Monthly Archives: April, 2012

Concerns After Game One

The Top 5 Individual Matchups Out East

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Who will win out in the battle of these members of the 2003 draft class?

5.  Rose vs His Body

Well, this matchup has already been decided.  The main concern for the Bulls during the post-season was going to be keeping their star player healthy in an effort to maintain their title hopes.  Unfortunately for Chicago fans those hopes were all but dashed last night when Rose tore his ACL while driving into the lane.  In spite of their recent success without Rose it is highly unlikely that the Bulls will make it far in the absence of their best player.

4.  Roy Hibbert vs Glen Davis

Without Dwight Howard the Magic have a distinct size disadvantage in this series and Roy Hibbert will look to exploit that.  Both Davis and Hibbert were pretty inefficient offensively last night going a combined 11 for 31, but the discrepancy becomes immediately apparent when you look further into Hibbert’s stat line.  The Pacers’ big man grabbed 13 boards and swatted away 9 shots giving Indiana an inside presence that will pay off in this series, even if it did not carry them to victory in the first game.

3.  Paul Pierce vs Joe Johnson

If the Hawks want to make it past the surging Celtics they will need Joe Johnson keyed in on both sides of the court.  Johnson finished the last 4 games of the season shooting 61.67% and averaging 23.8 points, numbers he will need to continue to put up against the 2nd best defensive team in the league.  His task on defense is to impede Paul Pierce, a man who has averaged 21.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 4 assists in 110 career playoff games, not to mention one of the most clutch shooters in the league as evidenced here.  Good luck to the both of them

2.  Luol Deng vs Andre Iguodala

Both Deng and Iguodala are underrated players who excel on the defensive end and contribute in multiple ways offensively.  Iguodala has taken a dip in scoring in favor of a more team-oriented style of play for the Sixers but continues to spread the ball around (5.5 assists per game) crash the boards (6.1 rebounds per game) and pick pockets (1.7 steals per game).  Deng, on the other hand, now becomes the Bulls most important offensive player with Rose out for the rest of the playoffs.  With Rose attracting most of the defense’s attention Deng contributed 17 points on 8-14 shooting last night, but the game will be completely different with Iguodala focusing all of his efforts on Deng.

1.  LeBron James vs Carmelo Anthony

After Game 1 it’s already advantage LeBron.  Last night was a perfect example of a worst-case scenario for this matchup.  Carmelo couldn’t get his shot going (3-15 from the field) and LeBron was aggressive on offense going 10-14 from the field and 11-14 from the line.  Carmelo is going to need to continue shooting an exorbitant amount if the Knicks are going to have a chance against the championship hopeful Heat.  He’s already shown he can be an efficient scorer (29.1 points per game over 16 games since 3/26) but LeBron’s DPOY candidacy can and will effectively stop both him and the Knicks.

No kidding, this is the picture ESPN3.com used to promote the Indiana-Orlando game

Obviously, Jameer Nelson vs. Leandro Barbosa is the marquee matchup in the Indiana-Orlando series.

The Top 5 Individual Matchups out West

Marion-Durant was one of the most compelling matchups in all of the playoffs last year. This year, they match up in the first round.

5. Ramon Sessions vs. Ty Lawson
Down the stretch, Sessions’ play dropped off a bit. Over the Lakers’ last 7 games, he still posted solid averages of 10.7 points per game on 41.4% shooting with 4 assists per game. However, during that span, he shot 40% or lower in four of those contests. Sessions will have to step up his offensive production as well as his ability to distribute the ball effectively to the three stars on that team. Lawson, on the other hand, has been consistent all year long, leading the team in scoring with 16.4 points a game while shooting an extremely efficient 48.8% from the floor. Lawson is going to want to push the ball up the court and try to influence the pace of play in the Nuggets’ favor. It will be Sessions’ job to slow it down; although he alone is certainly capable of running with Lawson, the rest of his team does not operate that way. This may not be the most important matchup of this series (as you will see below), but the pace of play will be crucial in this series and it begins with these two.

