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If The NBA Playoffs Started Today

The playoffs start in the last weeks of April, and it should be a good one this year. For starters there is the return of the injured Derrick Rose to the Chicago Bulls, the new big three in Cleveland, and the always powerful western conference. These results were based off the week of November 14-17.

If for some strange reason the playoffs kicked off tonight there would be quite a mix-up of the usual teams that are in the playoffs each season. 

For example, the defending champion San Antonio Spurs with the eight seed would face the hot Memphis Grizzlies with the first seed.

That is one of the surprises early in the season.  Yes we know that it will never happen having playoffs in the middle of November, but wouldn’t it be fun to see some of the other irregular playoff matchups as of now. 

Let’s start with the always powerful Western Conference

We discussed the defending champs taking on the Grizzlies.  These teams actually battle it out come playoff time, but most of the time the Spurs are first place while the Grizzlies are in the eight seed.  

The Spurs and the Grizzlies are two great teams.  So whether one is first, last, or vice versa.  These playoff bound teams will always put on a show in the stacked western conference.

Next, there is the battle of the 2 and the 8 seed.  There is the second seed Houston Rockets, and the 7th seed New Orleans Pelicans. 

The Rockets, since picking up James Harden and Dwight Howard are always a force coming out of the west.  They are no strangers to the playoffs.

The New Orleans Pelicans on the other hand are the new kids on the block but with their star Anthony Davis having a stellar season and their offense improving since last season; it is not farfetched to see the Pelicans chasing the Larry O’Brien Trophy. 

The third seed in the west in this young season is the Golden State Warriors and their young high flying team.  With names like the “Splash Brothers” both Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry lead this team with fast-paced offense and high percentage shooting. 

Besides their superb shooting, they also have big men that can hold down the paint, and yes take great shots.
The team that they will face off against will be the Phoenix Suns. 

The Suns were not even a playoff team last year, but with star Eric Bledsoe showing the league and the naysayers criticizing him of his big contract in the off season why they paid him so much. 
He also has the likes of Goran Dragic, and Isaiah Thomas in the starting lineup it is time to consider that the ever so difficult has improved even more with the Suns stepping it up this season. 

They are moving in the right direction to be a force in the west for the next few years.

If this team were in the eastern conference it would be a playoff team without a doubt.  That just shows how difficult the West is.  Not only do you have to win, but win a lot. 

The Phoenix Suns should be in the playoffs come April, but we shall see how that goes. 

The final hypothetical matchup is one between the Dallas Mavericks and the Portland Trailblazers.  The Blazers have the 4th seed while the Mavs have the 5th seed.  These two teams are always in the mix. 

The Mavs won it all back in 2011.  They were able to take care of the Miami Heat in six games.

These teams still have a tough long road ahead of them.  In this hypothetical situation there is a  team that  finished in second place last season, but are not even in the playoffs. 

This team is the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Thunder has an excuse a pretty good one at that.  They are missing not one but two of its stars.  The Thunder had initially started out with their biggest star, Kevin Durant. 

Durant’s loss was an instant impact.  Durant is the defending NBA scoring champ, so you know that the Thunder is missing that.  

If that was not enough of a tough loss, a few games in the season they lose their other star Russell Westbrook. 

The Thunder look to get their stars back sometime during the season, and hopefully they are able to bounce back and be in the playoffs again.

Now let’s look at the Eastern conference.  The East has been known to have a handful of good teams. 

Yes they are not as stacked as the West is but the teams that are in the playoffs and most notably the top five or six are constant visitors to the playoffs. 

The first mock matchup comes with the number one Toronto Raptors vs. The Brooklyn Nets.  The Raptors are looking to bounce back from last season. 

This matchup will be a rematch of last years first round playoffs where the Raptors who were the Atlantic Division champs and the 3rd playoff berth. 

The Raptors are one of the hottest teams this season.  They stumbled in the playoffs where they were able to take the Nets to seven games, where they were able to beat the Raptors.

With young stars like Demar Derozan and Kyle Lowry the Raptors look to continue being on top of the Atlantic and what looks like the Eastern Conference as well.  

They face off against the Brooklyn Nets.  The Nets are kind of a mystery at times. 

They are not talked about as much as other notable Eastern Conference teams.  With a combination of young and old stars the Nets are always in the mix come playoff time. 

The current leading scorer Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett, and Brook Lopez it’s hard to say that they cannot succeed in April.
The next matchup comes with the seven seeded Miami Heat vs. the Washington Wizards. 

The Heat coming out of the NBA Finals a loser, and losing their biggest player in the offseason look to show what they got without the services of LeBron James.

They still have the majority of their core in Miami, with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.

Yet, without James the Heat struggle, but that does not mean that they will get it together and show why they went to the NBA Finals for four straight years.

The Wizards, who are trying to go back to the playoffs after they took on the heavily favored Chicago Bulls and taking care of them in five games.  

They still look to continue from last years success and after adding some help on the bench and starting lineup its looking good for Washington’s chances. 

They have the services of John Wall, and the veteran Paul Pierce to help them get there.

