12.7) and Warriors (12.7).

In the NBA Finals, the Cavs shot 13.2-34.6 (38.2%) from three and the Dubs were 14.2-37.2 (38.2%) and the defense was actually pretty good. No team in the NBA should be under any delusions that an NBA Finals appearance is going to be realistic if your team can’t keep up from beyond the arc.

The trend towards small ball and an ever increasing number of three-point attempts isn’t going anywhere. If anything, next season NBA teams will average over 10 made threes a game on over 30 three-point attempts. The days of controlling the game by pounding the ball in the paint are over, at least for now.

 

 

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.

 

 

Raptors Jonas Valanciunas Is Working On A 3-Point Shot

Even Raptors traditional center Jonas Valanciunas has been hunting down 15 foot jump shots in games and practicing his three-pointers in warm-ups.

 

 

NBA San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich

Spurs Plan On Interrupting Cavs Vs Warriors Part Three

By Frank McLean

It’s not a secret that NBA fans and those in the management offices at ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut want a Cleveland Cavaliers versus Golden State Warriors for a third year in this year’s NBA Finals.

With both teams being the winner of one of each of the last two finals you can imagine the ratings bonanza the rubber match would be for the self-proclaimed “World Wide Leader in Sports”.

Well don’t tell that to San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich.

Making their annual visit to Toronto this week Popovich said he’s not ready to concede to the Warriors the Western Conference title for a third straight year regardless if they have added some guy named Kevin Durant.

“You do the best you can to take advantage of whatever weaknesses or strengths they might have. You have to go against their weaknesses, try to figure out what their strengths are and take’em away,” Popovich said about taking on the Warriors. “And that’s what this is all about. So the challenge is what makes it exciting. If you’re of the mindset that where you say what’s the point, then you’re in the wrong business.”

So Popovich is not going to sit down and kiss the Warriors championship rings and why should he?

Since he took the job in 1999 the Spurs have won five NBA championships, averaged 55-wins per season and are on pace for a second straight year of 65-wins.

When you see Popovich as a grumpy old coach in a wrinkled sports coat and khaki pants when he is interviewed on television, in most part it’s an act. When you ask him thoughtful questions he will give you thoughtful answers.

He is also humble.

His peers in the NBA, and that include Raptors coach Dwane Casey, feel that Popovich is not just the best coach in the NBA, but all of sports.

Popovich’s stock answer when you say this to him is that he had Tim Duncan for a long time and that made him look good. Popovich knows that if you don’t have good players a coach is not going to look smart. That’s something every coach I have ever come across well tell you, if you don’t have the horses, you aren’t going to win.

His theory of coaching a game is pretty simple and it explains how he lasted almost 20-years in the same job.

“The game starts and you play the game, you do your best. You make adjustments, make substitutions, get certain groups on the court, call timeouts, yell and scream and beg and love and be crazy and then you win or you lose and then what happens? You go to dinner. Sometimes the best part of the evening.”

He also had high praise for Dwane Casey who each year on the job has gotten his team to win more games than the previous year. Raptors fans may not want to hear this, especially with the club on a five game losing skid and social media is calling for his head as a result.

“It is difficult (to do that),” Popovich said. “You’ll see people have two good seasons or one, it goes down for two or three and then maybe it comes up a little bit and then the owner fires him. That seems to be the deal. But to sustain it and to sustain it and do better every year is a difficult thing. And what Casey’s done here is implemented a culture and a system. It doesn’t happen immediately, but as you all know by now, they’ve bought in, everybody knows what the deal is. He’s going to be consistent, he’s going to be demanding, he’s going to be fair.”

It’s too bad Popovich and the Spurs only come to Toronto once a year. Like I said, when you get Popovich engaged, he is one of the best quote machines in the league.

And as far as I’m concerned he is one of the best coaches in all of sports. The only person who comes close to him is in the NFL and that’s Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots who has won four Super Bowls in six appearances and is heading for his seventh appearance in the big one during his tenure there.

I’m sure the Warriors wish they only had to deal with Popovich and the Spurs once a year.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

 

NBA Los Angeles Lakers D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle & Jordan Clarkson

Lakers, Knicks, Pelicans And Jazz Are Better Than Their Records

The top teams of last season remain the top teams through the first full month of this year, so after April maybe nothing changes, but last year’s Lottery Teams in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Utah and New York look a lot better and the early signs point to the Lakers, Pelicans, Jazz and Knicks being playoff teams this season.

As of the end of November NBA teams have played 16 to 20 games and the early rust or lack of chemistry has started to fade. The revamped Warriors and the consistent Cavaliers remain the best in the league with the Clippers, Spurs and Raptors not so far behind. These five sit atop their respective conferences and are the only teams in the Association with winning records against opponents with a .500 record or better.

Expanded NBA Standings 11-30-2016

This early in the season the NBA standings can be misleading as teams will not have all faced the same level of competition, so one way to level the playing field is to look at records against opposition that are .500 or better.

The big changes atop the conferences are the better than expected start from the Clippers who aren’t underperforming this year and the modest, but expected, decline by the Thunder sans Kevin Durant. However, the Thunder are just one of two teams with a .500 record against winning clubs, the other team being the surprising Lakers.

Only those wearing purple and gold colored glasses had pegged the Lakers as a playoff team prior to this season and their youth may yet betray them, but the 9th place Lakers (10-10) are 6-6 vs teams with a .500 record or better and the losses that have kept them below the playoff line were against the Mavericks (3-14), Timberwolves (5-13) and the improving Pelicans (7-12).

In contrast to the Lakers, the Grizzlies and the Trail Blazers are above the playoff line thanks to a very soft schedule and going 8-2 against sub .500 teams.

The oft injured Pelicans dug themselves a deep hole to start the season by going 0-8, but they’ve started digging themselves out by starting to win against .500 or better teams. They’ll need to stop losing to the sub .500 crowd (1-5) like the recent loss to the Mavericks, but this team should soon be a lot better than their 7-12 record.

The Knicks currently reside in 9th place in the East, right where some of us thought they’d end up, but they’ve had a tough schedule to start the season and going 6-8 versus teams that are .500 or better and 3-1 against sub .500 clubs suggests this is a playoff team if injuries don’t derail them.

The NBA is just starting to round the quarter pole of the season, so a lot of things can still happen to improve or decimate a team’s fortunes, but the early trends suggest that while the top of the league may be stagnant, there could be big changes to the rest of the playoff picture before this is over.

 

 

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 San Antonio Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge

The LaMarcus Aldridge Spurs Honeymoon Is Over

It started last season according to Jabari Young of MySanAntonio.com, LaMarcus Aldridge wasn’t happy with how things were turning out with the Spurs. He wasn’t going to be the focus of the franchise, not then and not after future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan’s retirement. The honeymoon between the All-Star power forward and his new team might have been over almost before it began.

Last season, there were rumblings in NBA circles that Aldridge wanted to be traded before the All-Star break.

Those close to the situation suggest Aldridge may not be happy at the moment. The belief is the Spurs pitched him on becoming the center of their offense when they recruited him in 2015, and that hasn’t occurred.

Kawhi Leonard is becoming the face of the Spurs franchise and the center of their offense, plus Aldridge still has to deal with fame, reputation and impact of Tony Parker and the non-retirement of Manu Ginobili. The Spurs have always represented themselves as a team that doesn’t care who gets the glory/attention and if Aldridge isn’t happy playing out of the limelight, San Antonio may not be the best fit. Leonard out-polled Aldridge 782,339 votes to 268,003 in the 2016 NBA All-Star voting and Aldridge only received about half (498,131) of the votes he got playing in Portland the year before.

To make matters worse, Kevin Durant jumped ship in OKC to solidify the Warriors position as the dominant team in the Western Conference and making every other franchise, even the 67-win Spurs, mere pretenders to come out of the West. Reduced personal stats, no chance at being voted in as an All-Star and little chance at contending for an NBA title isn’t what the 30-year-old 23 point 10 rebound star Trail Blazers power forward foresaw a year ago.

