Orlando Magic Becoming Contenders Again

  • Wednesday, January 12, 2011 8:38 AM
  • Written By: Jordan Schultz

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It didn’t take long for Orlando GM Otis Smith to recognize his team’s deficiencies in the loaded Eastern Conference. After a solid start to the season, the Magic went through a brutal stretch in early December where it lost six of seven games, including losses to Utah, Atlanta and Denver, all teams it needs to beat if it wants to be a contender.

(With his new teammates flanking him, Dwight Howard can smile again.)

Aside from Dwight Howard in the paint, Orlando was having a bevy of issues defending anyone, and despite the onslaught of threes last season (an all-time NBA record), it seemed hampered and slow on offense, where it couldn’t consistently get the ball into Howard down low, and was unable to ever develop any sort of real rhythm or flow on a game-to-game basis.

As with most struggling teams, many of the issues can be attributed to the point guard. Jameer Nelson, a solid NBA point guard for sure, is also an undersized and not overly quick point who when defending elite guards becomes a liability if he’s not hitting his jumper. Nelson is a tough defender who will battle all night, but his lack of sheer speed and size make him at times a problem guarding super quick guys. Considering that the three other Eastern Conference contenders feature Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade (at times) running the point, not having an alternative option as a lead guard translates to crisis mode.

Gilbert Arenas, whom Smith acquired from Washington for Rashard Lewis, doesn’t completely fix the Nelson conundrum, but he certainly provides relief in the form of a nicely composed band aid. Not a good defender himself, Arenas’ benefit will come solely at the offensive end, where despite not being the dominant scorer of the “Hibachi” days, he is still a deadly three-point shooter who can also create his own shot, something Lewis couldn’t do.


(The addition of Arenas helps spell the scoring role from Jameer Nelson and gives Orlando yet another three-point shooting threat.)

While Arenas surely won’t replace Nelson, he offers a unique blend of 1-2 guard ability. His shooting alone should help free up Nelson a bit and he excels pushing tempo where he can either pull up or find somebody else for an open three, a staple to the Magic attack. Bottom line: Arenas he is a drastic upgrade from the anemic Chris Duhon to backup Nelson at the point.

Lewis himself is clearly at the tail-end of his career. Getting rid of such a one-dimensional player stands as one of the better moves of Smith’s career. Why he ever gave Lewis $118 million over six years from a sign-and-trade with the Seattle Sonics is an entirely different story.

Lewis, never an apt ball handler, tenacious rebounder or defender, had seen his only real value reduced to spotting up on the perimeter to shoot 3’s. But even then, the 6-10 forward was hitting them at an alarmingly low rate, his worst percentage since the ’02-’03 season. Much of the scoring earlier in his career came from the post where he had developed a lethal turnaround jumper, but his refusal to post up anymore and lack of rebounding officially made him a one-trick pony … with a diminishing trick even then.

Another key cog to the Magic’s mega-trades is the emergence of Brandon Bass. The super athletic and active banger who loves to bully his way around the paint and create contact resulted in Marcin Gortat officially becoming a bystander for Stan Van Gundy. A talented backup center that clogs the paint and has a deft touch around the basket, Gortat was perhaps the toughest piece for Smith to let go, especially given the foul trouble that Howard has been prone to in the past. The Magic of course matched Gortat’s $34 million offer sheet from Dallas – which he publicly expressed his displeasure toward -- in July 2009, so playing him less than 16 minutes a night simply wasn’t proving to be a good investment. Bass himself is still just 25 and has shown plenty of upside to one day become a middle tier starting four-man, making Gortat expendable. Further, Bass is a much better bargain at just $4 million every year through 2013, compared to the nearly $8 million Gortat will earn in 2013-14, the final year of his contract.

But perhaps the best thing about the Gortat deal for Orlando was that it also freed itself of perennial loser and underachiever Vince Carter. Whatever “Vinsanity” was left for Carter had long vacated him before he came to central Florida. Never a good fit for a Magic team seeking leadership and consistent scoring from its best perimeter player, Carter tanked for much of last season and was heinous in the playoffs, when he singlehandedly shot Orlando out of games and literally refused to defend.

One other key element dealt was Jekyll and Hyde shooting guard Mickael Pietrus, a perpetual gunner and subpar defender who like Lewis, only value stemmed from an inconsistent three-point shooting stroke. The Frenchman, while he did hit some big shots for Orlando, was clearly never going to become the shutdown defender or consistent scorer he had shown glimpses of becoming as a plus athlete with good size and strength. Chances are it’s not a coincidence that the Suns have lost six out of seven since the debut of Pietrus and Gortat on Dec. 26, and five out of six since Carter joined the lineup.

On the flip side, the reward for Pietrus and Carter has proved to be gigantic. Hedo Turkoglu -- whom Smith never should have let walk in the first place -- and Jason Richardson are both excelling in Orlando’s run-and-gun format along with its half-court dump offense revolving around Howard. Richardson won’t ever be the unstoppable force Vince Carter used to be, but in many ways his game mirrors some of the same elements: He is a fantastic athlete who attacks the rim and is awesome in transition, has an effective pull-up game, is a decent defender and really good three-point shooter.

Turkoglu, meanwhile, has re-assumed his role as the ultimate point-forward playmaker he had during his first stint with the Magic. His diverse ability and unique skillset, along with his willingness to alleviate some of the ball handling duties from Nelson make him a drastic upgrade from the sinking Lewis. Plus Lewis, who is a natural three-man, was clearly never comfortable playing power forward and thus played out of position during parts of his tenure for Van Gundy. In averaging 12.5 points and 6.5 assists, Turkoglu has taken much of the creative pressures off of Nelson, and provided a superb pick-and-roll partner for Howard. He is also one of the more clutch shooters around. Richardson, with his explosive leaping ability and scoring prowess, has been just the athletic spark this team needed on the perimeter and his 38.6 percent long range marksmanship spreads the floor far more than Vince Carter ever could.

Turkoglu is a natural wing player whose creative capacities allow for Bass to start at the four and gives Ryan Anderson the chance to slide into a crucial bench slot.


(Turkoglu may just be the most significant upgrade for Orlando. His versatility as a point-forward will be huge for the Magic offensively, and a monumental different from the stagnant Rashard Lewis.)

Anderson, like Lewis, is a 6-10 outside oriented player. He provides a real outside threat and is a decent rebounder. Not merely a serviceable role player, Anderson is just as good if not better than Lewis at this stage in his career. He is also a willing low-post presence at times, and since emerging from the cellar of Van Gundy’s bench proceeding the trades, the third-year man out of Cal has hit the double-digit mark in all but two games. Moreover, at under $1.5 million salary this season, he too is a thrifty bargain for Otis Smith, especially with the league’s new CBA talks lurking.

At the end of the day though, none of this matters if Orlando doesn’t have Dwight Howard. The 25-year-old monstrous pivot is the be all and end all of this franchise. He makes everything go.

When you have a superstar talent in his prime, not surrounding him with the necessary pieces to win a title is like not allowing Zenyatta to run in the Breeder’s Cup. That’s what was so demoralizing about Kevin Garnett during his Minnesota days. Here was this brilliant, once-in-a-generation talent relegated to rotting away on mediocre teams for a most of his career.