The next matchup is the Chicago Bulls vs.  The Milwaukee Bucks.  The Bulls who were taken care of by the Wizards last season look to come back to the playoffs with a chip on their shoulder. 

They will also have their young star Derrick Rose somewhat healthy after missing all of last season and only playing 10 games in the last two seasons. 

Besides Rose’s return they were also able to add the team with the Spaniard Pau Gasol joining the Bulls this season, after he left the Lakers for the Windy City.  

The Bucks are a surprise team right now even early in the season, but yet they are still in the mix.  Who knows if that will continue this season. 

Yet they have a stacked roster on paper.  There is O.J. Mayo, Brandon Knight, Jared Dudley, Larry Sanders, and Zaza Pachulia it’s easy to say they are playoff bound.

The final matchup is the fourth seeded Cleveland Cavaliers and the fifth seeded Atlanta Hawks.  The biggest news of the offseason was in Cleveland. 

For starters the Cavs got the first overall pick again, the return of LeBron James, and the signing of Kevin Love. 

The Cavs are the favorite to win the NBA Finals now that they have both James, and Love, but you cannot forget the young Kyrie Irving it is difficult to bet against this new big three. 

The Hawks on the other hand are playoff bound again after last season where they were able to nab the 8th seed before being taken out by the number overall seed Indiana Pacers.  

Yet they continue to be there when playoffs start.   Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague, and Kyle Korver are the ones leading the Hawks to the top of the east, but can they push through the first round of the playoffs or will it be the same story as the last few years.

Talking about the ones that are currently not in the mix is the former first seed in the Eastern Conference the Indiana Pacers. 

The Pacers have a dismal record and look pretty bad in this young season.  They are also missing their star Paul George, who was injured playing with Team USA in the FIBA championships. 
They are trying to come back and be a force in the east how they have for the past two years.  They took on the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals last two years.

So you know they are doing something right, but will that be the same this season.

We will hypothetically see this season, to see if these teams will be in the same spots they are now. 

Or will we see one of the teams that are currently out of the playoffs be the first seed or will they stay out?  Will teams that were in the conference finals, that are now out of the playoffs make a run again. 

We will see but if the playoffs started today it would still be a good two months of playoff basketball.

4 Questions for the Upcoming NBA Season

By Omar Rodriguez


The NBA is back.  The basketball gods are alive again.

Since the San Antonio Spurs defeated the Miami Heat to claim their fourth ring, a lot of things have changed. The biggest news of course is the return of the “King,” LeBron James, to the Cleveland Cavaliers.  The return comes after his rocky departure and the debacle that was The Decision, where he announced on national television that he will be taking his talents to South Beach.

Along with James, Kevin Love was added to the Cavs roster.  So now with Love, James, and young gun Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers are now the favorites to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy come June.

And there are more new faces in new places.  For example, Paul Pierce to the Washington Wizards, Pau Gasol to the Chicago Bulls, and Chandler Parsons leaving the Houston Rockets to join their Texas neighbor, the Dallas Mavericks.

Andrew Wiggins, the first overall pick of the Cavs, had not even played one minute on the team before he was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Kevin Love trade.  It’s a good time to be a fan of basketball. With that said, here are some of the questions for the new NBA season.

 

Will the Cavs Take it All?

Before LeBron James’ announcement, the Cavs were among the bottom 10 teams in terms of winning the NBA championship.  After the announcement, they jumped up to the top five.

And after Kevin Love—aka “the Double-Double Machine”—was traded from the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Cavs, Cleveland is now the favorite to win it all.  James, arguably the best player in the league, can make any team a contender.

Now, with an impressive supporting cast including Love and Irving, they are clearly the best team on paper.  The Cavaliers will still have some kinks to work out.  They will still need to decide on a starting lineup, and with James and Love getting plugged into the offense, the players will have to adjust to one another.

Throughout the preseason, the Cavs showed glimpses of what they can be—or are going to be—this season.  The team should only improve as its plethora of superstars mesh with one another.  Kevin Love is coming off a double-double average season with 26 points and 12 rebounds. In Minnesota, he was the lead scorer and the go-to guy for the Wolves.  Can he still be a force now that he will not be the go to guy anymore?  The claims that his defensive skills are lackluster will certainly be under the microscope this season.

Kyrie Irving, the star player before the arrival of James and Love, will have to adjust to being the third option instead of the primary option.  He will still get his touches and his points this season, but will he be what we know he can be this season?  LeBron James will now take those last-second shots for the win, and Kevin Love will be down low attacking the paint.  Will Irving be playing the clean up crew and still be able to be one of the best point guards in the game, or will he be overshadowed?  Only time will tell.

With all that being said, the Cavs are still the ones to topple in the East.  But with the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, and hot young teams like the Washington Wizards and the Toronto Raptors on their tails, it should be an exciting Eastern conference shootout.

 

Can the Spurs Repeat?

The reigning NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs took care of business and beat the Miami Heat in five games.  The previous season, with the Heat and Spurs playing in the Finals again, the Spurs fell apart in the final two games.