Basketball Insiders Steve Kyle explains,

Aldridge is being pushed into the No. 2 role (and sometimes No. 3) depending on how the Spurs play.

That’s becoming a source of frustration, mainly because the Spurs are not going to be the championship contender Aldridge thought he was joining and he won’t be the focal-point guy who becomes an All-Star.

All this is beginning to fire up the rumor mill about a possible trade, but there is no hard evidence the Spurs have started down that path – yet.

It’s safe to say the Spurs are not remotely looking at moving Aldridge, but it seems equally safe to say that is not a long-term designation.

If and when the Spurs and Aldridge decide it’s time to part company, there will be no shortage of suitors. Pretty much every team that had cap space took a run at signing Aldridge as a free agent last summer and those same teams and more would try to land him again.

Aldridge is on a team friendly contract based on this past summer’s madness. He is owed $20.5 million this season, $21.4 million next year and has a player option (at 33-years-old) for $22.3 million in 2018-19. However, as every GM in the Association should be aware, if R.C. Buford wants your guy, he probably thinks he’s winning that trade and he probably is – buyer beware.

 

 

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 San Antonio Spurs Tim Duncan

Ranking the NBA Western Conference 2016-17

By Danny Thompson, Full Court Press Radio

The Western Conference went through a season in 2015-2016 where they had one team break the all-time wins record with 73. Another team won 67 games and two more teams had over 50, but none of those teams brought home the Larry O’Brien trophy. So with the defending conference champion Golden State Warriors adding some guy named Kevin Durant. Can anyone in the West keep up with them?

1. Golden State Warriors

Key Additions- Kevin Durant, Zaza Pachulia and David West
Key Losses- Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, Leandro Barbosa and Andrew Bogut

Outlook – Let’s be honest here, the Warriors could have re-signed everyone and still would have been in this spot. They won 73 games and finished one game short of winning their 2nd consecutive championship. So what do they do? They go out and add one of the top 5 players in the NBA in Kevin Durant to a team that has the 2 time MVP in Stephen Curry and All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. The real question is, can they find the same type of chemistry on this roster that they had last year?

2. San Antonio Spurs

Key Addition: Pau Gasol
Key Losses: Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw

Outlook – Well it had to happen eventually, Tim Duncan retired this summer after a stellar career in San Antonio. I’m not going to take up this entire space by talking about his career, but even though he didn’t have his best season ever, you have to mention how big of a loss it will be. Not to mention they lost Boris Diaw’s versatility as well. So how does R.C Buford and the front office fix that problem? You go out and sign future Hall of Famer Pau Gasol to replace Timmy. Problem solved, now can Golden State stop the best frontline in the NBA in Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kwahi Leonard? One can only hope that we get this matchup in the Western Conference Finals.

3. Los Angeles Clippers

Key Addition- Brandon Bass
Key Loss- Jeff Green

Outlook – The Clippers get this spot by default. Oklahoma City lost Durant and no one else in the West behind them made a splash to pass them for this spot. They made some questionable contract choices (Austin Rivers), but they brought back Jamal Crawford and brought in guys like Bass, Raymond Felton and Marreese Speights for depth. The real question is with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul being potential free agents next summer, can they make a deal for one of them and still remain a top player in the West? Decisions, Decisions, Decisions in Los Angeles.

4. Portland Trail Blazers

Key Additions- Festus Ezeli and Evan Turner
Key Loss- Gerald Henderson

Outlook – Portland did a lot of re-signing of their main core guys like C.J.McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless to extensions over the last few weeks. Then they brought in swingman Evan Turner and big man Festus Ezeli to a team that has Damian Lillard leading the way. Portland surprised a lot of people last year (Including this writer right here) and made the 2nd round of the playoffs. They will not be surprising this year, but one can only wonder if can they be even better than they were last year? Head coach Terry Stotts will have this team at peak form come playoff time.

5. Utah Jazz

Key Additions- George Hill and Joe Johnson
Key Loss- Trevor Booker

Outlook – Yes, finally, the Jazz will make it back into the playoffs and this time they are dangerous. Joe Johnson provides a late game closer to go along with Gordon Hayward. Veteran point guard George Hill, allows Dante Exum to ease back into the NBA after missing last year with an ACL injury. The Jazz have so much young talent on this team and a top 7 Head Coach in Quinn Snyder, this is the year that all of the stars align in Utah. I didn’t even mention yet that they have Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors in the frontcourt.

6. Memphis Grizzlies

Key Addition- Chandler Parsons
Key Losses- Matt Barnes and Lance Stephenson

Outlook – The big story in Memphis was the re-signing of Conley to the richest contract in the league’s history. The number is still mind-blowing at this point, but now it’s time for him to earn it. Last season it seemed like every key player in Memphis was hurt as some point. They are finally healthy, All-Star Marc Gasol, Conley and newly added Chandler Parsons will help new Head Coach David Fizdale ease his transition to the main spot in Beale Street. Gone are the days of Grit and Grind in Memphis, but this team won’t be an easy out come playoff time.

7. Oklahoma City Thunder

Key Additions- Victor Oladipo and Ersan Illysova
Key Losses- Kevin Durant, Dion Waiters, Serge Ibaka and Randy Foye

Outlook – As much as I don’t want to put them here, the Thunder still have Russell Westbrook (For Now). As long as he’s still in Oklahoma, the Thunder are a playoff team. Westbrook should have an MVP season and if you think 18 triple doubles were something, wait until this year. Now they have some BIG questions: Can Steven Adams can continue the play from his playoff run last year? Can Victor Oladipo be the 2nd scoring option and be light years better than Dion Waiters? Most importantly, can Enes Kanter live up to the contract that he signed last season? If the Thunder can answer yes to all of these questions, then they will be back in the Playoffs. If they can’t, the Russell Westbrook trade rumors will be at the highest level possible.

8. Houston Rockets

Key Additions- Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and Nene
Key Losses- Dwight Howard and Terrance Jones

Outlook – Well this should be one of the most entertaining teams in the NBA. New Head coach Mike D’Antoni has the perfect superstar to be the focal point of his team in James Harden. This team is loaded with shooters and athletic guys. The reason why the Rockets can’t be a contender is because Harden isn’t the best and most willing defender in the NBA and that could be a serious problems on that side of the ball. But the Good News is that Clint Capella will be in the top 10 in rebounding this season and with Harden, Anderson, Gordon and Trevor Ariza, the Rockets will lead the NBA in 3 pointers made as a team.

9. Dallas Mavericks

Key Additions- Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut
Key Losses- Chandler Parsons, David Lee and Zaza Pachulia

Outlook – Mark Cuban strikes out again this summer on attracting a major free agent to pair with Dirk Nowitzki, but he took Harrison Barnes away from Golden State. If Barnes can live up to his potential, the Mavericks could be on to something special. But what should scare Mavericks fans is that Barnes did go missing for major stretches over the past 2 seasons. But now that he doesn’t have to be in most cases a 4th option on offense, this could be the year the “Black Falcon” can finally soar. This will be the team that gets in the playoffs if Oklahoma City decides to trade Westbrook or if Houston can’t outscore teams or any of the previous teams on the list has a major injury. It would be nice to have Dirk have one more deep playoff run.

10. Denver Nuggets

Key Additions- None
Key Losses- D.J. Augustin

Outlook- Denver really didn’t do anything this summer besides re-signing Darrell Arthur, Mike Miller and drafting combo Guard Jamal Murray in the NBA Draft. The Nuggets are one of those teams that when you look at the roster, you see a lot of solid NBA players, but there isn’t one of them currently that screams out superstar. That’s why the Nuggets can’t break into the playoff list as of now. Now if they send a few of those solid pieces (Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and one of the 3 big men they have) for a player like Russell Westbrook or Blake Griffin, then we can talk about meaningful games in April and May.

