2013/2014 Eastern Conference Preview

 

It has been the Heat's Conference recently, does that change in 2014?

It has been the Heat’s Conference recently, does that change in 2014?

 

Last week we previewed the (stacked) Western Conference and now it is time to tackle the East.  The Miami Heat look to make it not one, not two, but three conference championships in a row.  Can they do it?  Who can rise to the occasion?  Who is at the bottom of the barrel?  Let’s start there …

15. Philadelphia 76ers: I find it glorious that for David Stern’s final season, there is a team with enough charisma to say, “Here we are … tanking in all its glory” from the day the draft took place all the way through the trading deadline.  Where will Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young wind up?  I’m not sure they care, as long as it is out of Philly.  While I like what Philly did on draft night acquiring Noel and MCW, there is no hope for this team in 2013/14.  Zero.  Zilch.

14. Orlando Magic: Victor Oladipo is very likely going to be a very good NBA player, but this team lacks talent across its frontcourt.  If they can find a taker for Jameer Nelson during the season, they might give the Sixers a run for their money on ping pong balls.

13. Cleveland Cavaliers: Dan Gilbert wants this team in the playoffs, yet continues to do the strangest things on draft night.  I love Kyrie Irving, I just wish he played almost anywhere else in the league.  Cavs fans have to hope that Michael Bennett doesn’t eat himself out of the league (not a ringing endorsement for the #1 pick of the draft) and rely on getting something from Andrew Bynum and/or Anderson Varejao.  This isn’t going to end well.

12. Boston Celtics: The Celtics are rebuilding but I can’t put them any lower than this, given what you just read.  In fact, I actually wanted to put them a little bit higher, but figure this seems about right if Danny Ainge wakes up one day and says, “You know what, we are too good to get enough ping pong balls, Rondo needs to go”.  Rajon Rondo and the supporting cast (Jeff Green, Courtney Lee) are good enough to stay ahead of the prior three teams.

11. Charlotte Bobcats: On paper, this is a pretty intriguing team that you might want to keep an eye on, but then you remember it is the Bobcats.  They have a serviceable rotation of guards, signed Big Al Jefferson, and I love MKG.  Then I remember that they are the Bobcats and just drafted Cody Zeller at #4 ahead of a handful of others that would have been a nice fit.  Would the real Bismack Biyombo please stand up this season?

10. Detroit Pistons: This is going to be fun, right?  Right?!  Chauncey Billups returning to Detroit and trying to lead the Pistons with Brandon Jennings, Josh Smith, and Andre Drummond.  At what point does Billups flat out retire?  It would be great if he just walked out of the locker room at halftime to never come back.  This is where we start thinking about teams that could sneak their way into the Eastern Conference playoffs … with 35 wins.

9. Toronto Raptors: Another team that is intriguing on paper and then you give yourself a reality check on second glance.  Do you want Kyle Lowry as your starting PG?  Is DeMar DeRozan ever going to turn it on?  How much of a leap is Jonas Valanciunas really going to make in one year?  Is Rudy Gay just going to shoot 33% from the field this year on 1,500 shots?  Sorry, no playoffs for this franchise.

PLAYOFF TEAMS                                                                                                                               

8. Washington Wizards: Relying on the health of an already injured Emeka Okafor may not be the wisest strategy, but there is too much talent here to not make the playoffs in the East.  John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. (another great pick from the Wizards front office?), and enough able bodies for big men.  If you go to their second unit, you have some defensive studs as well with Singleton and Ariza on the wing.  This could be a team to keep an eye on and is already on my League Pass watch-list.

7. Milwaukee Bucks: Every year I get sucked in and every year there is disappointment.  Where OJ Mayo goes, so does some bizarre allegiance to overrate the team he’s playing on.  That bus landed in Milwaukee this year.  I like their big men as a group, but not any particular individual.  You have ex-Wolf Luke Ridnour and Brandon Knight as the PG’s and Gary Neal as the fourth wheel in the backcourt.  It will be interesting to see what they get out of the SF position where the Bucks have two wily veterans in Caron Butler and Carlos Delfino.  This roster is good enough to make the playoffs.  (Until it isn’t)

6. New York Knicks: Look at how the NY Giants football season is going and that is what I would like to predict for the Knicks.  However, they have too much talent for the Eastern Conference to go any lower than this.  They will play .500 ball and get into the playoffs with ease.  Here’s what I like about the team: Tyson Chandler, from a few years ago.  That’s it.  There is nothing on this roster that I like.  Despite his gaudy numbers, there is virtually nothing Carmelo can do to not make me believe that he is an underachiever; outside of taking less than max money in his next contract and deferring to another star in order to win a championship.

