time to panic?

19 03 2009

Well it looks like the Boston Celtics are stumbling their way to the end of the season. They’re still going to end up with one of the best records in the NBA, they currently have a 50 – 18 record and they can probably manage 60 wins and the 2nd or 3rd seed in the East but not too long ago this team looked like they were going to easily win 65+ games. The reason is pretty obvious for the slump: injuries. They’ve got way too many injuries to key players.

The most notable of course is Kevin Garnett. I remember a few weeks back when he first got injured and the team won a few games the PTI crew posed the question that the Celtics were better without him. Uh, I guess you can see the answer now. Without KG the Celtics are not the same – his stats might be down but he is the emotional centre and lynchpin of the defence. Also he gets you about 18 ppg. Without KG too much pressure falls on Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to score.

For today’s game against the Miami Heat, Celtics Blog listed the Celtics injuries as:

Tony Allen (thumb) out
Kevin Garnett (knee) out
Brian Scalabrine (head) out
Glen Davis (ankle) day to day
Eddie House (ankle/heel) probable
Ray Allen (elbow) questionable
Rajon Rondo (ankle) questionable
Leon Powe (knee) questionable
Paul Pierce (flu-like symptoms)  probable

That’s pretty much your defending champions right there. Ouch. The only starter not on that list is Kendrick Perkins.

I’ve been reading stuff about how they wouldn’t mind losing a few games now if everyone is fit for the playoffs. It kinda suggests that Celtics fans shouldn’t panic. That’s all well and good but other than KG, which of the players is being kept out to rest up? Rajan Rondo is playing with a sprained ankle, Scalabrine is possibly out for the season and worse, Paul Pierce is having to play extended minutes. My point is, there is no guarantee any of those guys are going to be 100% fit for the playoffs and with the way the season is going they’re more than likely going to suffer more injuries.

Maybe it is a time to get worried. I know the Celtics are good enough but are they healthy enough?





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.




Minnesota Timberwolves Season Preview

6 10 2008

My NBA Northwest Division preview continues with the Minnesota Timberwolves:

Minnesota Timberwolves

2007-08 Standings 22 – 60, 13th Western Conference

2008-09 Predicted Record 40 – 42, 4th Northwest Division, 10th Western Conference

Projected Starting Five:  Al Jefferson, Kevin Love, Mike Miller, Randy Foye, Sebastian Telfair

Sixth Man:  Rashad McCants

Al Jefferson, Randy Foye and Corey Brewer are hoping to bring the Timberwolves back to respectability.

Al Jefferson, Randy Foye and Corey Brewer are hoping to bring the Timberwolves back to respectability.

As expected the Minnesota Timberwolves were one of the worst teams in the NBA last year. They traded away the face and heart of the franchise, Kevin Garnett, and watched as he won a title. At least it proved that GM Kevin McHale can build a championship team, only problem: it was his old team, the Boston Celtics.

Only the very churlish would begrudge Garnett his title but in many ways his triumph with the Celtics was a slap in the face for Timberwolves fans. It proved that if McHale had surrounded Garnett with class and talent they might have won a title.

Instead McHale proved incompetent at building a powerhouse contender (except for the one year when Garnett had Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell as his running mates) and last offseason they blew the team up. At least they acquired talent in exchange.

Al Jefferson is the cornerstone of the franchise. He is a powerhouse post player who will be an All Star sooner rather than later. However he is at best a lackadaisical defender, an area where Garnett excelled.

The other “star” of the team is Randy Foye. At the moment Foye shapes as another example of McHale’s incompetence. Foye was acquired in a draft day trade for Brandon Roy, AKA All Star Brandon Roy. While Foye projects as a solid NBA player, albeit one struggling to find a position (is he a point guard or shooting guard), Roy is classy and almost led the young Trail Blazers to the playoffs. If Roy was in Minnesota then most probably Garnett would be too. 

The remaking of the team continued in the offseason. The T Wolves drafted OJ Mayo then immediately traded him, Antoine Walker and Marko Jaric for Kevin Love and Mike Miller. For once the Timberwolves made a good transaction. Mayo is undoubtedly talented but he didn’t want to play in Minnesota. Love on the other hand did and provides the T Wolves with a passing big man. The fact they also acquired Miller, a classy underrated shooter and shed Walker and Jaric was a bonus.

However the Timberwolves have a weakness at centre and point guard. Jefferson is more of a natural fit at power forward but with Love on the roster he will be expected to log minutes in the middle. At the point Telfair is the starter but he has failed to live up to his potential so far.

The Timberwolves will be better this year. They’ll struggle to defend but they have enough young talent that they’ll start their climb back up the standings.

Coach:

Randy Whittman is the Timberwolves coach but he doesn’t inspire a whole mass of confidence. Minnesota has fired better coaches than him recently, most notably Flip Saunders but also Dwayne Casey.

Bench:

Minnesota have a solid looking bench. If Rashad McCants can adjust to a sixth man role he is capable of providing a spark. Ryan Gomes and Craig Smith are bruising reserves who would fit in well in Utah with Jerry Sloan. Corey Brewer needs to develop this season. He was a major disappointment last year though it was perhaps more puzzling why he was taken so high in the first place.