BTW- Will Barton is extremely fun to watch.

11. Minnesota Timberwolves

Key Addtions- Jordan Hill and Cole Aldrich
Key Losses- Tayshaun Prince

Outlook – This is the most exciting team in the NBA, point-blank. Not Golden State, not Houston and not even Cleveland. Minnesota is the place if you need to watch only one team all of next season. Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are the franchise building blocks and rookie Kris Dunn could make the Wolves become the 1st team in the NBA’s history to have 3 consecutive Rookie Of The Year winners. No team has a better core under the age of 25 (Wiggins, Towns, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Dunn, Ricky Rubio and Georgi Dieng), than Minnesota. But that is also the reason why I can’t put them in the playoffs just yet. Even though Tom Thibodeau is the brand new head coach and he’s the best defensive coach in the league, it’s going to take one more year before these Pups become Wolves and cause serious damage in the NBA.

12. Sacramento Kings

Key Additions- Aaron Afflalo and Matt Barnes
Key Losses- Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli and Quincy Acy

Outlook – The good news is that the Kings have one of the Top 6 players in the entire league in DeMarcus Cousins and he looks slimmer and in great shape playing for Team USA. After that, there isn’t much good news. The bad news is that there isn’t much around Cousins in Sacramento. Rumors are that Rudy Gay wants out and the only solid player they have returning is Darren Collison. They didn’t help themselves in the Draft and Kings fans are still waiting on Willie Cauley-Stein and Ben McLemore to finally live up to their potential. Adding Afflalo and Barnes will provide veteran help and fill the shooting guard and small forward spots, but without a direction for this roster, new coach Dave Joerger will be in for a long year.

13. Phoenix Suns

Key Additions- Leandro Barbosa and Jared Dudley
Key Losses- Jon Leuer and Mirza Teletovic

Outlook – Phoenix has a bunch of players at the same positions and it’s going to be interesting to watch Head coach Earl Watson try to put it all together. They ended up with two top 8 picks in the NBA Draft, but they drafted two guys that play the same position in Dragon Bender and Marquese Chriss. Then they drafted Tyler Ulis making the Suns the only team in the NBA with five or more backcourt players from the same college (Kentucky). They have breakout superstar candidates in Devin Booker and Alex Len as the building blocks of a very good team. Now if they could move either Eric Bledsoe or Brandon Knight to get that wing player they need, could they jump back into the playoffs? Knight and T.J Warren for Rudy Gay sounds really nice doesn’t it?

14. New Orleans Pelicans

Key Additions- Langston Galloway, Solomon Hill and E’Twan Moore
Key Losses- Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and James Ennis

Outlook- Normally I would say that a team has an idea and an identity of how they are going be shaped and I don’t really know what the Pelicans are doing? They lost sharpshooters Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon to Houston and replaced them with Hill, Galloway and Moore for about the same amount of money. I’m not sure if that is considered an upgrade or even a swap of similar talent. From the looks of things, unless Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday and rookie Buddy Hield can put up All-Star numbers, whatever superstar Anthony Davis does will be for nothing. This could be the worst team in the Western Conference, but Davis alone puts them one spot up from the bottom.

15. Los Angeles Lakers

Key Additions- Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov
Key Losses- Kobe Bryant, Brandon Bass and Roy Hibbert

Outlook – The Lakers are going to be better than last year which is a good thing. D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson form a solid 1-2 punch in the backcourt and Julius Randle was a double-double machine last year. They drafted Brandon Ingram with the 2nd overall pick in the NBA Draft and he has all the makings of a franchise player in the next season or two. Now they went out and overspent on Mozgov in hopes that he will return to the 2015 playoff form that he had with the Cavaliers. They are adding pieces and at least they aren’t Brooklyn Nets bad. The good news is the young talent will have a great teacher in new Head coach Luke Walton. Now if they can just not give away all their pieces for Russell Westbrook, then the future will be bright in the City of Angels, but it’s going to take some time.

 

 

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.

Featured image courtesy of Vernon Chang @MoVernie

 

 

 


 

NBA Golden State Warriors Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson

NBA Western Conference’s Best Starting Lineups 2016-17

By Danny Thompson, Full Court Press Radio

In the Western Conference this year we all know what the Golden State Warriors have done with their signing of Kevin Durant to the already dangerous team they had in place. But the real question is who is after them in the best starting 5’s list? Well here are my opinions

1. Golden State Warriors – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia

Reason – Is there a real reason why they wouldn’t be number 1? I’m going to give one reason why, 4 of the top 20 players in the entire league are in this starting 5.

2. San Antonio Spurs – Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol

Reason – They lost a lot of defense at the center spot with Tim Duncan retiring, but insert one of the most skilled big men in the league’s history in Gasol. Add him to Aldridge, arguably one of the best two way players in Leonard, the sharp-shooting Green plus the always dangerous Tony Parker and the Spurs are right back in business.

3. Los Angeles Clippers – Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Wesley Johnson, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan

Reason – The number 2 spot was all theirs until the Spurs signed Gasol. Jordan established himself as one of the best in the league last season (1st team All-NBA selection) and his ceiling continues to grow. Paul and Griffin are in contract years, so you already know what kind of years their going to have. Redick has always been so consistent. Now if this team can add a replacement for Johnson, then they could be a serious challenger to be the best unit in the entire NBA.

4. Memphis Grizzlies – Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Chandler Parsons, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol

Reason – Parsons brings a very athletic wing to go along with the same 4 guys that have been in Memphis for it seems like forever. He brings a lot of what Rudy Gay would have provided when he was in Memphis. The real question is, can he stay healthy? Two major injuries in the last 2 seasons puts up a serious red flag. Otherwise Memphis hit a home run in the offseason. This unit is really dangerous.

5. Utah Jazz – George Hill, Gordon Hayward, Joe Johnson, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert

Reason – Utah is my pick to be the biggest sleeper in the entire league. Johnson adds another solid shooter and closer to this group. Hill will provide a steady and solid starting point guard until Dante Exum is ready to take the job over and Hayward just fills stats sheets. Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert have the potential to be the best power forward-center combination not named Blake and DeAndre in the Western Conference.

6. Portland Trail Blazers – Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Evan Turner, Al-Farouq Aminu and Mason Plumlee

Reason – Portland adds Evan Turner’s all-around skill which should allow Lillard and McCollum to have more freedom to play off the ball. Aminu quietly had a solid season and if Plumlee can continue his play that he showed in the playoffs (7.0 ppg 11.8 reb and 4.8 ast) then this ranking might be a bit too low.

7. Houston Rockets – Patrick Beverley, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson and Clint Capela

Reason – This is a typical Mike D’Antoni lineup. Harden, Ariza and Anderson will let it fly from arc, Capela will grab all of the rebounds and Beverley will just be solid but not spectacular. Mind you this isn’t D’Antoni’s Phoenix style 7 seconds or less, but they could score just as many points as them. Look for Harden and the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook to fight for the scoring title.

8. Oklahoma City Thunder – Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Kyle Singler, Ersan Illyasova and Steven Adams

Reason – If it was my choice Victor Oladipo and Enes Kanter would be in the starting lineup, but with not having enough quality talent on the bench, you have to spread the wealth. Westbrook with this lineup could still surpass the 18 triple-doubles that he had last season. Adams is turning into a very good center and Roberson has shown signs of improvement each season he’s been in the league. Illyasova and Singler both bring solid outside shooting to this group.

9. Minnesota Timberwolves – Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng and Karl-Anthony Towns

Reason – We all know how special Towns and Wiggins are in the present and in the future. They are going to be dynamic and spectacular. As far as the other 3 guys in the lineup, that remains to be decided. Ricky Rubio has outstanding court vision but he can’t hit a jumpshot. Zach LaVine is talented, but can he play shooting guard? Dieng is a solid interior defender and matches well with Towns, but can he develop an offensive game to match? But we can all agree that this is the team everyone will be watching on NBA League Pass this year.