4. Tim Duncan vs. Al Jefferson
The Jazz have little chance at pulling off an upset here, but if it’s going to happen, Jefferson is going to have to carry the load. With San Antonio ranking 2nd in the league in scoring and Utah 4th, while both teams are in the lower half of the league in opponents’ scoring, offense will decide this series. Jefferson represents Utah’s most consistent scoring threat and thus their most important piece if they want to win this offensively loaded series. In his four games against the Spurs this season, Jefferson put up 21, 20, 19, and 12 points respectively and the Jazz went 1-3 in those games. Clearly, for these Jazz to have any chance at pulling a Memphis-sized upset in these series, Jefferson is going to have to produce more than what he has given Utah in their previous games against the Spurs this year.

3. Kobe Bryant vs. Arron Afflalo
Bryant struggled in his three games against the Nuggets this year, shooting only 27.5% from the floor. OK, that’s a small sample size, but how about last year? He was a little bit better, but still Bryant only managed to convert on 39.2% of his field goal attempts. This is no coincidence; Arron Afflalo clearly gives Kobe problems. Surely, George Karl will turn to other players to help out on Kobe, namely Corey Brewer, but Afflalo figures to be crucial in defending Bryant. Offensively, Afflalo really turned a corner in April. During that span, he has put up 18.7 points a game, while shooting 52.1% from the field and 44.9% from beyond the arch. On both ends of the floor, this has the makings of a great matchup, which will certainly have a large bearing on the outcome of the series.

2. Shawn Marion vs. Kevin Durant
Key in the Mavericks’ 2011 run to the Finals was Marion’s defense on any opposing player that Coach Rick Carlisle assigned him. In the Western Conference Finals against these same Thunder, Durant averaged 28 points a game on 42.9% shooting. Marion, not known for his offensive skills, put up 18 and 26 in games 3 and 5, respectively. If Dallas wants to make a run at upsetting the Thunder, Marion is going to have to disrupt Durant during key stretches like he did last postseason. Moreover, with Tyson Chandler gone Marion will be the one spearheading this defensive attack.

1. Blake Griffin vs. Zach Randolph
I know that Zach Randolph has not played like the 2011 version of Z-Bo as of late. And I know Griffin isn’t the most important player in determining the outcome for his team, but I still see this as the most crucial matchup in what is the most evenly matched series out West. The Grizzlies have slowly been working Randolph back into the rotation, which can partly explain why he hasn’t reached 20 points in a game since March 16. But the fact of the matter is that if Memphis wants to make a deep run, they need the Randolph of old to show up. Griffin, not the most adept defender in the league, might be a good place to start. Defensively, you know that Randolph and the rest of the Grizzlies are not going to allow Griffin to simply jump over them; they will gladly send him to the line before allowing him easy buckets. If Memphis’ offense is sputtering at any point, don’t be surprised if you see them throw the ball down low to Randolph to get them going. Only if he shows up like he did last season can the Grizzlies make a deep run.

Who Has the Best Chance to Win It All This Year?

Who has the best chances of clutching the Larry O’Brien trophy this year?

Now that the playoff field is set, let’s take a look at how teams stack up in their chances to win a title.  Below are my rankings of the each team’s chances to win the NBA Championship this postseason:

16. Orlando Magic

With Dwight Howard ruled out for the entire playoffs, this team has to turn to Ryan Andeson, Glen Davis, Jameer Nelson, and JJ Redick as their primary scorers.  There is absolutely no way this team, without Howard can knock off any team here in a 7-game series.  And to be quite honest, I don’t think they would be much higher on the list even if Howard were playing.

15. Utah Jazz

Yes, they made an incredible run to the playoffs.  The team should be commended for being able to rebuild and win all at the same time, something very few teams in the past couple years have been able to do.  But no, they are not getting out of the first round.

14. Philadelphia 76ers

Despite busting out of the gate at 20-9 the Sixers managed to go a mere 14-21 since then.  This team relies on its superior defense, which is 2nd in the league in opponents’ points per game, and team play, with 8 players playing over 24 minutes per game and averaging at least 8 points per game.  Unfortunately their defense will only get them so far against a healthy Bulls team or the star-studded Miami Heat.  Expect this offense to struggle against the playoff-level intensity their opponents’ defenses are likely to impose.