After losing two straight after the trades, Orlando has rattled off nine consecutive victories, including wins over San Antonio, Dallas, New York and Boston. The new pieces meanwhile, are fitting in just as I said they would (link up to twitter). All three are averaging double figures in points, but Turkoglu and Richardson in particular, have turned a once predictable Magic offense into a dynamic and nearly unguardable attack.

During the Magic’s nine-game winning streak, at least five players have scored in double digits every game, and only once did just the five. This is now a club that wins with a high octane offense scoring from all over the floor and has enough depth to supplant cold spells or even injuries. Better yet, with its re-tooled defense anchored by D12 down low, Orlando can defend well enough in a prolonged series to survive shooting woes, something it couldn’t do in the past. As of January 11, the Magic were fifth in the league in total points allowed. Even better, during the eleven games since the trades, they’ve held their opponent to under their season scoring average in all but one affair. For the first time since its Finals run in 2008, Orlando team is showing a full commitment to winning on a nightly basis.

The Heat and Celtics are typically considered the two real contenders in the east, with the Bulls a distant, albeit relevant third or fourth, but with its retooled line-up surrounding a Superman-type talent (no pun intended), the Magic deserve not just to be in the discussion, but side-by-side with the two big guns. While it will continue to bomb from long range and occasionally fail to shut the door on teams when they should, Orlando is nevertheless a legitimate contender with Howard as an anchor in the paint to go along with an influx of gifted perimeter players and stable bigs.

Orlando finally … has a real shot at the title. Follow me on Twitter @206Child

NBA Postseason Awards

  • Friday, April 16, 2010 5:14 AM
  • Written By: Jordan Schultz

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MVP
1. LeBron James -- What can I say really? The next decade-plus of him and Kevin Durant battling will be one scintillating duel.

2. Kevin Durant -- His 30 points per game are special but it’s the ease at which he gets them that’s even more impressive. Still just 21, this kid is quickly ascending into one of the NBA’s best players with his ability to score at will and take over games late, quietly becoming as clutch a performer as the game’s elite.

Yes, I’m looking at you Kobe.

3. Dwight Howard -- Howard is by far the most physically imposing and perhaps most dominant defender since Shaq’s heyday. His offensive output is a bit inconsistent and he still hasn’t become the automatic dump-down type of center, but he is the perfect building block for the Magic.

Defensive Player of the Year
1. Dwight Howard -- The ultimate enforcer and game's most physically dominant defender.

2. Josh Smith -- How can a 6-9 dude who plays on the perimeter lead the NBA in both steals and blocks? I’ve spent two weeks thinking about it. I still don’t know.

3. Andrew Bogut -- Should have been an All-Star and will be one for years to come. An extremely fundamentally sound defender, Bogut doesn’t have the athleticism or imposing nature of Howard, but he does have the length and awareness. A center that can guard his and rotate like a small forward, Bogut is solidified in the top three.

Sixth Man of the Year
1. Jamal Crawford -- Honestly, it’s not even close. Reminds me of last season when fellow Seattle native Jason Terry captured the crown. Crawford is a superb scorer off the bench on an upper echelon team with a great guard in Joe Johnson who comfortably defers to him at times in the clutch. That says a lot.

2. Manu Ginobili -- “The Bat Killer” has really cranked it up lately. Ginobili struggled throughout January, but has been terrific ever since, having averaged 21.4 points and 5.2 rebounds. He is 32, but it was the right move by the Spurs to extend his deal.

3. Ersan Ilyasova -- One of the guys nobody seems to know about but definitely should, Ilyasova hadn’t played in the NBA since 2007. He has certainly made up for lost time. Mainly coming off the bench for the upstart Bucks, he has proven an effective perimeter scorer who can also post up and drive the lane. A critical component to Milwaukee’s surprise playoff appearance, Ilyasova is only 22. Expect him to start in the future.

ROY
1. Tyreke Evans -- The best from start to finish.

2. Stephen Curry -- The baby-faced assassin has it all; stroke, handle, passing, feel.

A sure-fire future All-Star and the best player out of this class.

3. Brandon Jennings -- A bit inconsistent, but too good to not have in the top three. Plus I love lefty points. Just keep on rocking the flat-top baby.

Coach of the Year
1. Scotty Brooks -- This team is very talented yes, but also very, very young. The average age of their starting line-up is only 23 years old. One of the best turnarounds in NBA history is a direct credit to Mr. Brooks.

2. Scott Skiles -- Getting anything – let alone a playoff berth – out of the Bucks deserves a ton of props.

3. Nate McMillan -- Injuries galore haven’t alerted the Blazers road to 50 wins in perhaps the league’s toughest division. McMillan has his critics, but the guy just wins.

One More: Lionel Hollins -- Hollins had the Grizzlies in playoff contention for most of the year. That’s all you need to know.

Most Improved
1. Aaron Brooks -- Another Seattle product (same high school as Jason Terry) has emerged as a top flight point guard despite not having his best pick-and-roll partner all year. Brooks is an absolute jolt who has improved his entire offensive game.

Plus, he’s durable. Despite his small stature and slight frame, Brooks has only missed two games in the past two seasons. He has to get the nod for MIP.

2. Andrew Bogut -- I’m telling you, the guy is legit. We already mentioned his defense, but how about his offense? The Aussie averaged 16 points this year on a quality 52 percent shooting not to mention his 10 rebounds.

3. Russell Westbrook -- The kid has it all. His vision and overall decision making still need work (he misses his roller way too often off screens), as does his shooting range, but this thoroughbred is well on his way to stardom.

One more: Corey Brewer – Who said he was a bust?!

Will Conroy: Defining His Own NBA Journey

  • Wednesday, April 7, 2010 10:08 AM
  • Written By: Jordan Schultz

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It's not often that walk-ons start in college. It's not often that they become the program's all-time leader in assists, either. And it's especially not often that they make the NBA. But then again, Will Conroy isn't your typical walk-on.

Hailing from the basketball powerhouse of Seattle, Conroy played on the same high school team as current Portland Trail Blazers All-Star Brandon Roy. A compact, strongly-built kid who is effective both in the half court and in transition, he has just the type of winning attitude and demeanor coaches look for in a lead guard.

With an impressive high school pedigree, he considered the likes of Providence, Pittsburgh and Xavier for college, but ultimately the lure of staying home proved too great. "UW offered earlier that summer but I wasn't ready to make a decision, and I waited it out," he said.

But by that time, Washington had no athletic scholarships left to give. Conroy, though, was determined to be a Husky. "I didn't want to go that far back east."

After a spirited affair against rival Franklin High School, a team that featured McDonald's All-American and current Houston Rocket Aaron Brooks, a UW assistant coach approached Conroy.

"He was like, 'You wanna come to Washington?' and I was like, 'yes' and he said 'let's do this,'" Conroy said. "At that point I didn't care (that no scholarships were available)." As fate would have it, another recruit failed to qualify academically, and Conroy had his scholarship.

After a solid freshman campaign that saw him start the final third of the season, Conroy was well on his way to the career he had envisioned. "You dedicate yourself because you never know when your chance will be," he said. "It was a testament to how hard I was working."

When new head coach Lorenzo Romar took over the next season, Conroy immediately respected his outlook. "Coach Romar said everybody had to earn their spot," he said. "He didn't care what happened last year." Despite scoring in double digits in both his sophomore and junior years, Conroy opted to make a significant change in his playing style under the tutelage of Romar.