10. Dallas Mavericks – Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki and Andrew Bogut

Reason – In the game of Father Time vs. All-Time great, Dirk is starting to lose the battle. This could be his last year being a franchise player. Now the real question is can Wesley Matthews regain his 2014-2015 season form in time to help out Dirk. Deron Williams days as being a top level Point Guard are over with and Andrew Bogut has to stay healthy. The big signing of Harrison Barnes leaves one to hope that he lives up to the contract.

11. Denver Nuggets – Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and Nikola Jokic

Reason – Solid group of 5. Nothing spectacular and each of them knows their roles and play them very well. Mudiay has the chance to really standout especially if he cuts down on the turnovers. This could be the year in which Gallinari breaks the 20 point per game club.

12. Sacramento Kings – Darren Collison, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Willie Cauley-Stein and DeMarcus Cousins

Reason – Cousins is so talented but hopefully that new coach Dave Jorger will get the best out of him and the rest of this group. McLemore needs to find the tools that made him at lottery pick a short time ago. Collison is very underrated at the point guard spot.

13. Phoenix Suns – Brandon Knight, Eric Bledsoe, P.J. Tucker, Alex Len and Tyson Chandler

Reason – So many guys not playing should be the real story. Honestly, this lineup might not make it out of November because Devin Booker is ready to breakout and be a star. With Knight and Bledsoe on the roster it’s going to be a real problem getting him minutes right away. Both rookies (Dragon Bender and Marquese Chriss) aren’t ready to be starters, so Alex Len has to play out of position for the time being.

14. New Orleans Pelicans – Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Solomon Hill, Anthony Davis and Omer Asik

Reason – The only reason why this unit isn’t last is because Anthony Davis is one of the top 5 players in the entire league. Ideally, Buddy Hield will join this group and move Evans and Hill into the frontcourt with Davis at Center. New Orleans better find a center quick because Asik is the worst starting center in the entire league.

15. Los Angeles Lakers – D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Luol Deng, Julius Randle and Timofey Mozgov

Reason – Well, it was a hard decision between spots 12-15 but someone had to be in this place. Russell, Clarkson and Randle will be solid players in this league but Deng is a bit older and is the perfect placeholder until Brandon Ingram explodes on the scene in L.A. But Mozgov better return to form to bring this unit out of last place.

 

 

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 Golden State Warriors Stephen Curry, Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James, San Antonio Spurs Kwahi Leonard, Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Who Are The Real NBA Playoff Threats This Year?

In less than a week the NBA playoffs will be underway and except for the eighth spot in the West and some jockeying for position in the middle of the playoff pack, this year’s participants are set. But who are the real playoff threats this year? Who are the teams that have shown they can still get the job done when easy games against the bottom half of the NBA are no longer around to pad your win totals?

NBA East

NBA West

In the West, the Golden State Warriors have dominated all season against all comers as they remain on track to set the all-time NBA record for wins in a season.  The only sliver of doubt about their eventual run to an NBA Championship is the Spurs somewhat obvious willingness to punt wins during the regular season in order to give their star players a day off. San Antonio’s tendency to play possum makes their outstanding regular season record that much tougher to properly evaluate.

The Thunder have a couple of superstar players, but they really don’t have superstar results against other winning teams. They are 0-3 against the Warriors, 0-2 against the Cavs and 1-1 versus Toronto. They do have a 2-1 record against the Spurs which could make things interesting in the second round of the playoffs.

The Clippers lack of success against winning teams makes them look like a potential first round upset, but it seems like they will have Blake Griffin back for the postseason, so this team could be better than their regular season record would indicate. Still, it’s hard to think of the Clippers as much of a threat as a second round opponent.

The only team outside of the top four in the West that could cause a stir is the dysfunctional and confusing ninth place Houston Rockets. The Rockets record against winning teams suggests they should be fifth in the conference and they could still sneak into eighth to give the Warriors a better than expected challenge in the first round.

In the East, it’s the Toronto Raptors that have by far and away the best record against winning teams. Almost on par with the Spurs when playing teams with a .500 record or better, Toronto has a winning record versus every team in the Eastern Conference playoff picture including the Cavs. Their only nemesis being the imploding Bulls whose magic number is one loss or one Pacers win to guarantee them a trip to the NBA Draft Lottery.

First place Cleveland remains the favorite to represent the East in the NBA Finals solely because of the very broad shoulders of LeBron James and it won’t surprise anyone if James can once again make his annual appearance at the NBA Championships. Toronto’s best hope at upsetting everyone’s plans is the late season return of defensive specialist DeMarre Carroll. Carroll was signed in the summer as a LeBron stopper and he was a huge part of the Hawks 60 win season and trip to the Eastern Conference Finals last year.

The Hawks are hot and are the sixth and final team in the NBA with a winning record against winning teams. Unfortunately, both the Cavs (0-2, -7 points) and the Raptors (1-3, -4.5 points) have dominated them this season.

There have been some very strange forms of analysis being uttered about the Miami Heat in recent weeks, usually along the lines of, if Chris Bosh came back, the Heat would be a big threat to come out of the East. First, there are no indications Bosh will be back and considering his medical condition, that’s probably for the best. Second, the Heat were only 29-24 with Bosh this season. Everyone would like to relive the glory days of star players like Dwyane Wade and Bosh, but time and circumstance catches up to all of us.

There isn’t a huge disparity between teams in third thru eighth in the East with the possible exception of Atlanta and this should make for some great first round matches as third plays sixth and fourth plays fifth.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, as usual, heading into the playoffs, it’s the top two teams in each conference that should be considered the real threats again this year.

 

 

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 Dwane Casey

Toronto Raptors Casey For Coach Of The Year

With a baker’s dozen worth of games left in the NBA schedule, the season isn’t over and little is set for a lot of teams, but the field for this year’s Coach of the Year (COY) candidates is down to four or five and the Toronto Raptors Dwane Casey should be at the top of that list.

A COY should be having a good season with better than expected results and an objective look back at ESPN Summer Forecast provides a benchmark for the preseason consensus. There is no requirement to agree with the ESPN panel of more than 200 members, but they say it’s “produced the most accurate predictions in the game.” At least it was done before any games were played and it’s done by a very diverse group which should eliminate bias.

Our list of candidates comes down to six head coaches. In the West: Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich and Terry Stotts. In the East: Dwane Casey, Brad Stevens and Steve Clifford.

Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors, expected finish +13 wins better than projected

Last season 67-15, ESPN summer projection 60-22, current record of 63-7 projects to 73-9

If last year’s COY runner up Steve Kerr had of coached the entire season in Golden State, there wouldn’t even be a race. We now expect the Warriors to tie or beat the all-time NBA record for wins in a season. But when you miss the first half of the season, how can you still vote for the guy when assistant coach Luke Walton was running the show at the same pace?

Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs, expected finish +11 wins better than projected

Last season 55-27, ESPN summer projection 57-25, current record of 59-11 projects to 68-14

Three-time Coach of the Year winner in 2002-03, 2011-12 and 2013-14, there are those in the media who’d give the award to Pop every year, but that isn’t how the NBA awards are handed out.

Exactly how ESPN managed to only project the Spurs to gain two wins after adding All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge and David West to an already deep roster is a little confusing and the bold attempts to argue how tough it must be for Pop to integrate all that talent seems more than a little forced. Ask almost any other coach and they’ll beg to be struck down by having to deal with another All-Star on their roster.

To put it bluntly, Pop is a great coach with a great team who is having a great season, but who honestly didn’t expect it?

Terry Stotts, Portland Trail Blazers, expected finish +11 wins better than projected

Last season 51-31, ESPN summer projection 31-51, current record of 36-35 projects to 42-40

Stotts basically lost his entire starting lineup sans Damian Lillard and his team was supposed to be rebuilding with a crop of promising but unproven young talent. To put it mildly, some of those guys have played a lot better than expected.