13. Atlanta Hawks

After a season that saw teams play 66 games in roughly 120 days, depth is going to be big come playoff time.  That’s bad news for a team without arguably its best player, Al Horford, and a terrible second unit.

12. New York Knicks

I just don’t see it with this team and I don’t think I ever will.  Amare Stoudemire is not the player he once was.  JR Smith drives me crazy every time he touches the ball.  Carmelo is playing out of his mind right now, but he will come back to Earth sooner rather than later.  However, with Tyson Chandler anchoring their defense and Steve Novak and Smith able to knock down threes, they can give any team a run for their money…just not a run at a title.

11. Denver Nuggets

This team will certainly cause its first-round opponent some headaches with its depth and blistering pace of play.  Ty Lawson has been playing great all year, Arron Afflalo is firing on all cylinders right now, and Danilo Gallinari is finally healthy again.  Although their model of star by committee is unprecedented, letting whoever is the hot hand take over in crunch time, it is also unproven.  That and the fact that they give up 101.2 points a game, second-worst in the league, truly hinder their chances at making a deep playoff run.

10. Indiana Pacers

I love this team, absolutely love them.  They roll 10 deep and play great team basketball.  They don’t lean on any one player too much, so any guy can be their lead scorer any night and even if Danny Granger is cold, they can win.  But this team is still a couple years away from being a title contender.  They simply do not have that one player who can take over at the ends of games.  Every other team ahead of them has what they don’t: a player who will take over in the fourth quarter and carry them to wins.  Until they have that superstar, they will continue to simply be a good team, nothing more.

9. LA Lakers

Metta World Peace.  It’s all been said, he’s clearly not sane.  Fortunately for the Lakers, despite the impressive April World Peace was having, their playoff hopes do not rest on the far from level head of that man.  Unfortunately for the Lakers, they have plenty other problems, their lack of depth chief among them.  Also, their 3-7 record against the five teams above them in the standings (Oklahoma City,San Antonio,Chicago,Miami, andIndiana) is disconcerting.  Having said all that, anything is possible with Kobe Bryant leading your team.  And don’t forget they haven’t lost any of that length that gave them an advantage over every team they played en route to winning titles in 2009 and 2010.

8. LA Clippers

I know the Clippers haven’t been to the post-season in a long time, but the fact still remains: they have Blake Griffin, and more importantly, Chris Paul.  If you’ve already forgotten what Chris Paul did to the Lakers last year in the playoffs please reintroduce yourself.  He took the series to 6 games on his own, averaging 22 points, 11.5 assists, and 6.7 rebounds while shooting 47.4% from the three and 54.5% from the field, utilizing his tear drop in the lane to perfection.  Just imagine what he will do with another legitimate star and some solid role players (Jordan, Butler, Foye, Young, and Martin).  They have a shot at making a deep run, but that inexperience certainly knocks them down on our list.

7. Memphis Grizzlies

Everyone is scared to play this team in the playoffs and they should be.  They have the most complete roster out of any team here with players who contribute in big ways at every position.  On any given night they can kill you with their size (Marc Gasol), their speed (Mike Conley), or their perimeter length (Rudy Gay).  If Zach Randolph, their best player from last year’s run, can get back to his old ways, this team is downright scary.

6. Dallas Mavericks

Sure, I am going out on a limb here putting the Mavericks this high.  Most likely, they are going to face the Thunder in the first round of the playoffs and more than likely they will be knocked out in the first round.  However, there remains a sliver of hope here that I see as greater than any of the teams I have already mentioned.  Dirk Nowitzki, as he proved last postseason, has the ability to absolutely dominate a playoff series and that cannot be overlooked.  If Dirk can catch fire, do not be surprised if the Mavericks shock the world again and make a run at the finals.