"I remember sitting down and him saying, 'Will, you have a special ability to make guys around you better. You have to make the decision whether or not you want to be the point guard.' Initially my sophomore and junior years I scored, (but) I fell in love with being a pass-first guard."

Just like that, the transformation for Conroy was clear. As a senior, he averaged 6.4 assists while maintaining a commendable 46 percent field goal percentage, all en route to leading UW -- alongside longtime teammate Brandon Roy -- to the school's first No. 1 seed in NCAA Tournament history. Along the way, Conroy took a piece of history home with him as well, setting the school's all-time record for assists.

When the summer of 2005 came, Conroy had high hopes, and rightfully so. He had worked out well at the Portsmouth Invitational, the pre-draft camp for the top collegiate senior prospects, and felt he had potentially played his way into the second round. On draft night, though, he waited, and waited, and waited some more. But his name was never called.

Scouts wondered if he was too small at 6-2 to handle a pro-style offense, or if he was simply a scoring guard trapped in a point's body? Was he laterally quick enough to create for others as well as defend faster guards? Undeterred by this traffic stop and eager to prove the skeptics wrong, Conroy once again went to work.

For two grueling seasons he played for the Tulsa 66ers of the NBA D-League, followed by three NBA call-ups and two stints with elite European teams, Virtus Bologna and Olimpia Milano. But while his improved play has earned him five separate call-ups from the D-League to the NBA – including two by Houston – he still hasn't made a roster out of camp nor has he played a full season in the association.

That said, he maintains a healthy relationship with the Rockets, including head coach Rick Adelman, who has expressed to Conroy how much he admires his game.

"Coach said, 'You have the ability to pass,'" Conroy said. "Right now I'm getting 10 assists and [six] rebounds. At the next level I'm definitely going to be a point guard."

After becoming the final cut in Rockets training camp last fall, Conroy could have bolted back to Europe for a more lucrative contract and lush lifestyle. But that just wouldn't be Conroy. Committed to showing NBA teams' his desire to find a permanent home, he wanted to stay as close to home as possible, right under the radar of any potential suitor.

"I stuck because I was close to making the Rockets," he said. "I'm still really close with the Rockets. Different things happen as it gets close to camp. At this point, the coaches and GMs know I'm a veteran and they know what they're going to get out of me."

Make no mistake -- both the talent and production are there. Conroy is the first player in D-League history to reach the 3,000-point mark and is its all-time leading scorer. In 49 games for Albuquerque last year, he averaged a healthy 26.5 points while maintaining his steadfast commitment to the pass, averaging 8.0 assists, clearly demonstrating he can both score and pass at extremely high levels.

This is unquestionably been a long journey for Conroy. What's perhaps most impressive is how he's successfully balanced the fine line between being himself and playing his own game, along with adapting to life as true facilitator of the basketball but not shying away from his patented attacking style of play. He's averaging 16 points on nearly 52 percent shooting, highlighting his rare ability to get to the basket almost at will.

But his voyage is well worth it.

"My goal is to reach the NBA and stick," Conroy says.

Something tells me he will.

Breaking Down Evan Turner

  • Tuesday, March 16, 2010 2:01 PM
  • Written By: Jordan Schultz

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Versatility: GMs love it, scouts worship it and all teams need it.

In an NBA world where specialists and one-trick ponies cease to exist, versatility rules.

One could say Ohio State’s Evan Turner fits this bill just a little bit. The junior point guard/shooting guard/small forward/power forward (yes, he’s that diverse,) is the driving force for No.2 seeded Ohio State, and the main reason why Buckeye nation may be dancing all the way into spring football.

Despite being surrounded by a unit severely lacking depth – head coach Thad Matta only plays six guys – Turner has transformed an otherwise ordinary Big Ten team into a legitimate national title contender.

At 6-7, he is a match-up nightmare, capable of beating nearly anyone off the bounce, athletic enough to finish at, around, and above the rim, and adept to stop on a dime and bury you with his mid-range pull-up.

But above Turner’s obvious gifts and raw ability is an natural feel for the game. He’s unselfish, yet assertive, and patient, yet strangely aggressive. In his most recent performance during the Big Ten Tournament, Turner displayed all of these traits that earned him Big Ten Player of the Year.

Facing a pesky Illinois team in a must-win situation, Turner led a second-half Buckeye charge at both ends of the floor. His pestering defense led to run-outs and transition baskets, and his willingness to let the game come to him down the stretch proved to be the difference.

In crucial moments, many point guards – think the Illini’s Demetri McCamey (Turner’s high school teammate) – refuse to initiate the offense late in games, often resorting to one-on-one attacks rather than running a set. Turner, however, smoothly runs the play, goes through the lane, uses a screen, carefully reads the defense and goes to work. Time and time again, versus both Illinois and Minnesota, he did this, patiently waiting for the right time to attack and then blowing by the defense, only to pull up or finish through traffic with a nifty spin move and draw a foul.

This translates extremely well at the next level, when unselfish and intelligent play is rewarded, both by coaches, who need high IQ guys, and by teammates, who will appreciate such a talented and team-oriented winner. The comparison many analysts have made to Turner is former Washington Husky and three-time NBA All-Star Brandon Roy. Although Roy is a better athlete and pure scorer, the similarities are there in terms of versatility, ball-handling, smoothness, the ability to rebound and defend multiple positions, and perhaps most importantly, the special feel for the game of being under control, always in the flow.

Like Roy, Turner projects as a shooting guard at the next level, but merely labeling him such wouldn’t be accurate. Why?

Because he handles the ball extremely well for a “shooting guard,” yet rebounds (9 per game) like a power forward, makes his teammates better (6 assists) like a lead guard, and often masquerades as a second coach out on the floor with his leadership. The command of the game Turner possesses – above all of his undeniable tools – is why he is such an intriguing prospect. While Kentucky’s John Wall has the “wow factor” oozing with potential, Turner is the far more finished product, with little risk, yet oddly high upside. Usually when a player has high upside there is a tremendous deal of risks involved. Just ask Greg Oden or Tyrus Thomas.

Like Wall, the main element of Turner’s game scouts question is his long distance shooting stroke. The mechanics are there -- high release, elbows in, strong base -- but the consistency isn’t quite. In 28 games this season, he shot 37 percent from three, a real solid number, but not the percentage he needs to fully exercise his playmaking abilities as a pro, where the line is deeper and the defense stingier. But don’t worry Nets, T-Wolves or Warriors fans.

On an Ohio State team lacking another true shot creator or ball handler, Turner has been forced to juggle multiple responsibilities.

Not only does he have to get his and score down the stretch, but he also guards the opposition's best player, and assumes full point guard responsibilities. This is what’s so impressive. Amid all of this, he manages to keep his composure and facilitate for others enough to keep the Buckeyes into games late enough so he can eventually take over just as he did against Illinois and Minnesota, and just as he’s done all year long.

Some also question his explosiveness. Yes, he doesn’t have Wall’s blow-by ability (who does really?) but Turner is quick enough to get to where he wants. Once he gets there, it’s over. At 6-7, 210 lbs., he is too big and strong that not having an elite first step isn’t an issue. All the evidence you need is that he shoots 54 percent from the floor. Think about that number. Are you serious? That’s better than most big men – who are shooting from four feet and in.