Projected to finish 11th in the West and currently precariously perched in 6th 1.5 games ahead of the 9th place Jazz, the Trail Blazers are a success story. If they can hang onto a playoff spot, Stotts will get some votes for COY.

Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics, expected finish +7 wins better than projected

Last season 40-42, ESPN summer projection 40-42, current record of 41-30 projects to 47-35

Brad Stevens has created a lot of believers in the media. He got a few COY votes last year and he’ll likely get a few more this time, but Boston has been stubbing their toes at the wrong time.

Not long ago the Celtics were considered to be the biggest threat to the second place Raptors, but a recent four game skid has taken the shine off an otherwise better than expected season. You can’t be lowering expectations heading towards the end of the season and still be in the COY race. Stevens needs to turn this ship around fast.

Steve Clifford, Charlotte Hornets, expected finish +12 wins better than projected

Last season 33-49, ESPN summer projection 35-47, current record of 41-30 projects to 47-35

The Hornets have been red hot since the All-Star break and are rocketing up the standings to be wedged in a three-way tie for fourth in the East with the Hawks and Boston. The third place Heat are only a half game in front of this pack. Forecast to finish in 10th, it’s safe to say the ESPN panelists didn’t see this coming.

Clifford has earned some votes for COY and if he can win the Southwest Division, he’ll get even more attention.

Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors, expected finish +11 wins better than projected

Last season 49-33, ESPN summer projection 44-38, current record of 48-31 projects to 55-27

If you are looking for proof that ESPN doesn’t really pay much attention to the only team north of the border, look no further than their summer projection. Objectively the Raptors improved in the off season, but somehow the ESPN panel consensus was for five fewer wins?

Under Casey the Raptors number of wins has increased each season from 23 in 2011-12 to 34 to 48 to 49 and now projected at 55 wins this year.

Toronto has been closely tracking the first place Cleveland Cavaliers all season as the second best team in the Eastern Conference and are now just one loss back of the leader with 13 games left. Second place at a minimum is secure, eight losses in front of the third place Heat.

The Raptors franchise has never won 50 games in a season. They have never finished better than third place in their conference. Already in contention, if Casey can lead his team to a first place finish, it’s going to be hard to argue against him for COY.

 

 

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 San Antonio Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge

LaMarcus Aldridge To Sign With The San Antonio Spurs

The wait is finally over, the most coveted NBA unrestricted free agent actually available, LaMarcus Aldridge, has decided to sign with the San Antonio Spurs according to the always reliable Adrian Wojnarowski.

 

 

Now the Lakers, Heat, Suns, Rockets, Raptors, Mavericks, etc can get back to focusing on what can be accomplished in free agency, if they haven’t already started.

 

 

 

LaMarcus Aldridge Indecision Creates Hope And Issues
So LaMarcus Aldridge can’t make up his mind. The experts all think he should just sign with the iconic Spurs and the rationale is sound, but it hasn’t happened yet. There must be a reason and it’s probably centered squarely in the Eastern Conference and all this waiting is creating (false?) hope and real issues for the teams waiting on him.

 

 

 

Griffin and Chandler

Ranking The Top Five 2014-15 NBA Western Conference Teams

Really this should be titled, “Is It Time To Bet Against The Spurs?” Has a team that won 75 percent of their games in two of the past three seasons going to finally hit the tipping point due to age that everyone has been trying to forecast for years now?

Ranking the top five NBA Western Conference teams hasn’t gotten any easier this season. The difference between fourth and ninth is almost splitting hairs. The final positions of every team in the Western Conference playoff picture – including the Mighty Spurs – will come down to health, the unforeseen progress of young players and a significant helping of blind luck.

The Top Five

1. Los Angeles Clippers – Projected 59-23, last season 57-25

The Clippers ran into a wall of controversy last season that has been effectively resolved and they solved the biggest hole in their lineup with the acquisition of Spencer Hawes. Head Coach Doc Rivers now has an effective offensive weapon to bring off the bench when teams try to disrupt their momentum with a hack-a-Jordan to put the Clippers 42 percent free throw shooter on the line.

It seems like everyone has forgotten about Doc Rivers and his two young dominate big men that have evolved into young veterans. The Clippers still feature one of the best point guards of his era in Chris Paul and have a roster loaded with savvy veterans. It would be nice to see one more tweak to shore up the depth at guard or wing, but this is the Clippers year to shine.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder – Projected 58-24, last season 59-23

The Thunder are contenders to reach the Western Conference Finals again, however, it isn’t getting any easier.

Oklahoma City remains deep, talented and young. They also face the same issues at center with the effectiveness of Kendrick Perkins and the youth of Steve Adams when they face the best in the West. Sympathy levels around the league remain low for a team Kevin Durant, however.

3. San Antonio Spurs – Projected 56-26, last season 62-20

The Southwest Division is not going to take the Spurs down a peg, however, the improving Clippers and a healthy Thunder are not going to play second fiddle again this time.

Tim Duncan (38), Manu Ginobili (37), Tony Parker (32) and Boris Diaw (32) are all back and extremely important to the success of Head Coach Gregg Popovich’s Spurs. Anyone who believes Pop was careful with his aging roster before – well – this season, expect him to take it up a notch.

The Spurs are tough, resilient and arguably the best coached team in the NBA. It really won’t matter what position they end up in, no one wants to meet them in the first round of the playoffs. The only reason to project fewer wins than last season is the Spurs stars continue to get older. Father-time catches up to everyone eventually doesn’t it?

4. Golden State Warriors – Projected 53-29, last season 51-31

The risk in Golden State is injuries. The Warriors improved defensively last season and still won 51 times despite games missed by Andre Iguodala (19), Andrew Bogut (15) and David Lee (13). The Splash Brothers make the Warriors an offensive machine with amazing comeback ability and if the team can stay reasonably healthy, upping last season’s win total should be a breeze.

The additions of Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa give the Warriors some much needed veteran depth at guard. Look for a Team USA Gold Medal bump from Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson early on.

5. Dallas Mavericks – Projected 52-30, last season 49-33

The bottom half of the Western Conference playoff standings is going to look even more crowded than last season, mostly because the teams fighting to get into the playoff picture will be better.

Dallas wisely upped their playoff chances over the summer by improving defensively with Tyson Chandler and giving Dirk Nowitzki more room to operate by spreading the floor with Chandler Parsons. The Mavericks head into this season as a veteran team that will be even harder to guard on the perimeter and a little tougher to score on inside and that should be just enough to give them an edge over the next five best teams in the West.

Risks and Obstacles

No one in the West should feel too secure about their playoff position come April, there are teams not expected to make the playoffs who will make significant strides this season. However, barring disaster, pushing the Clippers, Thunder and Spurs out of the way is probably too big a hill to climb. Everyone else had better buckle up.

Who do you think will put forth the effort it takes to be first in the NBA Western Conference? Which one of these teams do you think gives up home court in the first round of the playoffs? Can any other team crack the top five in the West? 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

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.

Diaw and Gobert

Spain Stunned By France 65-52 At FIBA World Cup

A hometown crowd of 13,673 in Madrid were stunned into near silence as Spain was upset 65-52 with a 12-2 run over the final 2.5 minutes by Les Bleus. The powerhouse combination of veterans Pau and Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka were outworked and outhustled by France’s pair of 22-year-olds Rudy Gobert and Joffrey Lauvergne and the veteran Boris Diaw.

Spain had cruised through pool play and the first elimination contest averaging over 88 points per game and never facing a real threat to their supremacy. Even France had bowed down without a fight 88-64 earlier to Spain. However, in the quarterfinals match, France controlled the pace, slowed the game down to a crawl and Spain found themselves in the uncomfortable position of playing from behind for nearly the entire contest.

