Posted on: January 28, 2010 11:53 am
Edited on: January 28, 2010 7:45 pm
First of all, as Charles Barkley would say, I love the seven first-time selections. All-Star weekend is badly in need of some juice, and I think there's a good chance that some of these first-timers -- Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo -- will provide some of the weekend's most memorable moments.
I know this is a knee-jerk sports world and we're supposed to fight about everything, but I don't have enormous problems with the coaches' selections. In the East, they picked Rose and Al Horford over my picks -- David Lee and Josh Smith. I disagree on Horford; Smith is the Hawks' most important player after Joe Johnson, and Horford doesn't play enough minutes to be an All-Star. Lee deserves to be there, too. Being based in New York, I have more than my share of chances to watch him bust his behind on a talent-less team. Rose? I don't have any problem with him being an All-Star. He'll be great to watch in an All-Star Game. Guys like Rose understand the moment and know how to rise to it.
In the West, I only differed with the coaches on one selection: They chose Zach Randolph; I chose Chauncey Billups. If I met with every coach who chose Randolph and we debated outside some NBA locker room, I don't think anybody would win. Z-Bo is having a great year on a surprisingly competitive team. Billups remains the glue that keeps the Nuggets together. I'll take the No. 2 pick in that draft and be happy.
In making my picks, I used the same criteria the coaches are instructed to use: select seven reserves, ranked 1-7 for weighting purposes, according to the following positional breakdown: center, two forwards, two guards, and two wild cards.
Here were my picks -- with the coaches' alternative in parentheses, where applicable:
1. Chris Bosh, F, Toronto: The "other" 2010 free agent went into the season determined to put up huge numbers, which he is. Bosh's steady play also is a big reason for the Raptors' recent resurgence.
2. Rajon Rondo, G, Boston: Nothing against Kevin Garnett or Ray Allen, but Rondo may have surpassed both of them as the most important Celtic after Paul Pierce.
3. Josh Smith, F, Atlanta (Coaches picked Derrick Rose): Defense, shot-blocking, scoring -- J-Smoove does it all, except take too many 3-pointers. He's eliminated that annoying aspect of his game and deserves to be rewarded.
4. Gerald Wallace, F (wild card), Charlotte: This is a tough call between Wallace and Danny Granger. I'll give the nod to Wallace because of defense and team success.
5. David Lee, C, Knicks (Coaches picked Al Horford): It's time to stop attributing Lee's machine-like double-double production to Mike D'Antoni's system and recognize that there's nothing wrong with being one of the best pick-and-roll big men in the league.
6. Joe Johnson, G, Atlanta: Johnson should send a thank-you gift to Jamal Crawford, whose ability to absorb some of the end-of-quarter/end-of-game scoring load has kept Johnson fresh.
7. Paul Pierce, F (wild card), Boston: Rondo makes the Celtics' engine go, but Pierce is still the closer -- one of the best in the league at both ends of the floor.
1. Dirk Nowitzki, F, Dallas: Still playing at an MVP level and never gets the recognition he deserves.
2. Chris Paul, G, New Orleans: In terms of statistics and overall talent, the best point guard in the league.
3. Brandon Roy, G, Portland: With all of Portland's injuries -- including Roy's own balky hamstring of late -- this budding superstar deserves credit for keeping the Blazers afloat.
4. Chauncey Billups, G (wild card), Denver (Coaches picked Zach Randolph): We take Mr. Big Shot for granted because he's so consistent, but remember: He's consistently great. Monta Ellis deserves serious consideration here or for one of the wild-card spots, but there are simply too many great guards in the West for him to break through.
5. Pau Gasol, C, Lakers: Despite missing a big chunk of the season, Gasol has played enough to warrant an All-Star nod. When he's on the floor, he's among the most gifted and impactful big men in the league. Gasol or Randolph? I'll take Gasol.
6. Kevin Durant, F, Oklahoma City: We knew he could score, but now KD is emerging as a much improved defender and leader.
7. Deron Williams, G (wild card), Utah: This is why there's no room for Randolph on my squad, despite his solid 20-point, 11-rebound averages on a much improved Memphis team. D-Will is too good -- and the Jazz's recent resurgence too notable to overlook -- for one of the top point guards in the NBA to continue to get overlooked.
Posted on: January 9, 2010 2:26 am
PORTLAND, Ore. – Through it all – the curse of the big men, the seven injured players , Steve Blake’s pneumonia, the gripes from Andre Miller about playing time, and finally Miller’s 30-minute shouting match with coach Nate McMillan – the Trail Blazers keep winning.
Of course they won Friday night, because they were playing the Lakers at the Rose Garden, where they’ve beaten L.A. nine straight times. This time, it was 107-98 in favor of the Blazers, who had rising star Brandon Roy outplay Kobe Bryant and enjoyed a 32-5 advantage from the free-throw line (39-10 in attempts). But the details hardly matter from night to night.
