A tale of 3 Kevins

20 12 2008

Has there been a more stupid executive in the NBA in the last decade or so than Kevin McHale?

I loved the Minnesota Timberwolves. They were the team that I first connected to when I started to seriously follow the NBA. I’m ashamed to say that one of the main reasons was the logo and name (I went through a phase when I loved anything to do with wolves) but I also loved Kevin Garnett. Even as a rookie he swiftly became one of my favourites.

With Tom Gugliotta and Stephon Marbury the Timberwolves looked set to dominate the NBA for a decade but then Starbury fled and it all fell rather flat. McHale did manage to obtain Terrell Brandon to soften the blow of Starbury’s disappearance but the Timberwolves were no longer a team on the rise.

With KG the T-wolves were always competitive but McHale’s ineptitude meant he was never surrounded by the quality supporting talent needed to be a contender. It was exacerbated with the dreadful Joe Smith saga where they illegally tried to sign him only to be revealed and lose several years worth of draft picks. It wasn’t till they acquired Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell, two quality All Star level talents that the Timberwolves blossomed. It proved that if you put the right players around him, Garnett could carry the team deep into the playoffs.

Then it all kinda fell apart. The team failed to make the playoffs for the next couple of years and finally KG was traded to the Celtics where he promptly won a championship. Well done Kevin McHale! You built a champion but for the wrong team. Doh!

The case against McHale gets more damning when you consider his lottery picks. He lucked out with KG, he will be in the Hall of Fame but he has had little other success.

In 2006 they traded #6 pick Brandon Roy for #7 pick Randy Foye. Foye has been a solid NBA player but I doubt whether he will ever be a star. He’s a tweener, neither point nor shooting guard while Roy is now an All Star and the centrepiece of the upstart Portland Trail Blazers.

Last year they drafted Corey Brewer when players like Al Thornton, Thaddeus Young, Rodney Stuckey, Rudy Fernandez and Carl Landry were still available. All of those players would have been better fits.

The true travesty was in this year’s draft where they drafted rising superstar OJ Mayo and traded him to the Memphis Grizzlies for Kevin Love. I wrote at the time:

Word of advice don’t trade away an athletic potential superstar for a big white stiff, just not a good idea 

and I guess I have never written more prophetic words. OJ Mayo currently heads David Thorpe’s Rookie Rankings while Love is languishing at #11. I’ll be delighted if Love proves me wrong but I doubt it.

McHale’s stewardship has been a tragedy. Can you imagine if Roy was playing alongside Garnett? The two of them would most probably have the Timberwolves back in the playoff hunt. Of course then McHale would undoubtedly have stuffed the whole thing up.





Fave vs Fave – the Trail Blazers vs Celtics

6 12 2008

Well that was brutal. I’d circled today’s NBA game on ESPN as one of the few must see games. It featured my beloved Celtics up against the Trail Blazers, the team which is swiftly becoming my favourite out west (if only because the Timberwolves are so awful and we never get to see their games anymore). It shaped as a good-un, the Celtics were riding a 10 game win streak, the Blazers a 6 game streak.

In the end it was no contest, the Celtics handed out a beat down, and even a late game rally by the Blazers couldn’t disguise the gulf between the two teams. The Celtics displayed the swagger and intimidation they’ve earned as NBA champs while the Blazers showed just how far they have to go to be considered one of the truly elite teams.

Despite the beat down I still really enjoyed the game – it’s one thing to follow a team through boxscores and recaps, and quite another to watch them play. It showed me a few things:

  • KG is still the man though he seems to be settling for too many jumpshots, get on the block man!
  • The Celtics really love to trash talk and it was almost embarrassing watching the Trail Blazers try to answer back. Ultimately that seemed to take the Blazers out of their game.
  • Rajan Rondo is really really good this year, not quite in Tony Parker’s class offensively, but a superb defender and rebounder nonetheless.
  • I’ve realised that I have a man crush on Leon Powe. I just love watching him play.  
  • Despite the way the Lakers and Cavaliers are playing I’d still favour the Celtics in a series against them. The Lakers are too soft, the Celtics will just bully them like they do all finesse teams. The Cavaliers will have to play at the peak of their powers to match the Celtics and I don’t know if they could do that for seven games.
  • The Celtics are playing brilliant team basketball and that’s what’s beating teams at the moment. They really make the extra pass and rarely are they outhustled.
  • The Blazers are still really young. They need to acquire a hard nosed veteran to play alongside Oden and Aldridge. Can you imagine how much better they’d be with Garnett or Duncan in their ears?
  • The Blazers have the potential to be really really exciting. Against lesser teams they’ll rack up the points, especially with Rudy Fernandez and Travis Outlaw off the bench.  
  • Greg Oden is still figuring out how to play the game at the pro level though I firmly believe he’ll be fine by the end of the season (assuming he stays healthy)
  • The Trail Blazers need a point guard. How good would they be with someone like Calderon or Nash? The starter, Steve Blake, is a solid back up but they need more of a floor general out there. I know the excellent Brandon Roy does a lot of the ball handling for them but it would probably be a good idea to investigate the options out there.