It didn’t help that Spain shot 2-22 from behind the arc, but France wasn’t doing much better from deep at 6-25, however, the real reason for Spain’s problems came on the glass where France hammered them 50-28 thanks to an unexpected 13 rebounds from Gobert and 10 from Lauvergne.

France’s defense was on target all game and held Spain to just 32 percent shooting from the field and the soon-to-be Jazz sophomore Gobert was a big reason for Spain’s inability to dominate in the paint like they had all tournament. Gobert was only credited with one blocked shot, but he changed many others and was key to keeping the Spanish big men from taking over this game.

At the other end of the court, the Spurs Diaw had an effective 15 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists to lead France in scoring and point guard Thomas Heurtel had 13 points on 4-7 shooting.

The Bulls Pau Gasol led all scorers with 17 points on 7-12 shooting, 8 rebounds and 3 blocked shots, but the Grizzlies Marc Gasol, Thunder Ibaka and Timberwolves Ricky Rubio each shot 1-7 from the field to seal Spain’s fate.

An unexpected and devastating loss for Spain on their home turf to their biggest European rival who was without their best player is a shock to the fans, tournament organizers and to Team USA. The Americans were game planning for a gold medal match against Spain and now will not have to face the only team expected to threaten them.

Boxscore: Spain vs. France

 

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.

 

 

Team Canada Cory Joseph

Raptors Should Target Cory Joseph As Their Next Canadian

The NBA’s only remaining Canadian franchise has never had a local player on their roster during the prime of his career. Jamaal Magloire returned home to retire and is having an impact coaching up Jonas Valanciunas and being a great community ambassador, but even the franchise admits having a local Canadian kid playing on the roster for an extended period would be a very good thing.

Tristan Thompson was drafted one spot ahead of Valanciunas in 2011, Anthony Bennett was taken first overall in 2013, Andrew Wiggins was always going to be taken too high for Toronto to get him, Nik Stauskas rocketed up the draft boards and the team just missed out on Tyler Ennis. President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri decided against using either of the team’s two 2014 second round draft picks on a Canadian that he would have been stashing overseas or in the NBA D-League and it’s easy to understand wanting to avoid the pressure that situation could have evolved into.

The dilemma in Toronto has always been wanting a Canadian player, but not wanting to acquire a Canadian unless they fit on the roster. The right opportunity will present itself eventually and the right player may not be one of Canada’s potential stars or starters from recent drafts, it could be the San Antonio Spurs reserve point guard Cory Joseph.

A local Toronto kid, Joseph has represented Canada on the under-19 National team twice and the Senior Men’s National Team at the FIBA America’s in 2011 and 2013. Even though he is still just 22-years-old, he was the defacto leader of Team Canada this summer during their 11 game European exhibition tour. Joseph has lots of local credibility.

At the FIBA Americas last summer, he averaged 16.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists and put up a monster game against Brazil with 29 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists. Canada just failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Spain, but they had a chance despite being led by a 21-year-old point guard.

On this summer’s friendly exhibition tour, Head Coach Jay Triano was splitting the minutes fairly evenly between the players, so everyone’s stats were somewhat muted, but Joseph’s leadership value to Canada stood out in the stark contrast between the back-to-back losses to Croatia. In game one, Canada lost 69-64 with Joseph putting up a line of 6/3/2, however, Triano gave Joseph the next game off and the result was an ugly 74-59 defeat. “Plain and simple, we did not shoot the ball well,” Triano said after the loss and that was Joseph’s only day off the rest of the way.

After Croatia, Triano bumped up Joseph’s playing time and it showed. Over the final 6 games Joseph averaged 14.5 points, 2.7 rebounds and 4.8 assists including 19 point scoring efforts against Spain and Turkey. Canada was often overmatched in terms of talent and experience during the tour, but finished with a 5-6 win-loss record and it Joseph who stirred this team’s drink most of the time.

“We know that we have a lot of talent, but we haven’t done anything yet, so have to be able to put it together,” Joseph told Pro Bball Report using words that sounded eerily like those spoken by Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey this past season.

Playing for his National team has given Joseph the opportunity to show what he can do at a young age. This kid is a leader and has lots of potential.

Joseph was drafted 29th overall by the Spurs in 2011 and has spent most of his time with the team’s D-League affiliate Austin Toros, however, he played in 68 games with the Spurs last season and started 19 times. He only averaged 13.8 minutes, 5 points, 1.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists, but in his starts that increased to 24.9 minutes 8.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists and his shooting percentages improved slightly. Last year Joseph shot a career best 47.2 percent from the field and 31.6 percent from three-point range.

What Joseph’s Team Canada stats and Spurs stats as a starter tend to confirm is if Joseph was given the opportunity, his per 36 minute stats of 13.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists are probable and he’s been improving fairly dramatically since arriving in San Antonio.

“I have learned a lot over my three years at San Antonio,” Joseph said. “I made great strides in bettering my game and just being professional. They are complete professionals. They take care of their bodies. I’ve learned about that a lot this year, just taking of my body, preparing myself for the game.”

Joseph is in the final year of his rookie deal with the Spurs and despite the increased playing time, he has fallen to third string among their point guards with Patty Mills signing a three-year $11 million extension this summer even though Mills injured his shoulder and isn’t expected to play until January or later. The Spurs will need Joseph at the start of the season, but by the trade deadline or during next summer’s anticipated restricted free agency, the Raptors could realistically make a play for Joseph.

Joseph fits with what Ujiri is trying to do and could have a very obvious role off the bench. Not a star or even a starter, Joseph wouldn’t have the pressure of having to be more than a backup guard in Toronto. A sixth, seventh, or even a tenth man off the bench filling the role Lou Williams is expected to hold down this season as a guard that can put up points and provide some leadership.

The next Canadian on the Raptors doesn’t have to be a star player and it might be a lot easier for the future Canadians playing in Toronto if the bar isn’t set that high straight away. Joseph makes an interesting and enticing target for Ujiri to go after and it’s just the kind of below the radar move that Ujiri is known for making.

 

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.

 
 
Cory Joseph Brings Leadership To A Young Team Canada
“I’m 22-years-old, you make me sound old,” Joseph said. “I’m a young guy. I’m in good shape. I take care of my body – make sure I sleep well, eat well and I’ll be fine. I’m young.”

 
 

San Antonio Spurs Media Day

Parker, Ginobili lead Spurs Past Raptors 112-99

It was the Tony Parker show in San Antonio as the Spurs got past the Raptors road warriors 112-99 in a game Toronto kept making runs, but ultimately couldn’t get over the hump.

TOR_Lowry_KyleAfter playing in Oklahoma City on Sunday, the Raptors had the tired team excuse against the rested Spurs, but they didn’t let it show initially as Kyle Lowry opened and closed the scoring in the first quarter, putting up 12 of his team’s 26 points for Toronto’s only leads of the night.  Lowry had 23 points, 4 rebounds and 9 assists in the game.

TOR_Ross_TerrenceTerrence Ross got a lot of run after a poor outing against the Thunder and his shot was falling.  Ross had 23 points on 10-16 shooting and played 33 minutes including 8.5 minutes in the fourth quarter.  The only knock on Ross was how much easier the Spurs seemed to score while he was in the game.

“(DeMar DeRozan) had a rough night,” Head Coach Dwane Casey said.  “They were double-teaming him in post-ups, so they weren’t going to let him go and to Terrence Ross’ credit, he was the guy who stepped up.  He was the guy they were double-teaming (off of.)”

Parker had a relatively quiet first quarter with just 4 points and quietly ran up 26 points and 8 assists over the course of the game.  The Spurs just play a very businessman-like style.  However, it was their uncharacteristic impact on the glass that allowed them to stay in control.  The Spurs out rebounded the Raptors 50-40 and had 10 extra shots in this game.

“The difference in the game was our turnovers and defensive glass,” Casey said. “(We gave up) a season high 16 offensive boards.  They are 30th in the league in offensive rebounding – that’s mental fatigue.”