5. Boston Celtics

Everything about this team reads old.  Old stars, old school, and, most importantly, old swagger.  That’s right, this team has that hop in their step that they did back when they won the title in 2008.  Their defense has been great all season long, currently ranking as the third best in the league limiting opponents to 89.6 points per game.  But it has been their offensive output lately that has them thinking about a title.  Avery Bradley has emerged as a reliable threat, Rondo has been playing out of his mind, KG is showing flashes of his former self, and Paul Pierce still has the ability to take over games.  Their biggest issue right now is their rebounding.  They currently rank No. 28 in the league in rebound differential at -4.4 a game.  This team’s ability to corral crucial defensive boards at the end of games will be instrumental in any run they make.

4. Chicago Bulls

I want to put the Bulls higher on this list (read No. 1), but I just can’t do it until I see more out of Derrick Rose.  Yes, I know, the team has played great basketball with Rose out of the lineup.  But there is no way this team can compete with the elite in the NBA without their superstar.  They cannot possibly expect Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Richard Hamilton, and Joakim Noah to hold their own over a 7-game series with the Heat.  If Rose plays like the MVP he was last season, it is a completely different story.  If that were to happen, the Bulls become my favorite to win it all with one of the three players most capable of taking over a game and a stingy defense.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

No, I do not think the blow to James Harden’s head knocks them down on this list at all.  I am hopeful that he is going to bounce back just fine from the injury.  However, OKC has other issues.  Russell Westbrook is playing just poorly enough recently to make us all think that he might not be the best partner to pair with Kevin Durant again.  In the month of April, Westbrook is shooting 38% from the floor.  In the last five games he is 25-82 (30.5%) from the floor.  Not exactly the numbers you want to see from your second option, especially when his shot selection indicates a first option mentality.  Having said all of that, the Thunder have maybe the most talented roster top to bottom.  They certainly have grown over the past couple years.  Something just tells me that they are still a year away from knocking down the next two teams on our list…

2.San Antonio Spurs

It is shocking to me that the ole reliable Spurs have come to the forefront of the Western Conference.  Just like every other year, I counted them out at the beginning of the season and said that this would be the year it all fell apart.  But thanks to great moves by the front office, this is the deepest team in the playoffs.  After an exhausting regular season, that depth may be more important than ever.  And don’t you for one minute forget about Tim Duncan.  The man is still a force to be reckoned with in the paint.  Don’t let his numbers fool you, they are down because he is playing a career low 28.2 minutes a game.  Yes, he is getting old, but he gives this team an inside presence that can cause huge matchup problems for lots of teams.  And I haven’t even mentioned that Tony Parker is playing like he is 22 again, Manu Ginobili is bouncing back slowly but surely, and they’re second in the league in scoring at 103.5 points a game and first in three-point shooting (39.5%).  Be afraid, be very afraid.

1. Miami Heat

I hate to say it, but to me the Heat are the favorites to win it all.  You can talk about LeBron James’ inability to close out games all you want (and believe me, that is one of my favorite talking points) but the fact remains that this team simply has the most talent of any in the playoffs.  They are certainly far from perfect, as I have my own doubts about their bench.  But quite honestly, they are better than they were last year in all aspects and I do not see a team out East that can contend with them in a 7-game series.  Try to name one team that can match up with this group.  It’s not possible.  LeBron James is a matchup nightmare all by himself.  The one knock on the guy continues to be his performance when it matters most.  I truly hope that storyline never dies, but right now, the odds say this is the year he overcomes that obstacle and claims a ring.

10 Thoughts on Metta World Peace’s Elbow to James Harden

Metta World Peace's violent act should carry a lengthy suspension

10.) We all tried to forget about Ron Artest’s reputation.  The man who won the NBA’s sportsmanship award in 2011 had certainly worked hard enough to try to get us to forget.  Hell, he even changed his name, maybe tricking some of us into thinking he was a completely different person altogether.  But after Sunday night, no one is going to forget Metta World Peace was once, and still is to a degree, Ron Artest.

9.) By elbowing James Harden square in the back of the head, Word Peace committed one of the most violent plays in the history of the sport…again.  And the fact that he is a repeat offender should absolutely be taken into consideration when the NBA levies a suspension.