Portland Trail Blazers Season Preview

4 10 2008

My NBA Northwest Division preview continues with the Portland Trail Blazers:

Portland TrailBlazers

2007-08 Standings 41 – 41, 10th Western Conference 

2008-09 Predicted Record 50 – 32, 2nd Northwest Division, 6th Western Conference 

Projected Starting Five:  Greg Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge, Martell Webster, Brandon Roy, Steve Blake

Sixth Man: Travis Outlaw

If Greg Oden can start healthy this year, the Blazers have a chance to be scary good, scary quick.

If Greg Oden can stay healthy this year, the Blazers have a chance to be scary good, scary quick.

For a brief while last season the Portland Trail Blazers led the Western Conference then injuries, inexperience and the schedule caught up with them and they ended up in 10th position, outside of the playoffs but with a 41 – 41 record. In the Eastern Conference that would have been good enough for 6th place. 

They overachieved last year. They were led by classy first year All Star Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge yet they were never meant to be this good this soon, especially after they lost the overall #1 pick in the draft Greg Oden before the season began. Oden is better now and he will have an opportunity to prove that he was worthy of his lofty billing. Even if he comes on slow the Trail Blazers have the other players around to cover while he grows accustomed to the speed and physicality of the NBA.

This year also marks the arrival of Rudy Fernandez, the classy Spaniard who has All Star level talent. During the Olympics he showed his class, refusing to back down from the Americans during the Gold Medal match. While it is too soon to tell how he will adjust to the NBA, I’m picking he could develop into the next Manu Ginobli. 

Banished are the days of the Jailblazers, instead this is a team of classy individuals and a whole batch of talented youngsters. So stacked are the Trail Blazers with young talent that it wouldn’t surprise to see a trade or two, especially to acquire a veteran point guard. They are also aided here with the soon to expire contract of Raef LaFrentz, packaged with one or two of the youngsters and they could get an All Star quality player (Devin Harris anyone?). They are led at the point by Steve Blake with the young Jerryd Bayless scheduled to eventually take on this role.

The Trail Blazers are a team on the rise and the powers of the Western Conference should be looking over their shoulders. If they continue to develop the Trail Blazers have the potential to win a title sooner rather than later. 

Coach:

Nate MacMillan is one of the top coaches in the NBA. He is a classy individual (the whole organisation is classy these days) and is a perfect fit for his young charges. If he can continue his stellar development job he should get his first title within a few seasons.

Bench:

The Trail Blazer bench is deep and talented. Most other teams in the NBA would be glad to have Travis Outlaw, Channing Frye and Rudy Fernandez coming off the pine. Eventually some of these players will start. Martell Webster is probably on limited time as a starter with Travis Outlaw ready to step up, or possibly Fernandez with Roy sliding over to the small forward slot.

Star Player:

This is Brandon Roy’s team though within a few years we’ll most probably know it as Greg Odens. For now though Roy is the leader and the star. He reminds me a touch of Penny Hardaway and Grant Hill with those same silky smooth skills that those two had. Let’s hope he avoids the injury fate of those two players.

Team MVP:

Brandon Roy is the do anything man for this team. He is capable of playing the point, shooting guard and small forward. However the true MVP of this team will be Greg Oden. If he develops into even half of what his potential indicates then the Trail Blazers will be scary good.

Final Prognosis:

I have no doubt that the Trail Blazers will win a title within the next 5 years. This year they will make the playoffs and it will aide in their development. I don’t expect them to advance past the first round but the other teams better win some titles now because the Trail Blazers are coming.

 

You can find an index of past Previews here.