SAS_Duncan_TimTim Duncan looked old, slow and unsure of his shot as he scored just 9 points on 4-15 shooting and was blocked 3 times, however, he might be the smartest player on the court as he collected 12 rebounds and 4 easy blocked shots and barely seemed to move to get them.

San Antonio Spurs Media DayManu Ginobili came in off the bench to wreck his usual impact on the defense, scoring 18 points on 4-7 shooting and in the fourth quarter Danny Green nailed 4 three-pointers to crush the Raptors hopes of a comeback.

SAC_Salmons_John“John Salmons, give him the game ball, offensively and defensively,” Lowry said after the win in Oklahoma City, but Salmons only played 19 minutes against the Spurs and it was Ross who closed out the game.  Salmons didn’t score in San Antonio, however, he had 5 rebounds, 2 assists and was a team best +3 while he was in the game.  Salmons impact shouldn’t be measured by the points he puts up and the Raptors missed him down the stretch.

This is 3 games in a row that DeMar DeRozan has found defenders in his face all night and the Raptors starting shooting guard was just 5-16 from the field for 13 points.

“We missed some good looks and I think some of it was fatigue, some of it was legs, some of it was their good defense,” Casey said.

The Raptors never gave up and the Spurs never let up.  It was a tough loss for Toronto on the second night of a back-to-back against 2 of the Western Conference leaders.  The Spurs just took care of business on their home court.

The Raptors play a home-and-home against the Knicks after Christmas, visiting New York on Friday and playing at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday.

The Spurs entertain the Rockets on Christmas Day and visit Dallas on Boxing Day.

Check out our Raptors Game Info page and Pregame Report.

The Raptors remain a half game ahead of the Celtics for first in the Atlantic Division.

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.

SAS_Duncan_Tim

Raptors Take Road Success To San Antonio

The Toronto Raptors have played better on the road this season than at home and take a surprising 4 game road winning streak into San Antonio after knocking off Dallas and Oklahoma City on the weekend.  However, this team’s improved play has coincided with the departure of Rudy Gay and the arrival of Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson and John Salmons from Sacramento and they have spent most of their time together on the road, so maybe the road has nothing to do with what’s been happening lately?

Immediately after trading Gay, a short-handed Raptors squad visited the Lakers and came out with a 106-94 win.  Two nights later while they were still waiting on the traded players to complete their physicals, they lost at home to the Spurs 116-103 after taking a 36-24 first quarter lead.  Since then, Head Coach Dwane Casey inserted Vasquez, Patterson and Salmons into the rotation and the Raptors have gone 4-1 with their only loss to the Bobcats in overtime.  As Casey exclaimed, “We got a bench.”

A team that was 6-12 and fading fast in the very weak Eastern Conference is now 11-14 and leading the Atlantic Division again.

TOR_Casey_DwaneCoach Casey keeps insisting this season is all about developing Terrence Ross, Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan, but now he is allowing some of that development to happen by letting Ross watch the veteran Salmons show him how it’s done with the game on the line.  Patterson has given Casey another physical player to use in a 4 man rotation with his bigs and Vasquez has provided a backup point guard that can contribute something – sometimes in a big way.

This new Raptors rotation has only been together for 5 games, however, the early results are very encouraging.

SAS_Popovich_GreggThe veteran Spurs continue to do just about everything right.  They are 21-6 on the season, 9-1 against the East and 9-3 at home.  This team rarely beats itself, is deep, well coached and will contend for the Western Conference Finals again this season.  Based on their record and coming in after playing the night before, the Raptors haven’t got a chance.

The Spurs are scoring 103 points per game while holding their opponents to an NBA fourth best 95.3.  They boast the league’s second highest field goal percentage (48.9), second best three-point field goal percentage (40.2).  They don’t foul or send opponents to the free throw line very often and no player even averages over 2 personal fouls per game.  Effective and disciplined, the Spurs have continuity and chemistry.  Until this group falls apart due to old age, not much is going to change.

The only Spurs ‘weakness’ is they have 5 players over 30 years of age and only 2 players under 23, but based on how the ‘old’ guys are playing, that isn’t much of a handicap.

22-year-old Kawhi Leonard, third in team scoring at 12.3 points, will be back in the lineup after missing Saturday’s game against the Thunder for some dental work.  Tony Parker played on Saturday after missing the 2 previous games with a shin bruise.

The Raptors were not expected to win any games on this road trip before Christmas, but they have come back twice against teams with much better records already.  Effort is often the difference between having no chance and giving your team a shot to win at the end and for the past 5 games at least, the Raptors have put out plenty of effort.  An automatic Spurs win is no longer a sure thing, they will have to earn it.

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.

San Antonio Spurs Media Day

Ginobili, Parker, Duncan lead Spurs Past Raptors

The short-handed Raptors started out strong and fizzled out quickly against the heavily favored Spurs on Tuesday night in Toronto losing 116-103.  However, the game was never really this close after half, veteran teammates, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, leading their team in scoring once again.

The Raptors only had 10 players available after trading Rudy Gay, Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy to Sacramento yesterday.  D.J. Augustin was cut to make room for the 4 players coming back from the Kings, however, the new additions wouldn’t be available until after tonight.  Tyler Hansbrough was still recuperating from a sprained shoulder as well, so Toronto was missing 2 of their regular rotation players.

TOR_Ross_TerrenceCompeting backup point guards Julyan Stone and Dwight Buycks received playing time as did seldom-used Austin Daye.  Terrence Ross got the start in place of Gay instead of the more experienced Landry Fields who had started in Los Angeles on Sunday.

Toronto got off to a fast start 6-2 start and the Raptors lead just kept slowly growing until it was 36-24 at the end of the first quarter.

TOR_Valanciunas_JonasIn typical Raptors fashion, Kyle Lowry passed the ball to Jonas Valanciunas on their first possession for a dunk and Toronto kept going back to Valanciunas in the early going.  The Raptors big men seemed to enjoy the absence of Spurs starting center Tiago Splitter as both Valanciunas and Amir Johnson scored 10 first quarter points.  Toronto even dominated on the glass, out rebounding the Spurs 13-6.

The Spurs play appeared slower and more methodical than usual in the first quarter, but as Toronto went to their depleted bench and the Spurs brought out their impressive supporting cast, this game changed in a hurry.

The second quarter began with a 19-4 Spurs run aided by 3 Raptors turnovers and in reality, one should have just stuck a fork in the Raptor, it was cooked.  Led by 28 points from their bench, the Spurs just kept coming and went into the second half leading 59-53.  It was second year center Aron Baynes coming in off the bench who slowed the Raptors big men.  Plus, Toronto turned the ball over 7 times in the quarter and their depleted bench had all of 2 points.

SAS_Duncan_TimSan Antonio opens the second half with a 6-2 run and cruised through the quarter up by 6 to 10 points until a Duncan dunk with 3 minutes left led to a 10-3 run and a 15 point lead heading into the fourth quarter.  Baynes embarrassed Valanciunas with a shoulder-fake to drive for an uncontested dunk of his own.  Toronto’s rebounding advantage was gone at this point.  Each team had 28 boards.

Within 2 minutes, the Spurs were up by 20 points in the fourth quarter and extended garbage time was underway.  Ginobili led the Spurs with 16 points, 5 rebounds and 9 assists. Parker had 15 points and 6 assists. Duncan, Danny Green and Baynes had 14 points each.  The Spurs bench scored 61 points and no one on the Spurs played 30 minutes.

TOR_Johnson_AmirJohnson finished with 19 points and 9 rebounds and DeRozan had 19 points and 7 assists.  Valanciunas, with 14 points, didn’t score after the first quarter until there was less than 2 minutes to go in the game as he was out played by Baynes.  Ross hit 4 three-pointers, but shot 4-13 to log his 14 points.  Lowry had 11 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists.  Buycks had 10 points, 5 boards and 3 assists in the second half.  The Raptors bench picked it up in the second half, finishing with 26 points in extended but meaningless minutes.

