Monday, November 01, 2004

Three the hard way

The Western Conference had a slight brown out during the finals, most
likely due to the soap opera that is the Lakers. We all know that
most of the talent is still out West, but there were some moves that
brought things a little bit closer. Let's see who the performers are
out West from first to worst:

1. San Antonio - Timmy Now! still anchors this team with solid
fundamental play. They were upset by the Lakers after going up 2-0 in
a stirring series, a lead that probably woke the Lakers up and got
them to start playing a little bit. I liked the moves they made in
the offseason: 1. Ginobli is back, coming off a gold medal experience
with Argentina 2. Brent Barry is in. Having Barry is huge. He has
great 3pt% and overall field goal percentage too. He plays smart with
the ball and has plenty of experience. He is going to be what the
Spurs needed to get over the hump last year. The Lakers dared
Turkoglu and Bowen to hit threes and they didn't. Nobody is going to
be able to pull that garbage with Barry. Plus with Shaq and Malone
gone, who will defend Duncan? Nobody. Malone was actually the most
effective defender on Duncan. He was physical and quick on him. He
was "pulling the chair out" from under Duncan at least two times a
game and getting travelling calls on him. Malone also saved O'Neal
from getting in foul trouble. Nobody else out west has proven capable
of defending Duncan, not K.G., not Webbs, not Amare, and certainly not
Gasol. I see an MVP and a trip to the finals for Timmy and Co.

2. Minnesota - They got over the first round curse in a big way. They
made it all the way to the conference finals but Sam Cassell was too
banged up when they got there. He didn't even play in some of those
games. They really needed his outside shooting and leadership. They
also had no answer for Shaq. Well, nobody does, but now they won't
have to worry about that issue until possibly the finals. This team
kept all the pieces it needs to make another deep run. They just need
to keep Golum healthy for the playoffs. As an added boost though,
Troy Hudson should be a contributor this year which will go a long way
towards keeping Sam off the I.L. If KG gets just a little bit more
aggresive (less fadeaway please, you're 7' freaking-1" for godsakes!)
then Minny is in for a great year.

3. Denver - This could be a bit of a stretch, but let me defend this
placement. They had a nice offseason with the addition of Kmart and
the resigning of Camby. Carmelo has another year of seasoning and a
chip on his shoulder because he didn't play much during the olympics
(even though he might have been USA's best shooter). Kmart I think is
big because he gives this team a tough-nosed defender and rebounder.
They now have a front court of Nene/Camby, Kmart, and Melo. Throw in
Veshon Lenord at the two spot and Andre Miller and Pedros Midget (aka
Boykins) at the point and you have a talented team top to bottom.
They tasted the playoffs last year and had some success which they are
going to build strongly on this year.

4. Dallas - Okay, they lost Nash, Jamison, Najera, and employee #8.
They gained Erik Dampier, Jerry Stackhouse, Jason Terry, Devin Harris
(r), and found out last years rookies (Daniels and Howard) are for
real in the playoffs. Losing Nash hurts but they were wise not to
overpay for him. He's getting up in years and it would suck to be
handing out cash to an injured guy. Dampier gives them a big physical
presence in the middle which they sorely needed. He'll help make up
for some of their defensive problems on the perimeter and should be a
good rebounder. Jason Terry brings a scoring guard/pg who can light
up a scoreboard ala Van Exel but won't dish like Nash. But none of
that should matter because everything hinges on Dirk becoming a
superstar this year. He's going to be the offensive focal point so
his assists should go through the roof. He showed some defensive
prowess in the playoffs. And those rookies from last year can
really, really play. Stack brings some instant offense, but lets see
how much he pouts. Maybe playing for a winnner will help. He's
mainly there to keep Finley's minutes down. I like this group a lot
and think they can go far in the playoffs. But there's a big team
chemistry change and we'll see how they survive it.

5. Sacto- Well, Peja is GREAT until the pressure is on. And Webber is
pretty much done physically. He was hobbling all over the place in
China. Vlade left town, and he was Peja's best friend. Oh, Peja
demanded a trade and Webber called him out for not stepping up (excuse
me Mr. Webber, where were you?) after another dissapointing playoff
run. Perhaps this group will unite once more to make their final stab
at the title now that Shaq is out of town. But it seems like the
clubhouse will be poisonous this year. They'll still make the
playoffs, but I think they'll wimper out again. Oh, and watch out for
Songalia when Webbs is out (and he will be). The kid can play and is
great insurance for Webber. I wonder which team had the smarts to
draft him? Hmmmm.....

6. Houston - Van Gundy got what he wanted, which was to be done with
Stevie Franchise. He gets one of the NBA's best players in return,
albeit a guy who dogged it last year big time. Yao continues to
impress and should be the most dominant pivot man in the West this
year. In the playoffs Shaq got motivated playing against Yao and
destroyed him. This year, Yao is the man who should be doing the
destroying. This team is similar to last years Lakers in that the
role players are total garbage. Charlie Ward at the point? Bob Sura
working on his tan? Dikembe Mutumbo growing roots in the floor? Jim
Jackson and Juwan Howard are the only bright spots here. Whenever Van
Gundy goes to his bench, "Houston, we have a problem." will be the
catch phrase to use. Still as the Lakers showed two Superstars can
shine, even in the West. It only remains to be seen if Tmac can bring
his level of play back up and be more than a scorer.