Turner is the rare blend of size, skill and intelligence - the type of kid you can build an entire team around. Call me crazy, but I’d take him over Mr. Wall and Mr. Cousins. He’s a future All-Star, future All-NBA type of player.

And let’s not forget, he went to the same high school as William Gates, from “Hoop Dreams,” the single best film (sports or non-sports) – yes, I went there – of all time.

What’s up, Gene Pingatore?

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The NBA’s All-Busts Team

  • Tuesday, February 9, 2010 5:04 AM
  • Written By: Jordan Schultz

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(I try not to be too mean, but it can prove quite challenging).

A lot is made about busts, so I have to ask, what exactly is one? To me, a bust is a very specific type of player, the guy that fans think is the savior of their franchise and more importantly, the player scouts dub as "can't miss prospects" - the next big thing.

The thing about football or baseball is that each team is loaded with bench players. MLB rosters have 25 guys, while NFL rosters keep 53. NBA rosters are only permitted to have 15 (12 active). In other words, the “scrubs” on an NBA team have a much less likelihood of making the league than those at the NFL or MLB level.

All of this in mind, the nature of a bust is undeniable.

Chronic under-achievers – fair or unfair – are a part of the game, just as much as pick-and-rolls and the up-and-under. Some are bigger than others, but the following list is composed of the players analysts thought as the truest gems of the future, and in turn, the guys who failed to realize their potential on the grandest stage of all. Let’s go…

Felipe Lopez – Heralded as the second coming when he landed the cover of SI and committed to St. John’s in 1995, Lopez actually had a very solid career for the Red Storm.

He was named to the All-Big East First Team as a senior, but he never realized his vast stardom, despite being the No. 24 pick in the 1998 NBA Draft. Lopez’s career as a pro was a failure, playing on three NBA teams and averaging just 5 points and 2 rebounds. Word is, he’s still playing overseas, which I commend. It’s very tough swallowing your pride like that.

Jason Williams – Not the guy involved in the shooting of his limo driver charge and not “White Chocolate,” but the All-American Dookie, who was selected second overall in the 2002 Draft, and the guy everyone thought would be the next great point guard in the NBA. The man made a bad choice and never recovered from a career-ending motorcycle accident. I remember this especially well, because I was at Duke Basketball Camp when it happened. Coach K came in to speak to the kids, and appeared about as devastated as a human being can look. It would have been special to see J-Will play in the NBA. The former Naismith, Wooden and Oscar Robertson Award winner, was recently named to the Sports Illustrated All-Decade Team in college basketball, and deservedly so. His orchestration of the 10-point-comeback with 1 minute left versus Maryland in 2001 will always live on.



Greg Oden – Injuries, injures, injuries. Although it’s still too early to call him another Sam Bowie, we’re definitely getting closer. I hate to include him on this list because Oden was actually having a very good season, averaging nearly 9 points and 11 rebounds, but let’s face it, for a guy as hyped as he was, he has been a monstrous disappointment, especially when you consider the start to the career Kevin Durant has had. Unfortunately for Oden, he seems to lack the smoothness and sheer understanding of the game the upper echelon of big men have - for example, his teammate LaMarcus Aldridge. He’s still not even 22 years old, but unless he dramatically alters his approach to the game and figures out a way to stay healthy, Oden is definitely on his way to becoming a major bust.

Emeka Okafor – The former Wooden Award winner and another member of SI’s All-Decade Team has not lived up to the billing he garnered out of UConn. Okafor was a shot-blocking machine when the Bobcats selected him second overall behind Dwight Howard in the 2004 NBA Draft.

He ran the floor, rebounded the ball, and displayed an uncanny ability to time his blocks. But since coming into the league, Okafor has failed to make an All-Star team and doesn’t appear to ever materialize into elite status.

Tyson Chandler – Staying on the topic of under-achieving centers, Chandler is certainly at the top of the list. Although he’s been to the playoffs four times and has had some decent seasons, Chandler was thought of as an absolute lock. The 7-footer has an abundance of tools and should be a dominant player, but he hasn’t ever come close. Despite having a premier point guard in Chris Paul for several years and an All-Star forward opposite his block in David West, Chandler never became a consistent go-to guy with his back to the basket. While he did highlight many of Paul’s alley-oops, he failed to put on the bulk or develop the touch necessary to translate into the type of player he should have been. His career statistics stand at 8 points, 9 rebounds and just 1.4 blocks, hardly justifiable for a No. 2 pick with his size and athletic ability.

Kwame Brown – Perhaps the ultimate bust of this decade, Brown represents the beginning of the end for Michael Jordan as an NBA executive. Heralded as a future All-Star, the big man spurned his commitment to Florida to become the No. 1 overall pick by the Washington Wizards in 2001. His career statistics include averages of 7 points and 6 rebounds, and a 58 percent FT percentage. Worse, he may be the most booed player by home fans I’ve ever witnessed. Side Note: I wonder what he’s doing these days off the court in Detroit? Wouldn’t that make for some good reality TV?

Darko Milicic - Darko should have his own category – that’s how much this dude has underachieved. The astronomical hype around him began when he was just 17, at the height of America's love-affair with another teenager, LeBron James. When Joe Dumars selected him second overall (after James) in the 2003 NBA Draft, he passed Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, Chris Kaman, David West and Josh Howard. (Wow, I swear I could be an NBA GM). Since entering the NBA, Milicic has averaged 5 points, 4 rebounds, and shot 59 percent from the line. That means that combined, him and Kwame Brown are averaging 12 and 10 for their careers. There is some solace in that right? Okay, you’re right, maybe not. In a recent interview, the outspoken Serbian swore about 30 times while complaining about his career and lack of opportunities to play. This 2007 exchange though - after an international affair between Serbia and Greece - is absolutely priceless:



We wish him well on his pending voyage back to Europe. Thanks for the memories Darko!

Darius Miles – Thought by some “experts” to literally be the second-coming of MJ, Miles has “slightly” underperformed. Now out of the league, the No. 3 pick in the 2000 draft by, of course, the Clippers, D-Miles averaged a staggering 10 points and 5 rebounds throughout his un-illustrious 9-year-career. At least he has maintained a viable career as an actor, most notably in “The Perfect Score” (2004), where he plays the role of a high school hoops star that needs to steal the SAT scores in order to qualify for college. Other than the stealing part, this is a direct parallel to his life, where he struggled mightily in his SAT bout. Miles is undoubtedly one of the worst picks of many by the Clips – a truly disturbing notion when you consider their history of clouded judgment.

Mike Bibby – This is a little tricky because Bibby has had a rather successful career, just not the type of one many people thought. One of the most decorated stars in Arizona high school history with the pedigree of Henry Bibby and Point Guard U, the former collegiate All-American reminds me a lot of Reggie Bush, an under-sized but effective player, a No. 2 pick, and a guy that will always – if unfairly - be thought of for what he didn’t do, not what he did do. Strange to think he’s never been named to the All-Star team. Even so, I felt it necessary to include him on this list.

Kenyon Martin – Another excellent college player who never became the star in the NBA many figured he’d become. Martin won every award possible during his tenure at Cincinnati, yet the top pick of the 2000 draft has failed to reach this level of success as a pro. A one-time All-Star, he has had a productive, yet unspectacular career, playing for both the New Jersey Nets and Denver Nuggets. He has however, found himself mired in several on, and off the court issues, where the volatile forward has been known to receive many fines, technicals, and flagrant fouls and infamously mock the kidney condition of Alonzo Mourning. Despite all of this, K-Mart’s real value stems from his “lips” tattoo on the left side of his neck – it’s glorious really. A true piece of art.