8.) I have heard some compare this play to “The Punch” that occurred on December 9, 1977 when LA Laker Kermit Washington punched Houston Rocket Rudy Tomjanovich in the face.  I can’t go that far; this play was not nearly as malicious as that one.  However, World Peace’s actions simply cannot be compared to basketball-related fouls, like the one committed by Andrew Bynum in last year’s playoffs.  I cannot think of a violent, non-basketball play like this one in recent memory.

7.) The Lakers knew they were taking a chance by bringing in Metta World Peace as a free agent in July of 2009.  The team should be recognized for looking beyond his reputation and seeing that in recent years, the man formerly known as Ron Artest had actually been behaving.  However, inherent with that signing was the risk that Artest would revert back to his old ways.  As much as you and I would love to mock World Peace for his often offensively challenged skills, the fact remains that he is indeed an incredibly important player for the Lakers.  I would not be surprised to see the team knocked out in the first round, in no little part thanks to a suspension to World Peace.  As unfortunate as it may be, franchises that keep knuckleheads like World Peace employed are going to pay the price.

6.) World Peace made a completely non-basketball move when he threw his elbow into Harden’s head.  It wasn’t even part of his celebration.  Instead, it was a player getting too caught up in the moment and, for some reason I cannot even begin to explain, unleashing his energy in an incredibly violent way.

5.) Metta World Peace’s attack on Harden seems pretty unprecedented, but in all honesty we have  come close to this before.  The only difference is in the past, players haven’t connected on their swings at each other.  Obviously, the force with which World Peace hit Harden combined with his history make this a big story, but Shaq’s swing at Brad Miller could have potentially been worse.

4.) Throw in the fact that the NBA has seen one of its most marketable players, Blake Griffin, targeted in thug-like ways throughout the season and you know the NBA is going to come down hard.

3.) One of the most feared enforcers in the league, Kendrick Perkins, was far away from the fight that broke out on the floor.  For that we should all be thankful.

2.) The NBA is loathe to be unconventional.  So you can throw out any idea of World Peace being suspended indefinitely, only to be reinstated when the Lakers are eliminated from the playoffs.  Same for JA Adande’s (very good) idea of suspending World Peace as long as Harden is out, plus two games.

1.) So if this play isn’t as bad as Washington’s, but worse than Bynum’s, how many games should World Peace be out for?  Washington was suspended for 60 days (26 games) and Bynum was ruled out for 5 games.  Considering Harden’s health, the action itself, and the player’s history, I think that World Peace should be suspended for 15 games.  However, throwing in the fact that he is going to miss playoff games, which to me, and anyone who has ever watched an NBA game, carry more weight than regular season games, the suspension should be reduced to 10 games.  This way, World Peace would miss the Laker’s final game of the regular season, the first round of the playoffs, and beyond.  It sounds a tad extreme on its face, but World Peace cannot be allowed to get away with such a heinous act.  The NBA cannot allow players to be assaulted on the court with little penalty.  10 games, which includes several in the playoffs, would send a clear message to the players and teams alike that this will absolutely not be allowed.

The Duncan Dynasty

A sight every NBA fan is all too familiar with

15 years ago the San Antonio Spurs were handed the #1 overall pick in the 1997 draft, a result of their dismal 20-62 season that led to the firing of their head coach after only 18 games.  With the future of the franchise weighing on that pick the front office wisely chose the 6’11” forward out of Wake Forest: Tim Duncan.  Duncan was highly touted coming out of college, but I don’t think anyone envisioned the kind of success this team would achieve with that acquisition.  6 Finals appearances, 4 NBA Championships, and 15 years later we look back at a team that has gone 776-352 (including this season), eclipsing a 70% winning percentage in 8 different seasons and amounting a 68.79% winning percentage overall.  In comparison the Lakers have won 5 championships in 7 appearances in that time period, winning over 70% of their games only 4 times and going through 7 different coaches.  I will lay out the factors that have caused the Spurs to be the most consistently successful team over the past 15 years.  Factors that indicate, if history tells us anything, they will continue that trend for years to come.