The Blazers are winning – seven of 10 now – with an eight-man rotation that includes rookie Dante Cunningham, who logged 18 minutes against the Lakers. They are winning with a starting center named Juwan Howard, whom I watched play at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Ind., when the Hoosiers hosted Michigan and I was a sophomore at Indiana in 1992. Think about that. Juwan Howard is the Blazers’ starting center, and a capable one at that, with eight points and 10 rebounds Friday night. Juwan Howard was drafted in 1994, the same year as Blazers assistant coach Monty Williams. The same Monty Williams who roams the sideline for McMillan, who sits on the bench with a walking boot because he ruptured his Achilles’ tendon.
“It’s been a crazy year, but I just never really like to look back,” Roy said. “I just say, ‘Let’s keep pushing,’ and I think we’re doing a great job of not looking back.”
How could the year get any crazier after Greg Oden (knee) and Joel Pryzbilla (knee) both were lost for the season, Blake wound up in the hospital with pneumonia, and key rotation players Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez, and Travis Outlaw all out for significant time? Miller and McMillan found a way Thursday, getting into a heated argument during practice over various things, including Miller’s mistake of telling Jerryd Bayless to make his second free throw with 4.3 seconds left and the Blazers trailing Memphis by two Tuesday night. McMillan had instructed Bayless to miss the free throw to create a putback opportunity. Miller’s season-long angst over how he’s being used – sometimes not starting games and often not finishing them – erupted.
“That was a situation where I needed to handle that and handle that better than I did,” McMillan said. “We’re past that. We’ve talked and I’ve talked to the team and addressed the team about it.”
Asked about his relationship with Miller, McMillan said, “Let me say this, and I hope you guys write this. Get your pens out. I love my players, OK? And not just current players, but past players, my relationship with my players are important. … I had some say on bringing Andre Miller here and so to bring these guys here and to assume that I have an issue – no, there’s no issue or no problem. … I’m OK with all of my players, so there’s no issues.”
Not on the court, anyway.
The Blazers got 21 points off the bench Friday night from Bayless, who’s been getting Miller’s closing minutes lately. They’re winning with small lineups, did a better job of getting out in transition Friday night, and have fallen back on McMillan’s long-time emphasis on defense – his forte – to stay afloat in the Western Conference playoff picture.
“There hasn’t really been a calm moment this season,” Roy said. “But 23-15? We’ll take it.”
Getting by with what they have has done more than create an inspirational story line. It’s reduced anxiety over whether Portland GM Kevin Pritchard needs to give up long-term cap flexibility for the short-term boost he would get from acquiring a big man in a trade.
Pritchard, being one of only a handful of GMs with real cap space, has explored bestowing it on any number of cost-cutting colleagues in exchange for a much needed body – with no takers, yet. But if the Blazers keep playing like this, and if the injuries and other distractions continue to galvanize them, what’s the rush to do a deal?
“It’s kind of a wait and see for us,” McMillan said. “We’re not even at the midway point. We know that we have a long ways to go and a huge challenge ahead of us to go through the remainder of the season without those two big guys.”
Before the game, Lakers coach Phil Jackson bemoaned the Blazers’ epic bad luck with big men and injuries, invoking the names of Sam Bowie and Bill Walton. But there were no ghosts involved in Portland’s latest homecourt mastery over the defending champs.
“They’re extremely well coached,” Bryant said. “They execute everything well. They don’t make mental mistakes, and I think that’s been the key. They’ve been able to adjust their game and adjust the tempo of the game having most of their horses out.”
And somehow, one of the improbable early-season success stories in the NBA gallops on.
Posted on: December 31, 2009 1:38 pm
Tracy McGrady is a man without a team. Unless you count the Western Conference All-Star team.
When the third returns in the 2010 All-Star balloting were released Thursday, McGrady had passed Steve Nash and moved into second place among Western Conference guards behind Kobe Bryant. Paper balloting will continue until Jan. 10, while wireless and online voting concludes Jan. 18. The All-Star starters will be announced Jan. 21.
Oh, the delicious irony of McGrady starting the All-Star game in the state of Texas while he's gotten himself banished from the Rockets for complaining about playing time. As the New York Times' Jonathan Abrams needled on Twitter, is McGrady going to wear a Rockets jersey, or one from Attack Athletics, the Chicago gym where he trains with Tim Grover?
Should T-Mac somehow hold off far more deserving candidates like Nash, Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, and Brandon Roy, the best part will be this: The All-Star Game could very well be his last in a Rockets jersey. The game will be played Feb. 14 -- four days before the NBA trade deadline.
If McGrady is voted into the All-Star starting lineup in a season during which he's played all of 46 minutes, should fans be banned from casting All-Star votes? Nah, let the fans have their fun ... the All-Star Game is meant for their entertainment. However, it's worth discussing whether All-Star appearances should be dropped as an official statistic for consideration for such honors as induction to the Basketball Hall of Fame. McGrady starting for the West and Allen Iverson for the East at a time when both are running on fumes would provide plenty of proof that such accolades are meaningless.
Posted on: October 21, 2009 10:59 pm
The Trail Blazers entered the offseason not knowing whether they'd be able to work out contract extensions with Brandon Roy or LaMarcus Aldridge, the two pillars of a team on the rise. Now, they've got both off them done -- or close to it.