Eddy Curry – Forget the fact that he could never keep in shape. Weight issues are just the beginning for Mr. Curry. He is the first player I’ve seen where it actually seems like he’s doing you a favor by just showing up at the gym. Just watch him in pre-game warm-ups or in huddles during time-outs. He literally looks bored, as if to say, “I’m just hear to collect my check. I could give a shit about basketball.”

Talk about a guy who just never figured it out. The fourth pick in the 2001 draft has played in just 69 games over the past three seasons, and is averaging under 4 points and 2 rebounds each of the last two. Keep grinding Eddy…

Jonathan Bender – I just gave major props to Bender for his recent return to the NBA after being out of the league for four seasons, but let’s face it, Bender has unquestionably been a massive bust. The fifth pick in the 1999 NBA Draft out of high school, Bender was seen as a Tracy McGrady – Kevin Durant type, an athletic and long wing who could score the ball and defend multiple positions. He hasn’t been such. Bender’s best statistical season as a pro came during his 2000-01 campaign as a Pacer, where he averaged 7.4 points and 3.1 rebounds. Yikes! Did I mention I could be an NBA GM? Just saying.

Stromile Swift – He may not have been looked at as the brute force of Shaq, but this former LSU big man had all of the aptitude and flair to become an NBA star. Athletic and dexterous, Swift was taken second overall by the then Vancouver Grizzlies in 2000. His career highlights include an 8 point and 5 rebound average, a grossly failed performance in the 2001 dunk competition, and a recent victim of the vaunted NBA release, thanks to the 76ers. See, I told you this was difficult! We got some serious busts on our hands.

Steve Alford – This guy did it all at Indiana. The local hero received cult status when he was named a First-Team All-American as a senior in Bloomington while leading the Hoosiers to the 1987 National Title. The Sporting News ranks Alford as the 35th best college player of all time.

He was picked 26th (second round back then) by Dallas in the 1987 draft, and holds career averages of 4 points and 1 assist. Not quite the bust as his counterparts on this list, who were mostly top three selections, but nevertheless, worth mentioning. His coaching career hasn’t exactly been superb either.

Christian Laettner – Believe it or not, Laettner was a member of the original USA Dream Team in 1992 (as the only collegian) featuring the likes of MJ, Magic and Larry Bird, among others. Laettner is best known for his improbable game-winner against Kentucky in the 1992 regional final, but for me, he just breathes more light into the fact that Duke players are bad pros. Considering the outrageous success of the program, the list is rather freaky: William Avery, Mike Dunleavy, Jr., Jay Williams, Roshown McLeod, Chris Carrawell, Josh McRoberts, Shavlik Randolph, Shelden Williams, J.J. Redick, Daniel Ewing, Bobby Hurley, Johnny Dawkins, Trajan Langdon, Cherokee Parks and Danny Ferry. Now those are some busts! (To be fair, a lot of these guys – Redick and Langdon for example – weren’t projected to be great pros. But still, you can’t ignore the surplus of tarnished Dookies in and out of the league).

Laettner – who is still one of the most celebrated collegians ever with his abundance of awards - was chosen third overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the ’92 Draft, after leading Duke to four straight Final Fours, and back-to-back national titles in 1991 and ’92. He holds career averages of 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists in the NBA; very solid numbers for most, but not for the hype he garnered out of school and not for the player scouts pegged him as. He has since been the benefactor of a role playing none other than himself, in a recent Vitamin Water advertisement. (I advise to watch this with extreme caution, as it may actually make you sick, as it did to me. My proposal? Deem it as inappropriate behavior, and take it off the air forever.



Honorable Mention – Guys who the scouts declared future stars, and guys sure to have you saying, “Who? Oh yeah, I remember him”- Chris Mihm, Antonio Daniels, Shawn Respert, Marcus Fizer, Robert “Tractor” Traylor, Raef LaFrentz, Kent Benson, Ed O’Bannon, LaRue Martin, Bill Garnett, Chris Washburn, Joe Smith, Ken Durrett, Denis Hopson, Sam Bowie (he probably deserves his own essay, but I refuse to waste space on him), and Ralph Sampson (not a total bust, and I hesitate to put a four-Time All-Star on this list, but he didn’t revolutionize the game the way many people figured he would).

One note: I’ve left out Michael Olowokandi on purpose, as many scouts – obviously the Clippers not included – felt he was a project nowhere near top pick talent.

So, about that GM job . . .

A Pointed Evaluation Of Quincy Pondexter

  • Tuesday, January 19, 2010 1:07 PM
  • Written By: Jordan Schultz

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With the college hoops season approaching the heart of conference play, I will preview some of the elite prospects and their NBA futures. The Pac-10, for example, may be enduring one of its worst seasons in years, but it still has some very good NBA prospects worth watching.

One of them is Quincy Pondexter of Washington, who has emerged from an up-and-down underachiever to perhaps the best player in the conference. He is now a consistent scorer on the wing who can finish through contact, which is hardly what Husky fans saw during his first three years in Seattle. While he showed brief, albeit brilliant flashes of talent, Pondexter was more of an enigma than anything else. He was a guy with all the tools but not the production, a kid who needed to refine his skills.

But in watching Pondexter wax both Stanford and California last week (averaging 26 on an insane 61 percent shooting), I saw a kid who morphed into a brand new type of player, a guy who has used the four-year college system to the utmost of his advantage. He looked like a senior, like a leader, and for the first time over a two-game period, like he was by far the best player on the floor.

In scoring 21 points in the first half alone against Cal, the thing that jumped out to me the most was how calm he was with the ball. In year’s past, Pondexter was always in a race to score. But now, much more mature, he evaluates the defense, reads his defender, and then goes to work. This makes all the difference.

Pondexter is superb on the block posting up, using his 6-7 (now filled out frame) to abuse smaller defenders, and his quick feet to blow by slower ones. While he often slashes to the cup, Pondexter also makes the correct decision when help comes by pulling up, countering with the other hand, making a spin move, or dishing off to an open teammate.

Defensively, I think he may be the best wing defender on the West Coast, in that he uses his length very well both on the ball, when he harasses the opposition, as well as in the passing lanes, where many of his open-court steals lead to easy baskets. His ability to guard up to three NBA positions skyrockets his draft value. It is a rare blend of tools for a 6-7 wing laterally fluid enough to guard 2s and 3s, yet strong and athletic enough to defend 4s. It is perhaps even more relevant than his improved offensive repertoire.



(These are the types of break-outs Pondexter creates by playing the passing lanes - nothing but him and open space)


A key knock on Pondexter is his lack of a pure shooting stroke. I'd say he can hit the college three in rhythm; it’s just that he’s not a guy who can come off screens from 24 feet, which is okay. He hasn’t developed the range on his NBA three, but given his vast mid-range improvements since his freshman season, teams will see he is willing to put in the work. At this juncture, his scoring prowess (20.3 ppg) is best served from the 18-foot mark and in, where he mixes his pull-ups with dribble-drives and posting.