1.  Tim Duncan
We all know how amazing of a player Tim Duncan is, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see him here.  He’s not a flashy slasher/shooter like Kobe, he doesn’t have the scowl, and he doesn’t make big waves in the media; he simply lets his performance on the court do all the talking for him.  For the first 8 seasons of his career Duncan never dipped below 20.3 points per game, 11.1 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, or a 49% shooting percentage from the field.  Even after his production dipped ever so slightly he still managed to average a double double for 5 more seasons until last year, when at the age of 34 he recorded his first season without averaging a double double.  His numbers become even more impressive in the playoffs where he has averaged 22.7 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 3.4 assists while shooting 50% throughout his career when it matters the most.  He is not only a great leader but a model of consistency that has been the foundation of this team for 15 years and is surely bound for the Hall of Fame whenever his illustrious career comes to a close.

2.  Gregg Popovich
As important as it is to have a core of solid players it is arguably even more important who you put in charge of those men.  Gregg Popovich has led this Spurs franchise to nearly 850 wins ever since taking over 18 games into the 1996-1997 season.  The 2002-2003 Coach of the Year implements his defense so effectively that ever since his first full season as head coach the Spurs have been in the top 10 in the league in opponents’ points per game excluding last season.  Not only does Popovich get his players to execute his strategies effectively but as this team has aged he has gotten his entire roster, including the star players, to accept their roles on the team whether they be diminished or not.  As much of a dominant player Tim Duncan used to be his age and knees no longer grant him the mobility he was accustomed to.  As he has grown older he has accepted his role on the team: rebounding, providing an inside presence on defense, and playing efficiently in the post.  Even Ginobli and Parker have accepted their roles, with Ginobli coming off the bench and Parker picking up the slack left offensively by Duncan’s regression.  Each player knows what their role is on the team and they embrace and execute that role for the greater good of the team.

3.  Front Office
Lastly we can’t ignore the process through which these players have been acquired.  Duncan was almost a lock at #1 when the Spurs were on the clock, so it didn’t take too much thinking to pull the trigger on that one.  Aside from that obvious choice the Spurs have made savvy moves that have squeezed every drop of value from their picks.  Manu Ginobli was taken in the 2nd round, 57th overall in 1999.  He was a project that the Spurs were patient with, letting him develop overseas until he officially joined the team in 2002 and since has been an integral part of their core group of players, averaging over 15 points over his career and earning 6th Man of the Year honors for the 2007-2008 season.  Tony Parker was a late first round pick that turned into a 4-time All Star.  Most recently the front office made a draft day trade with the Pacers to acquire Kawhi Leonard despite having to give up coveted George Hill, a move that has worked out thus far with Leonard bringing youth, intensity, rebounding, and defense to this aging roster.  These moves have kept this team succeeding over this long period of time and indicate further success even after the big 3 of San Antonio move on.

*Transactions not mentioned but worth noting: Dejuan Blair, Tiago Splitter, Gary Neal, Matt Bonner, Stephen Jackson, and Boris Diaw.

Marginal Success Equals Failure for the Suns

Has Steve Nash buried the Suns franchise?

The story of the Phoenix Suns is seen by many as a charming success.  A team that was expected to go nowhere has rallied around its leader and is making an improbable run at the playoffs.  Yet, however exciting a first-round exit in the playoffs may be to the Suns’ adoring fans, this season has been, from an objective standpoint, an absolute failure.

Let me be clear: the Suns have overachieved all year long.  But with one of the least talented and most ill-prepared rosters in the league, Phoenix has set itself up to remain mediocre for years to come.

In the modern NBA, one of the best ways to get good is to be really bad.  Look at a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder who built from the ground up.  They acquired high picks and stockpiled talent by making good selections in the draft year after year.  Another option for building teams is to establish a solid core of players, while preserving cap flexibility, and attract a big time free agent.  I can think of a team in South Florida that has had a little success with this former route.

The Suns, on the other hand, have failed to choose either path.  Instead, they have lost key players to free agency for several years and signed below-average players to above-average contracts, all while continuing to be competitive in the West, eliminating any chance at a high draft pick.