7. Utah - You know, I'm probably underestimating them by placing them
here. They had an amazing infusion of talent this offseason. Memhet
Okur and Carlos Boozer added to AK47 equals one of the NBA's best
front courts. They drafted two very atheletic and talented players in
Kris Humphries and Kirk Snyder who will have the luxury of learning
from a coaching master and not having to shoulder too much of a load
their first year in the league. Back from the I.L. is Matt Harpring,
their best player two years ago when nearly averaged a double-double
from the 3spot. Carlos Arroyo has his confidence up after dismantling
the U.S. in international play at the point and again, they have the
BEST coach in the league right now. Jerry Sloan almost got the Jazz
into the playoffs last year in the west with a motley crew of players
(AK47 excluded). With this kind of talent I expect some big things
from this group. I don't see any reason why they can't be higher on
this list of teams, and they probably will be. This team is a reason
to get NBA-League pass in my opinion because they are going to be a
well coached thing of beauty. Sloan gets coach of the year this year,

8. Lakers - I'm not sure what to make of this team. Kobe is going to
be allowed to shoot as much as he wants. Whether or not that's a good
thing, I dunno. I can't wait to see what happens the first time he
demands the ball and doesn't get it. I see some fist-fights on this
team, with Lamar Odom winning. Lamar can't be happy about being #2
man on the totem pole again after really flourishing in Miami and
playing a very team oriented game. I was tempted to leave them out of
the playoffs, but I think Kobe has a lot to prove after forcing Shaq
out of town. I don't think he let's them miss the playoffs. But for
the sake of team-chemistry it's a good thing most NBA players can't
read. Phil's book could have really cemented the opinions of some of
Bryants new teammates.


9. Memphis - They played the most team oriented game last year and
broke their streak of futility since entering the league in Vancouver.
Gasol is a stud and they just maxed him out. Hubbie Brown showed
that coaching isn't all about relating to the players, it's about
coaching them up which he did. He rightly deserved coach of the year
honors. However, the offseason was less than productive. The only
major addition was the human swiss army knife that is Brian Cardinal.
He'll do anything to help a team win, making him a perfect fit for
Hubbie's system. But the Logo really wanted Erik Dampier. He wasn't
willing to pay the asking price in talent or cash so maybe Dampier
isn't worth it. Still, Memphis has a lot of talent stock piled on
their roster and they should be active come trading deadline time. I
think Memphis could bump the Lakers out of the playoffs.

10. Phoenix - They sure did load up their back court with free agent
signings of Steve Nash and Quentin Richardson. I can see Nash, but
why Q? Joe Johnson really broke out at the end of last season and now
they've got a higher paid less atheletic version of him in the
presence of Q. Amare Stoudemire really regressed last year and he
looked totally lost out at the Olympics. I think he's bought his own
hype and isn't really working on getting better. I don't like
anything about Phoenix's offseason and I don't like this teams

11. Seattle - Rumor has it that Ray Allen's back is already an issue
and he could miss substantial playing time again. Rashard Lewis is
decent, but has clearly hit his talent cap after signing a fat
contract. Seattle was wise not to give him the max. They lost a great
team player and a leader in Brent Barry and got nothing in return.
What they do have is rookie Nick Collison coming back after a
dissapointing first year in the L when he missed every game due to
injury. I thought Collison was really going to help this team last
year, and I think he will this year. I look for him to have a decent
year. But this team needs another dip in the lottery after drafting
first round token white-bust Robert Swift. He sure will look goofy on
that bench.
12. New Orleans - Not only did George Shinn screw the city of
Charolette over, he screwed his own team over. Welcome to the Western
Conference you idiot. Here are Charolette's problems: Masburn ain't
coming back. Ever. B.Diddy is good, but plays recklessly and is
going to break down physically. A bad back is hard to get rid of in
the NBA. Magloire wants out of Charlotte because he hates the owner
and doesn't want to be in the West where he is not going to be making
any All-Star teams, that's for sure. Look for this team to be moved
again too because the last thing the residents of a city below sea
level need is to watch another overpriced group of gentlemen dog it on
the court/field.

13. Portland - They pushed for a playoff spot because Maurice Cheeks
is a great coach. During the offseason Qyntel woods was arrested for
arranging dog fights, Zach Randolph got caught with pot and harrassed
a police officer, they drafted a small high school point guard who was
over hyped and will be out of the league soon, and they failed to move
a very disgruntled Shareef-Abdur Rahim. The Chemistry is going to be
explosive with this bunch and not in a good way. I feel bad for
Cheeks, he deserves better. More importantly, the good people of
Portland deserve much, much better than this group of players.

14. Da Clips - Another year, another trip to the lottery. Elton Brand
is on track to put up hall of fame numbers and never even taste
playoff action. There's not much to say about this team. Maybe
Dunleavy can coach 'em up, but this half of the NBA is too talented to
get by with a bunch of pretenders.

15. Golden State - They resigned Adonal Foyle to a ridiculous contract
and let in successive years both Gilbert Arenas and Erik Dampier walk.
Mully has a lot of work on his hands, this team doesn't really have
many prospects.

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