Even with his shooting and scoring improvements (more than 8 points per game from last year), I think his best selling point to scouts is his improved commitment to rebounding. I’d always wondered why Pondexter, always an excellent leaper, didn’t hit the glass harder. I no longer wonder this. In 17 games, this season, he has rebounded at an astounding 7.9 per game, one of the best in the Pac-10. All of this comes despite playing on the wing, and not being in traditional rebounding position. This serves him extremely well at the next level. His high energy play and non-stop motor will supplant the typical doubts teams have about one-year wonders such as Pondexter.

Given his aptitude to defend and create mismatches on the block, Pondexter has become one of the premier small forwards in June’s draft. The 21-year-old is a rising, sure-fire first round pick. If he continues his steady play and gets Washington into the tournament, I think the Fresno native will crack the lottery, (not unlike another off-the-radar wing from UW in 2006 ... Brandon Roy anyone?).

As an NBA player, there are two aspects of his game that Pondexter must improve immediately: the first is his overall handle. In the college half-court set, he’s able to jab and use one or two dribbles to get to the rim because his first step is simply that much better than the defender's recovery. This won’t always be the case in the league. An improved handle will allow him the opportunity to effectively run pick-and-rolls (a staple of the NBA offensive diet), as well as aid in certain situations when his team goes big and he's forced to assume more of a set-up role in the offense. Furthermore, in the open floor when he’s forced to handle the ball and make decisions in transition, his current skill set is not there. Right now he's a great finisher but not a great decision maker. If he adds the latter to his game as well, he will earn consistent minutes as a pro.

As I eluded to earlier, Pondexter is more of an 18-feet and in rhythm shooter. At this stage, his jumpers come from either beating his man off the bounce, or using a slight in-and-out dribble or step-back to create space and rise up. These are good traits to have at any level, but in order to fully maximize his potential, it is imperative for him to increase his range out to the NBA three either by spotting up, creating, or running off screens. In essence, doing so makes his athleticism that much more dynamic and dangerous. The more defenders respect him as a shooting threat, the more Pondexter is able to drive and make plays, something he's already apt at doing.

All in all, I believe Pondexter will become a very effective NBA starter. Between his natural gifts and tenacious nature, he possesses too many intangibles to keep out of the line-up. Potential All-Star? That’s a stretch, but if he lands in a quality organization where he can learn early on, I think he’ll have a really nice career. His best-case scenario is to go to an established, veteran team where ultimately, he doesn’t have to be a go-to guy, but rather a reliable third or fourth scorer who can guard the opposition’s best wing. Think Corey Brewer or James Posey - productive starter or first guy off the bench type of player. The kind of guy every successful team needs.

Ray Allen and all of ESPN - seriously the home page is decked out - agree with me on the All-Star voting debacle.

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All-Decade List: The Best Of The NBA (And A Few Other Notes I Know You'll Appreciate)

  • Thursday, December 31, 2009 4:45 PM
  • Written By: Jordan Schultz

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The NBA has given us some pretty special moments. Here are some of the best from the decade. To quote the one and only Adam Sandler in "Billy Madison," "let's go!"

Best Performance Under Pressure

2006 NBA Finals, Dwayne Wade

In averaging 27 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 steals, Flash led the Heat back from a 2-0 deficit to beat Dirk and his vaunted Dallas squad. I’ve seen some pretty great performances over the years, but never have I seen such a willful and determined effort, where a player took over an entire series for such high stakes. Wade was downright dominant during these Finals - driving, dishing, pulling up, getting in passing lanes, orchestrating the comeback of comebacks. Kobe and Shaq were quite the duo in LA, but Wade carried his big man through this series. He was the culprit of it all.

Best Upset

2007 First Round, Warriors beat Mavericks

I remember thinking to myself how glaringly better Golden State matched up. Baron Davis abused Dallas time and time again, turning the fans at Oracle into a dramatic frenzy, unlike any other early-round series I can recall.



Avery Johnson’s press conferences added an entirely new dimension to this series, as he seemed lost and confused, like he had no idea of the freight train that just hit him.

Biggest Story

Tim Donaghy - Is there really any doubt?



The Donaghy fiasco is the runaway winner here. His antics and controversy have left a damaging perception of the NBA, and his recent book will only make matters worse. Naturally, fans will always criticize officials. It’s a part of the game, but never would we expect a story like this to surface, which is why I refuse to give credence to what otherwise would be my vote for best game-winner, Robert Horry’s three in Game 6 against Sacramento in the 2002 Western Conference Finals. I was at an AAU tournament in North Carolina watching this with my teammates. All we kept talking about was the free throw discrepancy in the fourth quarter, which saw the Lakers go to the line 27 times in 12 minutes, a statistic I still cannot fathom. Which leads me to …

Best Game-Winner

D-Fish!!! The diminutive class act out of Arkansas Little-Rock - and a guy whose pivotal role during the Lakers title runs cannot be understated - hit an improbable flick shot in San Antonio with 0.4 seconds left on the clock to beat the Spurs in Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference Finals. The Spurs had all but won, as both teams battled back and forth all game long.

But Fisher – who was clearly the third or even fourth option – came out of nowhere to sink a ridiculous, off-balance, running leaner. I remember watching this game at home. I was about to turn it off and head to the gym, but for whatever reason I stayed for the final play, and this is what I was blessed to witness…



Worst Draft Night Trade

2006, Timberwolves

Minnesota traded Randy Foye to Portland straight up for my former AAU teammate Brandon Roy. (Side Note: During my junior year of high school when Brandon was a college freshman, the Seattle PI ran a story on him and his quest to qualify academically at Washington. Anyways, we were working out together that night - as we often did - and the next morning I woke up with quite a surprise. Sure enough, there was a big picture of us joking around in between drills, with a couple captions talking about me as one of the premier guards in Seattle. Needless to say, I saved that paper (just let me know if you want a copy. I'd be happy to accommodate you).

Back to the trade though. Foye is a decent NBA guard who can provide energy and a spark off the bench, but B-Roy is a legitimate top 12-15 NBA player, who is already a two-time NBA All-Star well on pace for number three. Bad move, Mr. McHale.

Worst Trade

2003, Hornets

New Orleans traded Baron Davis to the Warriors for Speedy Claxton and Dale Davis! Whooo, this was a bad one.

Diddy re-established himself as an All-Star and top tier point guard, while orchestrating Golden State's monumental upset over Dallas in the 2006 playoffs. On the contrary, Speedy Claxton ate up cap room, while Dale Davis spent more time in ice than a polar bear, soon being forced to retire.

Honorable Mention: Bulls trade Elton Brand to Clippers for Tyson Chandler and Brian Skinner (2001), Rockets trade Richard Jefferson and others to the Nets for the now late Eddie Griffin (2001), and the Lakers trade Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins to Wizards for Kwame Brown and Laron Profit (2005).

Side Note: I'm not including the Vince Carter trade by Toronto because VC admitted to "tanking" games and had an extremely volatile relationship with the Raptors front office, not to mention the fact he was often booed by his home fans. Clearly his presence at Air Canada wasn't working anymore, and a change needed to be made. The rest of the league knew this, and because of all these factors, Carter's trade value had plummeted.

“Bad Trade” That Really Wasn’t Bad At All

2008, Lakers-Grizzlies

It is annoying how this one gets misperceived. The Grizzlies traded Pau Gasol to LA for brother Marc Gasol, the expiring contract of Kwame Brown and others, and two first-rounders from the Lakers, including their 2010 pick.