5. Atlanta Hawks: This is my Eastern Conference “I have no idea where to put this team, so they are going here”.  I cannot give a team home court advantage in round 1 of the playoffs if that is my general feeling towards the team, so they land at #5.  Love the Paul Millsap and Al Horford combination, like Jeff Teague, but have no idea what to think of their rotation of wings.  The Hawks’ wings really just need to fill roles though, right?  That should be good enough for a .500+ record and another trip to the postseason, only to be quickly disposed by the …

4. Chicago Bulls: We’ll get to this when we go through the playoff brackets later, but I see the Bulls coasting through the regular season, monitoring Derrick Rose’s minutes, resting him occasionally, etc. This team is tough as nails and will do what is necessary to get to right around the 50 win mark.  It won’t be pretty, we won’t enjoy it when they beat up the Wolves in the paint, but this team will get it done.

3. Brooklyn Nets: Prokhorov’s tax bill is “a bit” much, but you have to love an owner that is willing to spend any and all money possible to put together a championship contender.  Unfortunately for the Nets, there are too many stronger teams that will grind this team out of the playoffs at some point.  Deron Williams has a lot to prove and I see this team putting together a very strong regular season due to all of the veterans in the locker room.

Best of luck to KG in Brooklyn and a big “kudos” for the Big Ticket in wearing the #2 jersey with the Nets – in memory of Malik Sealy.  I might have to drag myself to the Barclay’s Center to see KG one last time in person.

2. Indiana Pacers: The country finally got to see who Paul George was and what this Pacers roster is all about in last year’s playoffs.  I don’t expect them to digress whatsoever.  In fact, if Danny Granger can stay healthy and Luis Scola provides quality backup minutes at the PF/C spots, this team is very, very dangerous.  Quite honestly, I love this team.

(You didn’t think I would talk about the Pacers and not mention David Kahn’s selection of Wesley Johnson over Paul George, did you?  The worst lottery pick the franchise has ever made.  The worst … and the bar is pretty ‘high’ for that proclamation.  THE WORST!  Let’s move on before my blood pressure pills start wearing off …)

1. Miami Heat: The Heat won something like 75 games in a row (it was 27) last season and the NBA Championship.  You know the story and the cast of characters.  Until someone knocks them off the pedestal, it is hard to place them anywhere else.

Which brings us to the playoffs, based on the seeds above.  Here is how I see the Eastern Conference Playoffs unfolding:

Eastern Conference

The top four teams in the East are light-years ahead of the rest of the conference, so they should all advance pretty easily out of the first round – unless you like the Knicks.  Then things get very interesting.  As mentioned above, I think the Bulls take it “easy” in the regular season a bit but knock out the defending champs, which sets up a close to epic battle against the Pacers.  I simply believe it is the Pacers time.

The early exit for the Heat leads to about 15 million stories and rumors about LeBron heading back to Cleveland, to the Lakers, etc. etc.  That’s going to be a lot of fun!

What do you think?  Is it too early to dethrone the Heat?  Do they have another trophy coming?  What are your surprise or disappointment teams in the conference?  Let us know below!

Timberwolves Free Agency Plans

Will OJ Mayo "rejoin" the Timberwolves?

Will OJ Mayo “rejoin” the Timberwolves?

At midnight, July 1st, the circus known as NBA free agency begins.  The Timberwolves are looking to be very active this offseason and clearly have a few priorities to take care of over the next few days.  Here is one perspective on what the Timberwolves free agency plans should or could be.

First, some quick housecleaning.  There were two moves announced over the past couple of days that play a pivotal role in what Flip Saunders and company do in free agency.  This past Friday, the team announced that they have picked up the option on Dante Cunningham’s contract for this coming season.  This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, as Dante played a key role for the team this past season and is a welcomed face and presence on and off the court for the team. [Read more...]

Minnesota Timberwolves 77, Dallas Mavericks 100

nba_mayo_love_580Game Summary:

The Timberwolves were back in action Sunday night at the Target Center after a tough loss in Denver Saturday night.  The turnaround time left a little to be desired for the club, but there isn’t much more needed to say or speak of Saturday’s embarrassment and the best thing to do is get out on the court again.

Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic remained sidelined and it doesn’t sound very promising that they will be ready for Tuesday either.  Given their absence, the starting lineup for our Pups continued to be Rubio, Ridnour, Gelabale, Williams, and Stiemsma.  The Mavs starting five included OJ Mayo, Mike James, Jae Crowder, Dirk Nowitzki, and Chris Kaman.  Shawn Marion missed the game due to an injury, giving Crowder the starting nod.

Earlier in the day, I talked myself into this game by making it an unofficial scouting report for David Kahn on OJ Mayo.  Please pass this on to Kahn and attach Mayo’s resume.  I really want Mayo in a Wolves uniform next season.  In fact, I’ve wanted him in a Wolves uniform since he left USC.

Neither team set the nets on fire in the 1st quarter.  The Mavs shot 42% from the field, only be “bested” by the Wolves and their 36% FG%.  Derrick Williams the full twelve minutes and was very aggressive in and around the paint.  He finished the quarter with a game high 9 points and 5 rebounds in the quarter.  Dallas got a lift from its bench, when Rick Carlisle went to them with about 4 minutes left in the quarter.  Vince Carter and Elton Brand helped give the Mavs a 21-20 lead at the end of the 1st.

The 2nd quarter started but no one told the Timberwolves.  Dallas took advantage with a 12-0 run to start the quarter, leading to an Adelman timeout.  I envision the huddle went something like this:

Adelman: “Look, I don’t want to be here either, but please wake up!”

Huddle: (empty stares)

Dallas matched their 1st quarter output in less than six minutes in the 2nd, outscoring the Pups 22-7 halfway through the quarter.  The Mavs shooting rose to over 50% for the game as they continued to make shots and feel little resistance from the Wolves defense.  At the half, the Mavs held a 56-44 advantage.  Gelabale hit a runner for the Wolves as time expired in the half, cutting the lead to 12 points.  Here are a few halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • JJ Barea’s bad side was in full effect again tonight – 2-7 from the field, -16 in +/-.
  • Amazingly, that wasn’t the teams lowest +/-, as Alexey Shved “led” the team with a -19 in the half.  Shved has hit the rookie wall … hard.
  • While not leading his team in anything but minutes played in the first half, OJ Mayo chipped in 4 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists.  Have I mentioned that Mayo needs to be on the Wolves radar this summer yet?

Coach Adelman tried mixing things up a bit to start the 3rd quarter, going with a different lineup of Rubio, Barea, Ridnour, Williams, and Stiemsma.  Unfortunately for the Wolves and the fans at the game, it didn’t help change the results.  The Mavs opened up a 19 point lead in the 3rd quarter and settled in with a 78-61 lead going into the final frame.

The only bad news for the Mavericks that came in the second half was that OJ Mayo rolled his ankle in the 3rd quarter under the rim.  It is a little eerie, and probably fitting, that Mayo would roll his ankle at Target Center.  He would fit right in with the current locker room of injured Pups.  However, Mayo returned to the floor in the 4th quarter, showing his toughness and durability; areas that the Wolves desperately need.  He finished the game with 8 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists, showed the ability to play both guard positions, facilitate the offense in both the half court set and on the fast break, and defend.

Back to the game itself; the 4th quarter was more of the same from both teams.  Simply put, the Wolves are a lackluster team right now and look to be going through the motions.  Tonight’s game was tough given the trip to Denver last night, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of talent that this team can put out on the floor right now.  The team is not good, period.  To recap – Minnesota Timberwolves 77, Dallas Mavericks 100 and it didn’t feel that close in the 2nd half.

Keys of the Game:

  • Three point shooting – The Wolves are not good at 3PT shooting, yet they continue to launch from downtown entirely too much.  Tonight’s woeful performance, 2-18.
  • Rebounding – The Mavs dominated the boards tonight at the Target Center, with a 59-40 advantage.

Three Stars of the Game:

  1. Vince Carter – The Mavs really took off when Carter entered the game.  He finished with a game high 22 points and 9 rebounds.
  2. OJ Mayo – His 8-8-7 and all-around play mentioned above helped lead the Mavs to the easy victory Sunday night.  Have I mentioned that the Wolves next GM should be at his door at 12:01am when free agency starts this summer?  (See what I did there?)
  3. Elton Brand – It was throwback night at the Target Center apparently.  Brand finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds, practically dominating the paint against the Wolves big men.