Rather than setting themselves up for the future, the Suns have found themselves stuck in a cycle of mediocrity.  They have little resources to improve and have a roster with low potential and a high average age (the Suns are the fifth oldest team in the league with an average age of 28.82).

The offseason before the 2010-2011 season was the beginning of the end for the Suns.  During that summer, Amare Stoudemire left for the New York Knicks.  The Suns then responded by giving unreasonable contracts to Hakim Warrick, Josh Childress, and Channing Frye, not to mention the trade for Hedo Turkoglu and his fat contract.

That summer set them up for little financial flexibility in the future.  For example, hypothetically, if the Suns were to re-sign Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Shannon Brown, and Sebastian Telfair, keeping alive the fantasy that they can have success with this group, they will be right around the salary cap.  They will have little to no room to sign free agents and a mediocre draft pick.

If they had given up this fantasy already, they could be building for the future instead of treading water in the present.

In fact, by committing to Steve Nash, one of the best point guards in the league, during that offseason and beyond, the team has committed to being average.  Surely, by holding onto Nash this season they have kept up ticket sales in the short term.  But over the long term, the team has sacrificed its future.  If the Suns had been able to deal the 38-year-old, not only would they inherit potential young talent, draft picks, and financial flexibility, but their own draft stock would have soared.

The fact of the matter is that a team whose best players are Nash, Marcin Gortat, and Grant Hill is going nowhere fast unless they can add some talent to that mix.  However, without high draft picks or room under the salary cap, the Suns have no means through which to improve.

The Suns’ fans better enjoy the fight for the 8th seed out West; that’s all they’ll be getting from their team if management stays the course.

The 10 Best Tattoos in the NBA

10. Tim Duncan

That’s right, the most mild-mannered man in the NBA has two tattoos and one of them is this bad ass death  jester!  Combine this with his knee brace and you start to think maybe he’s hiding some sort of hard-core alter-ego that he keeps from the public because he knows we just can’t handle it.

9. Kenyon Martin

Supposedly, Martin has an exact replica of his one-time girlfriend’s lips tattooed on his neck.  Just too odd to not make the list.

8. Quentin Richardson

Yeah, there is a lot going on here, but you’ve gotta love the Chicago skyline.  I can take or leave everything else here, but it is interesting to say the least.

7. Brad Miller

A seven foot monster of a man has a tattoo of a cartoon dog on his bicep?  Yes please.  Miller gets some recognition for having the cajones to put a cartoon on his body for the rest of his life.  However, he certainly picked a winner in Scrappy Doo.

6. Marquis Daniels (top) and Udonis Haslem (bottom)

Clearly, this is not the most original tattoo in the world if two guys have seemingly the same exact thing tattooed in the same exact location.  But these two deserve some credit for their dedication to their home state, though I have to give the edge to Halsem for having a more geographically accurate depiction of the sunshine state.

5. Amare Stoudemire

Stoudemire has a tattoo on his neck that reads “Black Jesus.”  Need I say more?

4. Chris Anderson

This guy should get recognition for his entire body of work, Anderson gets some much deserved love here for incorporating his nickname of “Birdman” into his tattoos.  Yeah, he has wings tattooed on his arms.  Wings,  Birdman, get it?  His “Free Bird” tattoo isn’t nearly as original, but it still deserves some ink (pun absolutely intended).

3. Stephen Jackson  

 

Yes, those are two hands praying while simultaneously holding a pistol.  I never said these had to make any sense.

2. Nikola Pekovic

As if his opponents needed any more reason to be afraid of this man.  Pekovic’s warrior tattoo is simply perfect for him.  Stare at it for 2 seconds and tell me it doesn’t give you the creeps.  I can only imagine his victims in the post are merely trying to avoid adding to the pile of skulls Nikola’s throne sits upon.