Clearly Memphis knew something nobody else did. The younger Gasol can play, as in really play. He's averaging a career-best 15 points, 10 rebounds, and more than a block and is a fringe All-Star. Better yet, he's only 24 years old. But perhaps most importantly in this league, the Grizz got a ton of cap room. Obviously, Pau helped anchor the Lakers title last season, so in essence, both parties walked away a winner. Bottom line? People need to stop referring to this as one of the most lopsided trades in history.

Biggest Bonehead Play

2006, Ricky Davis’ Triple-Double Rip-Off

To me, this was indefensible.

How can anyone rationalize such an idiotic move? For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, Davis was one rebound away from a triple-double during the Cavaliers' blowout against the Utah Jazz. Instead of being the classy guy he clearly isn’t and walking the ball up the floor, Davis proceeded to purposely miss a lay-up – on his own basket – get the rebound and then act like nothing happened. Good news is he wasn’t credited with the rebound. Of course, after seeing an injured Davis sipping on a certain brand of beverage during halftime of a Clippers game last season, I shouldn’t be surprised. But still, come on, man. Think Jerry Sloan appreciated this?



Most Annoying NBA Head Coach

Ron Jeremy - I mean Stan Van Gundy

His pitiful antics and berating of the Magic has become unbearable. By far, he’s my least favorite coach in the league today. And that says a lot considering that Larry Brown, Mike Brown and Mike Dunleavy are all roaming the sidelines. Imagine what Van Gundy would be like coaching a bad team. Dwight Howard said it all when he told reporters that Van Gundy needed to tone it down and be more positive with the young Magic squad. Uh, ya think?

Message to Stan: Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, buddy. Without Superman, you’re working for the Maine Red Claws of the NBDL … as a video coordinator. He only made matters worse for himself when he told ESPN that he “actually feel(s) sorry for people who have nothing to do on Christmas Day other than watch an NBA game.”



(See, there are striking similarities between these two dreadfully handsome individuals. Sorry for the large pic of Van Gundy. I just felt it added effect.)




How can NBA caliber athletes even take this tubby seriously?

Strangest Stories (All Sports)

Andre Agassi, anyone? Crystal meth, check. Toupee, check. Hating tennis, check. This is just too much.



Plaxico Burress – What is wrong with you, bro?

Tiger Woods – What is wrong with you, bro? I know you have more you're hiding man!!!

Duke Lacrosse – The DA in this case should forever be reprimanded from the justice system.

The Michael Vick bonanza. I’m an animal lover, so this struck an especially rough chord for me. Second chances are great, but this is too difficult for me to either accept nor forgive.

Kobe Bryant – Does anyone even remember the rape case? Paging anyone, Bueller, anyone? Have we ever seen an athlete recover from anything as potentially damaging and harmful as this story? This should be best comeback.

Brett Favre – Is there a more maligned future HOF than my least favorite character in “There’s Something About Mary?” “I’m coming back, no I’m not, wait yes I am, okay hi Jets, bye Jets, bye football again, Minnesota? Hell yes”… and those damned old Wrangler Jeans commercials. Seriously, they’ve been on the air for the entire decade. Enough!

Well, there you have it. Three entries of the best off-the-wall and often irrelevant moments of the decade. I hope you enjoyed it, and if you didn't, well, I don't blame you.

Here's to another wonderful 10 years my friends, and as always, thanks for the read . . .

One Loud Bell

  • Friday, October 23, 2009 4:48 AM
  • Written By: Jordan Schultz

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Sometimes the rare talents have a way of falling through the cracks. It’s easy enough to know about the McDonald’s and Parade All-Americans who commit to the Kentucky’s, Carolina’s, and Duke’s of the world. But how about that special player who goes to a smaller school and makes it big? How cool is that?

We witnessed it with Stephen Curry at Davidson and Eric Maynor at Virginia Commonwealth; both first-round draft choices last summer. Two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash – who went to Santa Clara – is another example. Certain kids just don’t get the hype during their prep days. Maybe they grow late or develop their games after high school. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I like to say, “I told you so.”

Keion Bell may be one of these kids. The Los Angeles native out of Pasadena High School went virtually un-recruited by the local powerhouses UCLA and USC, and accepted an offer to attend West Coast Conference cellar dweller Pepperdine, a small school that rests beautifully on the Malibu coastline.

Bell, now a sophomore with the Waves, has an unusual blend of power, speed and athletic ability from the point guard position. He is a confident player who attacks the rack with a vicious mentality, and uses his strength to absorb contact and finish around the rim. At 6-3, Bell was the leading guard rebounder in the conference last season, showing he isn’t afraid to mix it up down under with the trees.



The explosive athlete isn’t a consistent outside shooter yet but displays good technique and the ability to develop into one down the road. He must cut down his turnovers (nearly four a game), but this is not uncommon for a young player, especially one who was thrust into the starting point guard position as a true freshman. A source tells me that he is one of the hardest workers he’s ever seen, a true gym rat committed to reaching his ultimate destination – the NBA.

In his first season with the Waves, Bell averaged 13 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals. In two games against national powerhouse Gonzaga, he totaled 37 points and 21 boards. Another encouraging sign was that Bell produced even more in the postseason, averaging 17 points in the WCC Tournament. Bell understands the game really well as a young point guard, and knows how to control a game on both ends of the floor. He is a tenacious defender who welcomes the opposition’s best guard, even if it means he has to sacrifice some of his offense – something very challenging for players at every level.

Pepperdine is in the midst of a major rebuilding phase. Despite producing 16 NBA players,and having gone to 13 NCAA tournaments, the proud program has fallen on hard times lately, consistently finishing at the bottom of the West Coast Conference. Having to compete with Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, Santa Clara, and San Diego for recruits is difficult, but in the case of Keion Bell, they may have found lightning in a bottle. It’s no stretch to say he could lead them right up the totem pole to the top of the league once again.

Keion Bell still has three years remaining, but if he continues to improve at his current rate, he without question has the natural ability to become the 17th Wave to make it to the league.

Don’t say you weren’t warned…



Pritchard's Pitch

  • Sunday, July 12, 2009 12:24 PM
  • Written By: Jordan Schultz

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The Portland Trail Blazers may have just completed their basketball renaissance. GM Kevin Pritchard – despite all his faults - is borderline ridiculous with his moves to make Portland into a legitimate contender.

ESPN.com is reporting that they have offered Jazz PF and beast extraordinaire Paul Millsap a four-year contract worth between $32-36 million. Millsap isn’t a household name just yet, but he will be soon.

To put it the bargain of this deal into perspective, this would be like someone going into a BMW dealership and getting a brand new 5 series sedan for $15,000 off the asking price.

I know everyone loves the Lakers, Celtics, Cavs and even Magic as contenders next season, but it’s official, the Blazers are in that mix. Assuming Utah does not match the offer sheet on its restricted big man, Portland may now feature the best trio of big men in the NBA – with Aldridge, Joel Przybilla and his nine rebounds may be the best back-up center, and Millsap. The addition of Millsap takes pressure off of Sam Bowie (I mean, Greg Oden) and gives him time plenty of time to develop out of the limelight and not hurt his already damaged ego anymore.