Toronto plays the 76ers at home on Friday and visits Chicago on Saturday.

The Spurs visit Milwaukee on Wednesday, return home to face Minnesota on Friday and then are back out on the road Saturday to play the Jazz.

Check out our Raptors Game Info page and Pregame Report.

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 San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich

Spurs (15-4) at Raptors (7-12): Pregame Report

Last year’s NBA Finalist San Antonio Spurs are 15-4 this season and there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that this team is much better than the 7-12 Toronto Raptors.  It’s not that the Spurs are unbeatable or the Raptors should just award San Antonio the win and head on up to the practice gym, anything can happen on any given night in the NBA, but Toronto doesn’t have the experience or the talent to matchup with the Spurs if everything goes according to script.

The Spurs are scoring 101.8 points per game while holding their opponents to an NBA third best 93.1.  They boast the league’s second highest field goal percentage (48.8), fourth best three-point field goal percentage (39.7).  They don’t foul or send opponents to the free throw line very often and only 1 player even averages over 2 personal fouls per game.  Effective and disciplined, the Spurs have continuity and chemistry.  Until this group falls apart due to old age, not much is going to change.

The only Spurs ‘weakness’ is they have 5 players over 30 years of age and only 2 players under 23, but based on how the ‘old’ guys are playing, that isn’t much of a handicap.

TOR_Gay_RudyThe Raptors could be considered short-handed heading into tonight’s game, but only by those who don’t really follow this team.  Toronto traded Rudy Gay, Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy to the Kings on Monday and then waived D.J. Augustin.  However, only Gay was a regular in the rotation and Landry Fields started in his place on Sunday as all 3 players to be traded were held out of the lineup and the Raptors beat the Lakers in Los Angeles.

TOR_Fields_LandryAlthough the Raptors might miss Gay’s scoring on any given night, he was shooting 18.6 shots per game at 38.8 percent from the field, so if they can find a similar number of shots elsewhere, scoring as a team shouldn’t decline and Fields can provide a similar level of defense at the small forward spot.  For all practical purposes, the team’s scoring at 97.7 points per game and 98.4 points given up shouldn’t be adversely affected by the loss of Gay based on how he played so far this season.

Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes are not required to arrive in Toronto until Wednesday and are not expected to play Tuesday night.  Vasquez will represent a significant upgrade at backup point guard and may foreshadow a future deal that sends starter Kyle Lowry out of town.  Patterson represents the type of young player President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri has looked to add to his roster this season and will get a shot at earning minutes as a backup power forward.  Salmons and Hayes tenure in Toronto may be short-lived, but this team could use their veteran presence, even if they never set foot in a game.

What happens to the Raptors in the second game after trading Gay with all the ensuing rumors about virtually every other player on the roster won’t be known until after it starts.  However, if Sunday’s contest was any indication, the Raptors won’t look all that different than they have all season – minus the ball sticking on the three-point line as Gay tried to figure out exactly what he was supposed to be doing as a point forward.

The Spurs should still win.  The Raptors should still lose.  How the game actually plays out in between is a little harder to forecast as the Raptors try to figure out who they are now – again.

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 NBA Western Conference Teams

Ranking the top five NBA Western Conference teams just got a little harder than usual this season. The Lakers are not going to be in this group at the start of the season and it is worth noting that change all on its own. The Clippers are and don’t expect Lakers fans to be all that happy about it. However, there are more changes than just the rise of the Clippers and the fall of the Lakers. The top five in the West is under renovation.

Every team faces risks and even the best in the West can have their season disrupted by unforeseen circumstances, but these teams are pretty deep and unless they lose a key star player for a significant number of games, they should be able to hold onto solid playoff spot fairly easily.

The Top Five

1. Los Angeles Clippers – 56-26 last season, projected 62-20

The Clippers are better than last season. 28-year-old Jared Dudley is an excellent replacement for last season’s 33-year-old starting small forward Caron Butler, equivalent but younger. J.J. Redick is a big upgrade over the former starting shooting guard Willie Green. Plus, five of the Clippers top six scorers from last season are back, so this team has continuity.

However, the Clippers will win more games because they upgraded their head coach. Doc Rivers has the respect of everyone associated with the NBA. Concerns about being out-coached are gone and if top-flight coaching really does make a difference, adding 10 percent more wins to last season’s total shouldn’t even be a stretch. Look for the best team in Los Angeles to compete for the best record in the NBA again this season.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder – 60-22 last season, projected 58-24

The Thunder are contenders to reach the Western Conference Finals for the third time in four years, however, this season like last season, they are going to face some serious competition.

The team had question marks about their ability to dominate the West after losing James Harden to the Rockets and those questions were compounded by the loss of Kevin Martin to the Timberwolves this summer, however, they will still coast through the regular season fairly easily on the backs of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

This team is still deep and talented and has assets to trade if the young players Steve Adams and Jeremy Lamb are not quite ready for prime time in backup roles. Any slippage from last season will be slight.

3. San Antonio Spurs – 58-24 last season, projected 54-28

One day Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are going to pack it in after long and successful NBA careers. Unfortunately for their Western Conference rivals, that time hasn’t arrived just yet. Neither of these players are going to be better than last season, but this resilient Spurs team that looks a lot like last year’s NBA Finalist has to be the favorite to win their division once again. They are the team no one wants to meet in the playoffs.

The only reason to project fewer wins than last season is the Spurs best players are getting older. Father-time catches up to everyone eventually.

4. Houston Rockets – 45-37 last season, projected 54-28

The Rockets have joined the list of serious contenders to advance to the Western Conference Finals because they won the Dwight Howard sweepstakes. Two bona fide big-time All-Star players has been the formula to contend in the NBA and the combination of Harden and Howard is as legit as it comes.

Last season Howard played with a bad back in bad situation and he still led the league in rebounding and was fifth in blocks. Assume Howard will arrive in Houston with something to prove.

Houston still has a situation to sort out with Omer Asik as last year’s starting center is not a power forward, but Asik is a very tradable asset, so this problem is not a bad problem to have.

5. Golden State Warriors – 47-35 last season, projected 51-31

No one is going to mistake the Golden State Warriors for a defensive juggernaut, but last season Head Coach Mark Jackson got a decidedly better effort on defense out of his offensive-minded players and the Warriors won 24 more games than the year before and got to the Western Conference Semi-Finals.

The Warriors defense just took a huge step forward with this summer’s acquisition of Andre Iguodala. Jackson will be able to pair Iguodala on the wing with either Harrison Barnes or Klay Thompson and give opposing offenses a look this team hasn’t been able to show for years.

Andrew Bogut looks like he will be ready to start the season and re-create his big defensive presence from last season’s playoff run and Jermaine O’Neal can help out defensively as long as Jackson doesn’t have to rely on him for big minutes.

The only obvious risk in Golden State is how well Stephen Curry’s ankles hold up and he only missed 4 regular season games last year.

Risks and Obstacles

The top five teams in the West are all deep enough to deal with reasonable injury risks and still compete for home court in the first round of the playoffs and aside from the Memphis Grizzlies, it would be a surprise if any of the other teams in the Western Conference were able to bump them into the sixth spot or lower. However, each team faces the real possibility that key players will miss games to known injury concerns and if this happens at the wrong time, their regular season standing will be affected.

Anyone in our top five could end up first in the West if the breaks go their way, however, pushing the Clippers and the Thunder out of the way is probably too big a hill to climb.

Who do you think will put forth the effort it takes to be first in the NBA Western Conference at the end of the season? Which one of these teams do you think gives up home court in the first round of the playoffs? Can any other team crack the top five in the West? Let us know in the comments below.

The muddled middle of teams competing for a playoff spot at 6, 7 and 8 will be available for discussion soon.

Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report. You can follow Stephen on twitter @stevesraptors