Star Player:

Al Jefferson is the Timberwolves undoubted star. This year he should go close to an All Star berth but he will have to raise his play to MVP level to make anyone forget Kevin Garnett.

Team MVP:

How Randy Foye plays will determine how good the Timberwolves can be. He and the coaches need to decide if he is a point guard or shooting guard. I’ve projected him as a shooting guard at this point. However he has a Chauncey Billups kind of physique, he just needs to develop a Billups like game.

Final Prognosis:

The Timberwolves will improve this season but not enough to make the playoffs in the west. In Jefferson, Love, Foye and Gomes they have a good young core and the addition of Miller brings some class and poise to the team. They could win anywhere between 30 and 40 games.

 

You can find an index of past Previews here.





Boston Celtics Season Preview

28 09 2008

With the NBA season not too far away I thought I would begin doing my season preveiws for every team, beginning with the Atlantic Division. Up first the Boston Celtics:

 

Boston Celtics

 2007-08 Standings 66 – 16, NBA Champions

 2008-09 Predicted Record 64 – 18, 1st Atlantic Division, 1st Eastern Conference

 Projected Starting Five: Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajan Rondo

 Sixth Man: Tony Allen

Everyone knows what happened with the Boston Celtics last year. Before the season began they prized Ray Allen away from the Seattle Sonics and then even more stunningly, they traded away the future of the team Al Jefferson, for the present and acquired the Big Ticket himself, Kevin Garnett. It was a gamble and it paid off. KG infused the team with his energy and defensive mindset and the team dominated the regular season, playing suffocating defence.

Then they hit the playoffs and struggled to put away the lowly Atlanta Hawks in seven games. They had more troubles against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, prevailing in another seven game series before beating the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Finals. In the NBA Finals they were underdogs against the Kobe Bryant led LA Lakers yet triumphed in what some have called a “six game sweep”. The Boston Three Party had brought the Celtics their first title since 1986. 

The team is mostly intact from last year’s championship squad except for one major loss – James Posey to the New Orleans Hornets. Posey played great defence through the playoffs and hit numerous big shots when needed and his absence will be felt. To replace him the Celtics have signed Darius Miles, a player who had already retired due to medical reasons, and a pair of rookies JR Giddens and Bill Walker. Needless to say Pierce’s backup is a weak spot. 

On the surface the Celtics are all about the Big Three and KG, Allen and Pierce are all excellent players. Yet the success of the Celtics depends on their supporting cast. Kendrick Perkins and Rajan Rondo are ultimately as important as the other starters, Rondo in particular. Last year in the playoffs opposing teams made the Celtics pay for Rondo’s poor shooting so it is imperative that Rondo has worked on his shooting stroke in the off-season. If he has developed a reliable outside shot then the Celtics will be favourites to repeat.

Coach: 

Until last year I was not a believer in Doc Rivers. I was in the Bill Simmons school of NBA watchers who thought Doc only kept his job because of his expert playing of the media. But in the NBA Finals he won me over, out coaching the Zen master Phil Jackson. It helps that he has one of the best assistant coaches in the league on his bench, defensive maestro Tom Thibodeau. 

Bench: 

The bench is not the league’s best but nor is it the worst. At times they proved game changing through the antics of Posey, Leon Powe, PJ Brown and Eddie House. Posey is gone and Brown will probably retire so the onus falls on Powe to continue to improve. Tony Allen is fit again and he should hopefully develop to take on a lot of Posey’s role.  Sometime in the season a quality veteran will become available ala Sam Cassell and PJ Brown last year, and that will also strengthen the bench. 

Star Player:  

Paul Pierce proved himself the Celtics star in the playoffs, outdueling LeBron and Kobe at different points. He’ll be outstanding this season and while he won’t put up giant numbers I fully expect him to take his game to the level of the all time greats. 

Team MVP:

Kevin Garnett is amongst the elite of the NBA in that he elevates the play of all those around him. Last year he transformed a woeful team into the champions. He did it through his intensity and his defence, rightfully winning Defensive Player of the Year honours. There won’t be any let up this year either. He could have a challenger for this prize however. If Rondo has developed a jump shot he could become a genuine stud and ultimately the future leader of this franchise. 

Final Prognosis

Despite the loss of Posey the Celtics should still be one of the favourites for the title. The key will be managing the minutes of their veterans so they are still firing and healthy in the playoffs.

 

You can find an index of past Previews here.





NBA 2K9 – it’s KG-tastic!

19 09 2008

The onslaught of new NBA 2K9 information continues with this fascinating interview with KG. The article starts off like it’s some sort of bad spy movie (I’m not kidding!) and then it’s almost perfunctory in its discussion of NBA 2K9, using the new feature of being able to grab a players jersey in the game as a way of springboarding into a discussion of KG’s real life defensive tricks.

I found it a really good insight into the nuances of the way an NBA superstar plays.