Minnesota Timberwolves 98 – Dallas Mavericks 113

Photo Credit: Dallas Morning News

Photo Credit: Dallas Morning News

The Timberwolves finished their four game road trip and continued through Texas to take on the Mavericks Monday night.  The road trip has not been very kind to our Pups who had lost all three prior games by a combined 52 points.  That’s not good.  Things didn’t get much better in Dallas …

No surprises in the starting lineups as the Wolves opened up with Ridnour, Shved, Kirilenko, Cunningham, and Pekovic.  Dallas countered with Darren Collison, OJ Mayo, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, and Chris Kaman.  Rick Adelman remains at home and away from the team, so Terry Porter remains “the man” on the sidelines.

The Wolves got off to another slow start, with the Mavs opening up a 12-4 lead to begin the game.  The 1st quarter flew by as the first timeout didn’t come five minutes were left in the quarter.  Unfortunately for the Wolves and their fans, the team was down 16-7 and looked more or less lifeless.  You could actually see the writing on the wall, this reduced roster was burnt out and it was time to get back to Minnesota.  The offense was offensive and the defense was non-existent.

Ricky Rubio checked in with about three minutes left in the quarter and the Wolves down 22-13.  Shortly thereafter, JJ checked in and the tempo of the game sped up a bit.  Playing against his former team may have had something to do with it, but Barea had two quick assists towards the end of the quarter.  At the end of the 1st, the Mavs led 26-19.  Had it not been for a tremendous effort by Pekovic (7 & 6), the Wolves may have already been down by 15-20 points.

The start of the 2nd quarter was led by more of JJ Barea.  After hitting his second three-pointer and driving through the lane for a layup, Rick Carlisle burned a timeout with his team’s lead down to just three points, 32-29.  The remainder of the quarter was pretty entertaining basketball.  While the Twolves never fully caught up to the Mavs, they were able to keep it relatively close and get within one bucket a couple of times.

At halftime, the Mavs led 55-45.  Here are a couple halftime thoughts through my Wolves lens:

  • Dante Cunningham in a situational role is phenomenal.  Needing him to play 30 mpg and be consistently productive is not ideal.  He finished the first half 3-13 from the floor for 6 points, missing a lot of the patented jump shots that he was making earlier this season.
  • Pek (and Barea) kept the Pups close, but he was 3-8 from the charity stripe and this team just can’t afford for him to lose confidence in this part of his game.
  • It felt like Rubio was a little more active on both ends of the court this evening.  I’m hoping that’s not because the Mavs’ average age is probably 43.

The Wolves couldn’t have possibly started much worse in the 3rd quarter.  Missed shots, turnovers, and giving up easy buckets on the other end of the floor.  That little hiccup moved the Mavs lead to 15 points and it looked like the route might be on.  However, the Wolves tried to fight back and got the lead down to single digits multiple times.

With about five minutes left in the 3rd quarter, the refs stopped the game and called a technical on the Wolves bench.  It was actually called on Ricky Rubio who was making hand signs on the bench with Lou Amundson towards the refs.  I’ve never seen a technical called on the bench and against a player that wasn’t actually saying/yelling something on the court.  The Unicorn’s reputation is crumbling apparently.  (That’s a joke by the way.)

Seconds later Alexey Shved hit a three pointer but had it taken away from him as he kicked his legs out and tripped the Mavs defender running at him.  The Mavs quickly answered with a mini-run of their own and increased their lead to 83-67, the largest of the game.  Actually, things just continued to fall apart after this, with the Mavs increasing their lead to 23 points within minutes.  The period mercifully came to an end with the Mavs taking a 91-70 lead into the final frame.  26-29-36 … those are the number of points the Mavs scored per quarter to that point in the game.  Yikes!

The Wolves tried to make things interesting in the first six minutes of the final quarter but would wind up doing something to kill momentum.  Pups cut the lead to 13 and then Stiemsma threw a bounce pass to DWill that was too low and went out of bounds.  Minutes later the Pups cut the lead to 10 and Cunningham missed another jumper, which was too far beyond his normal range.  Seconds later, the Mavs get an easy bucket to push it back to 12.

With two minutes to go and down by 9, the Wolves had multiple chances around the rim and no one could get the ball through the hoop.  Pekovic and Kirilenko both missed in the paint and once again, the Mavs were able to answer.  While the Wolves made it exciting, they fell for the fourth straight time and wound up winless on the road trip.  Final score: Dallas 113, Minnesota 98.

Keys of the Game

  • Team Defense – The Twolves looked incredibly slow in the first half and gave up way too many points in transition.  The latter continued in the second half and ruined just about any chance the team had at completing the comeback.
  • Guard Play – To say the Wolves need help here would be quite the understatement. Ridnour and Shved combined for 14 points on 4-16 shooting and 5 assists.  Collison and Mayo combined for 43 points, 18 assists, and 9 rebounds.  Ouch.