With All-Star guard Brandon Roy only getting better, and the smooth shooting Rudy Fernandez on the perimeter, as well as a healthy Martell Webster and Travis Outlaw, this team has all of the tools to make a deep run in the playoffs.

Their only concern is Steve Blake at the point, who despite coming off one of his best seasons as a pro, remains too offensive minded and isn’t the facilitator such a talented team needs. Still, Blake is a solid floor general who doesn’t hurt you at this stage in his career. The youngster Jerryd Bayless from Arizona has a bright future ahead of him, and in time - if he's not traded as rumors have suggested - will be the dynamic point guard this team desperately needs.

In the first round against Houston, Portland got hammered on the glass. But it was more than just Yao Ming. Energy guys like Carl Landry and Chuck Hayes beasted the Blazer big men on hustle plays and loose ball scenarios. For all his talents, the young Aldridge's toughness and overall grit remain a work in progress. Oden still has no idea how to play, and Przybilla is foul prone, which is why Millsap is the perfect fit in the 503. An energy guy himself, Millsap loves contact and will immediately bolster the frontline of the Blazers. He can score on the block, yes, but his real contribution offensively is rebound put-backs and drive dump-offs.

In other words, he will go out and get you 15 and 10, but won’t demand the ball on the block and take away important touches from Roy and Aldridge.

To win a championship in this league, I think you need three key ingredients:
1. Top 10 player (Roy).
2. Top 25 player (Aldridge).
3. Top 50 player (Millsap).

Don’t believe in this formula? Just take a peak back from the past five Larry O’Brien winners: 2009 – Lakers – Top 10 (Kobe Bryant), Top 25 (Pau Gasol), Top 50 (Lamar Odom).
2008 – Celtics - Top 10 (Kevin Garnett), Top 25 (Paul Pierce), Top 50 (Ray Allen).
2007 – Spurs – Top 10 (Tim Duncan), Top 25 (Tony Parker), Top 50 (Manu Ginobili).
2006 – Heat – Top 10 (Dwayne Wade), Top 25 (Shaq), Top 50 (***Udonis Haslem/Antoine Walker***small exception to rule), but in this case, you have a top 5 player in Wade overcompensating).
2005 – Spurs (Same three as in '07).

Millsap’s new deal is hard to match because it’s heavily front-loaded, so it’s safe to say his acquisition is the premier signing of the off-season. This catapults Portland from a good squad into a team fully capable of winning a championship within the next three years.

Is Europe the NBA's Grim Reaper?

  • Saturday, May 9, 2009 10:19 AM
  • Written By: Jordan Schultz

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The NBA could be in serious danger.

Europe can now offer what the NBA cannot.

The NBA revolves around its superstars. It needs them. But what if premier players like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Dwayne Wade start thinking about Europe, the land of no salary cap and fewer regular-season games?

In the past few years, we have noticed a developing theme in the basketball world. NBA players are beginning to take their services to Europe where they can make more money and experience the European lifestyle. Jannero Pargo, Carlos Arroyo and Josh Childress were the three biggest names to do so this past off-season (excluding high schooler Brandon Jennings), and others seem inclined to make the leap as well. I know what your thinking. Losing second-rate players doesn’t matter. None of the marquee names has jumped ... at least not yet.

Last summer, rumors circled around that LeBron James had spoken with European teams and would strongly ponder taking his game overseas if he were offered a $50 million per year deal. When asked if he would consider such a deal himself, Kobe Bryant said: “I'd go. I'd probably go. Do you know any reasonable person that would turn down 50 (million dollars)?”

Hypothetically speaking, let’s assume Bryant wins at least one more title (he currently owns three rings) in the NBA. When his contract with the Lakers expires in 2011 (assuming he doesn’t opt out), the Mamba will still be just 33 years old - I know, scary huh? - and the lure of the insane moolah and European culture may be just the right combination to poach No. 24 from Hollywood.

Let’s not forget that Kobe spent much of his childhood living in Italy while his dad played professionally. He speaks fluent Italian, loves soccer, and as we know, is a man who loves a challenge. Italy features four teams in the Euroleague, considered to be the second best basketball league in the world, and a hotbed of young talent that has transplanted stars like Manu Ginobili and former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani into the NBA. In addition, Europe as a whole has only increased as the world’s No. 1 supplier of foreign players, including All-Stars Tony Parker, Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol.

Given the increasing popularity of players leaving America, a player of Kobe’s stature following suit isn’t that far-fetched. Europe is an untapped revenue resource for players. This past season, Bryant made $21 million from the Lakers. With the salary cap expected to decrease next year and maybe in the future as well, would he really turn down 50 million as well as the unholy endorsement deals he’d be sure to earn across the pond?

The impact of the NBA salary cap increased significantly in 1999 when the new collective bargaining agreement introduced the concept of the maximum contract. The so-called Bird Rights --- exceeding the cap to retain your own free agent --- still exist but the contract is limited to a fixed percentage of the cap.

Europe doesn’t have max contracts or salary caps, so owners have the luxury of offering a player as much money as they see fit. So you see, minor players leaving like Jannero Pargo and Josh Childress are really just the beginning. Should Bryant or another big name choose to leave, the trickle-down effect for the NBA would be catastrophic. Over the course of his illustrious career, Bryant has become one of those rare players that transcend a generation. He isn’t only one of the best players of our lifetime. He has joined the likes of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson as rare examples of players with historical relevance.

Now I know David Stern has spoken of possibly expanding the association beyond North America and into Europe, but given the current state of the economy and early stages of such a plan, we have to assume that this remains several years away. The departure of a player like Bryant makes the NBA vulnerable.

Today the Larry O’Brien Trophy is the crowned jewel in professional basketball, but if more quality players leave for Europe, its value and prestige would become less and less meaningful.

Think about like this: even amid the Tim Donaghy allegations, last season’s NBA Finals between LA and Boston were the highest rated in eight years. Fans desperately sought the chance to re-enact the classic Bird-Magic duels of the 80’s, because those series meant more than just a title; they represented everything that was great about the NBA with the best players in the world, and the biggest and brightest personalities. Right now the league is at a crossroads. James is a very easily marketed athlete who seems to understand what the league needs from him, both on and off the floor. He is the clear future of the NBA and the obvious face of the game. Kobe is still the alpha-dog, but he will soon pass the torch to LeBron ... if they stay in America.

If either leaves for Europe, the ultimate prize of an NBA Championship immediately loses its luster and relevance. There is only so much money Kobe or LeBron can earn stateside, and by exporting their talents outside of the U.S., they would instantly add gleam to the Euroleague or any other European Championship. Soon, it would represent the world’s elite talent.

In a recent interview on The Jim Rome Show, Mike Krzyzewski said that the key to the chemistry of Team USA during the Beijing Olympics was when LeBron and Kobe bought in to Krzyzewski’s philosophy. Then he said, the rest of the guys followed suit, and they became a unit. This is the type of impact Bryant is capable of having. If he leaves the NBA to go play in Europe --- even if only for a couple of seasons --- the temptation for others to join him would grow that much stronger. If the NBA suffers such a mass exodus of superstars, the league could soon become obsolete.

Still not convinced this may happen? Well, imagine this: you are told you could triple your salary, get paid in Euros, keep the same job you love, and all you have to do is move to a free mansion somewhere in Europe. Would you say yes? That’s what I thought.