1. DeShawn Stevenson

And finally we come upon number one in the countdown.  There is just so much to analyze here, so let’s get right down to it.  First off, the man has one of the greatest Presidents in the history of the United States tattooed on his body.  Why?  Well, Stevenson explains, in so many words, that he did it to honor the man who ended slavery.  That is a noble gesture, but what about those 5’s?  Stevenson says “I had to put the 5’s on each side because nobody could recognize Abe. They kept asking me who it was?”  Considering the tattoo is a stunning replica of the 16th President, it seems like the 5’s were entirely unnecessary and don’t help to clarify all that much, but what do I know?  Lastly, and most obviously, the tattoo is planted firmly on Stevenson’s throat, a very unique placement if you ask me.  Now when you look DeShawn Stevenson in the eyes you’ll be staring right in the face of one of the greatest men to ever live, and no, I do not mean DeShawn Stevenson.

Any tattoos that I left off the list?  Comment below and let me know!

The Reemergence of JJ Hickson

At only 23 years old, JJ Hickson has experienced one of the most dramatic transformations in the NBA.

Flash back to February 2010: Amare Stoudemire is set to team up with LeBron James in Cleveland.  Of course, in the end the trade fell through and James was working his way out of his hometown.  The Cavaliers had a shot to land another superstar to team up with James, but they balked at the idea for several reasons, Stoudemire’s shaky health chief among them.

One major reason the Cavs were reluctant to pull the trigger on this trade was because they thought they might have a future star on their hands and didn’t want to give him up.  Surely, this trade is a prime example of not only the Cavs failure to appease James and convince him to stay, but also of the fall of that rising star: JJ Hickson.

Hickson had shown flashes of brilliance in a limited role with Cleveland team that finished the season 61-21.  In his second season in the NBA, Hickson averaged 8.5 ppg and 5.0 rpg on 55.4% shooting from the floor.  He was considered a building block for a team that had little else surrounding James.  His upside was such that the Cavs ultimately decided he was worth more than a shot at pairing Stoudemire with James.

In Hickson,Clevelandhad a forward with good size, great athleticism, and an incredibly appealing upside.

However, we all know how the story played out for the Cavaliers: James bolted in free agency and the team was left to pick up the pieces on a haphazardly assembled roster.

As a result, Hickson was rewarded with more playing time during the 2010-2011 season and asked to carry a much heavier load for this rebuilding team.  Yet, rather than budding into the star the Cavs brass hoped for, Hickson showed his limitations.

In 80 games, 66 of which were starts, Hickson played 28.2 minutes per game but converted on 10% fewer of his field goals than the previous season and averaged 3.7 turnovers per 48 minutes.

His stock lower than it had been since being drafted 19th overall by the Cavs in 2008, Hickson was traded this offseason to the Sacramento Kings for another fading prospect, Omri Casspi.  After suffering through 35 miserable games with Hickson, in which he shot 37% from the field and averaged 4.7 points per game, the forward was released outright.

In all of two seasons, Hickson had transformed from a promising prospect to being rejected by one of the league’s five worst franchises.

However, Hickson managed to find a soft landing spot Portland and has managed to turn some heads in the process.  Since being picked up by the Blazers off the waiver wire, Hickson has averaged 14.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg, had five double-doubles, and four 20 point games.  Best of all, he has strived in two areas that plagued him in the past.  With Portland, he is shooting 55.5% from the floor and turning the ball over only 1.2 times a game while playing a career-high 30.1 minutes a game.

Surely, much of Hickson’s success in Portland will deservedly be attributed to the fact that LaMarcus Aldridge has been injured during much of Hickson’s stint in the City of Roses.  Certainly, more opportunity has led to more success for Hickson.

However, he had plenty of chances to show his worth during the past three seasons in both Cleveland and Sacramento, but just could not stick.  Pride may be kicking in and Hickson is trying to show he belongs.  Maybe he is motivated by the fact that this offseason he will be an unrestricted free agent.

Whatever the explanation may be, the fact remains that Hickson is playing quality basketball.  In fact, he has done the unthinkable: he has gone from rising star to NBA failure, only to reemerge once again as an intriguing prospect.  Hickson is still only 23 years old and although his future may not be in Portland, the Trail Blazers certainly have a reborn player on their hands.

For now.