Three Stars of the Game

  1. OJ Mayo – 20 points, 9 assists, and 7 rebounds.  Throw in a +30 for the evening and he makes it hard to forget that Kahn and company didn’t even try to sign this guy this past offseason.
  2. Darren Collison – Not find behind his backcourt mate, Collison finished with 23 points and 9 assists.  He was +27 on the night and a perfect 8-8 from the line to boot.
  3. JJ Barea – I’m putting Barea just above Elton Brand’s 20 & 6 (no, seriously) and Pek’s 20 & 12 (b/c of Brand’s numbers and his missed FT’s) here.  Barea’s play kept this game interesting and/or brought the Wolves within some semblance of striking distance multiple times.

The Pups are off for two nights and need this time to recover for Thursday night’s game on TNT against the LA Clippers.

T-Wolves Sign Nicolas Batum to Offer Sheet

After several failed attempts at a sign-and-trade deal for Portland SG-SF Nicolas Batum, the Wolves officially signed Batum to an offer sheet worth $46.4 million over 4 years. The deal includes incentives that could potentially push the total dollar amount to over $50 million, and the general consensus of sports minds believe that Portland will not allow Batum to walk for nothing. As a restricted free agent, the Trail Blazers now have until Wednesday night to match the offer sheet.

Minnesota’s amnesty of Darko Milicic, waive of Martell Webster, and trade of Brad Miller have given the Wolves plenty of cap space to fit Batum and his large contract into their payroll, and even gives them additional room to potentially sign a few free agents that most likely include Brandon Roy, Alexey Shved, Greg Stiemsma, Jordan Hill, Courtney Lee, OJ Mayo, and Ronnie Brewer, among others. Many free agents have held off signing with teams until the Batum situation plays out, and Roy and Shved have already verbally agreed with the Wolves until they can officially sign with the team as they await Portland’s decision on Batum. If Portland matches, the Wolves will shift their focus on signing Stiemsma and targeting free agent shooting guards Lee and Mayo. Lee previously played under Timberwolves Head Coach Rick Adelman in Houston, and would be a great fit on both ends of the floor.
[Read more...]

Darko Gets the Amnesty Clause

The Timberwolves, in an effort to free up enough cap space to sign Nicolas Batum to an offer sheet worth $46.5 million, have agreed to waive C Darko Milicic via the amnesty provision. The clause, as a part of the most recent CBA, allows a team to waive one player while eating the remaining salary on the respective player’s contract. However, the amnesty provision removes the waived players salary from the team’s official salary cap number, giving that squad more flexibility in free agency and in trades.

Darko’s release comes as no surprise as he was not able to earn the respect of Coach Rick Adelman and hardly saw the court during the last half of the season. Possibilities to replace Darko as backup center are Jordan Hill and Greg Stiemsma, both of whom have met with the Timberwolves and have expressed interest in signing with the up-and-coming Timberpups team. The Wolves, who were unable to complete a sign-and-trade deal with Portland for Batum, now must wait three days for Portland to either match the restricted free agent or watch him walk. The chances are slim that Portland will allow Batum to leave for nothing, and the Pups may need to look to other Plan B options to fill their need on the perimeter. Viable options at SF are Courtney Lee and OJ Mayo, and both players would likely receive significantly less money than Batum.

Photo Credits: Getty Images

Timberwolves: Implications of a Batum Signing

The Timberwolves began NBA free agency in frenzy as the clock struck midnight on July 1, commencing their quest for veteran additions to their current nucleus by scheduling meetings with SG-SF Nicolas Batum, C Greg Stiemsma, former Portland SG Brandon Roy, and PF-C Jordan Hill. The Timberpups also reached out to the likes of SG Jamal Crawford, SG OJ Mayo, while remaining extremely active in trade discussions with the Los Angeles Lakers in hopes of landing PF Pau Gasol.

It appears that the Pups are as dedicated as any team in the NBA to land multiple high-profile players NOW, greatly reflecting their urgency to “win now,” as Minnesota head coach Rick Adelman is 66 and is likely in the middle of his final contract of his life, while Pups owner Glen Taylor is 71 and wants to see how far his current core group of players can take him before he sells the team in a few years. Whatever the sole cause, it is very uncharacteristic of the Wolves to be so very active in free agency while placing such great importance on attracting marquee names to the land of 10,000 lakes, and the Minnesota front office and coaching staff deserves much credit for their persistent efforts thus far. [Read more...]