It all started with the debacle that was Game 6 where they were up by five points with less than 30 seconds left. They would eventually tie the game and send it to overtime after Ray Allen and his three-pointer. The Heat pulled away in overtime and eventually won game 7 to claim their second straight NBA title.  This stuck with the Spurs, who would soon get their chance to take on the Heat again for the championship.

Of course things would be different.

The Spurs outplayed the Heat and the rest of the Western Conference in the playoffs in 2013.  They finished with the best record in the league.  They were hot.

Along with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, and Tony Parker the Spurs still had most of their core.  In the background, Kawhi Leonard was slowly developing and improving with the best team in the NBA.  Leonard had a great playoff run last year, nabbing the NBA Finals MVP.

He is one of the best all-around players in the league.  He is one of the young stars on the aging Spurs.  He is the future of the team.  The core of the team Duncan, Ginobli, and Parker all returned for the Spurs this season.  The most notable free agent for San Antonio this season was not a player this season, but a coach.

The Spurs were happy to announce that head coach Gregg Popovich would return for a few more seasons.  Along with Duncan and Boris Diaw, who decided to return to the team after signing contract extensions, it was obvious that Popovich would stay as well.  The core of the team is still there so they will always be a threat.  Yet nobody talks about the Spurs during the regular season, even though they always finish either first or second in the tougher of the two conference.

Teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trailblazers, Golden State Warriors, and the Los Angeles Clippers are always in the mix as well. San Antonio is not a glamorous team that always catches headlines, and they are ok with that.  They let their play do the talking.

With a great coach, seasoned veterans, and a young star, the Spurs will always be in the mix to be in the playoffs, and most notably the NBA Finals to claim their fifth title.  They now have to deal with a new revamped Cavaliers team that has LeBron and Love.

 

Should Games Be Shortened?

After the NBA announced that it would experiment with shorter game times, the league was unsure what to expect.  The new game would be played in 44 minutes instead of the usual 48.  The first game played with the new time was between the Brooklyn Nets and the Boston Celtics.

The average time for a regular game is two hours and 15 minutes.  The new game was played in one hour and 58 minutes. The quarters were now only 11 minutes, and the second and fourth quarters only used two timeouts instead of the usual three.  The time could benefit some players to take some ease off of them for the long season.

Another suggestion around the league would be to shorten the season instead of shortening the games. The season consists of 82 games for each team.  Now the possibility of the season getting shortened is unlikely.  There are clear financial issues that would stop both the owners and the players.

It would not benefit either financially, but will benefit the players giving them more time to rest and play harder with fewer games on the schedule.  It would ultimately benefit the fans of the NBA since the players would be better rested and not as fatigued.

The last time the season was shortened was the 2011 NBA season, and that was cut by means of a lockout that lasted from mid-July to Christmas Day.  The season was now 66 games instead of the regular 82.  The loss of the 16 games cost the owners, league, and its players over 400 million dollars.  So the likelihood of the season being cut down is pretty low.

The time shortage will be more of a possibility but not much of a difference in the eyes of the players and the fans.  The difference of only 17 minutes is not that drastic, so the likelihood of the four-minute shortage is not likely.  The league should try to look at things that can be cut down during the game.

Some of the things that can be worked on is enforcing when timeouts are done, times of free throws, analysis of replays, and delay of games.  Stricter rules should be implemented on these things before moving on to cutting the actual game and season.

 

Which New Face in a New Place (Besides James and Love) Will Have the Biggest Impact on Their Team?

The reason that James and Love are not included in this section is that we all know that they will succeed.

As stated earlier, the Cavs are the new favorites to win the trophy.  But who else has a shot to have the biggest impact on their team? Pau Gasol with the Bulls?  Gasol was one of the most sought after free agents this past season.  After rejecting the Los Angeles Lakers’ contract extension, Gasol decided to take his talents to the Windy City to join Derrick Rose and the fan favorite Joakim Noah.

The Bulls, now looking healthier than ever, sit behind the Cavs to win the East after adding Gasol and with a healthy Rose.

Then there is “The Truth”—Paul Pierce—joining the high-flying John Wall in Washington.  The Wizards are a little short-handed, so Pierce will most likely be starting this season, unlike like last season where he came off the bench with the Brooklyn Nets.

Another aging veteran who has been moved around is Vince Carter joining the Memphis Grizzlies.  Carter will likely still be coming off the bench, but his services will help the Grizzlies be an even bigger contender in the West.

One of the biggest stories was the previous Houston Rockets’ team being imploded. Chandler Parsons left for one of the other teams in the Lone Star State.  Then there was Jeremy Lin partaking in the Hollywood lifestyle by joining the Los Angeles Lakers, and most likely being the starter after Steve Nash announced that he will be out for the rest of the season due to lingering back injuries.

Then there is Omer Asik flew east to join the New Orleans Pelicans and their young star, Anthony Davis.  Parsons is one of the best small forwards in the league right now and should have an instant impact on the aging Mavericks squad. It’s interesting to see players with new teams, with some leaving entire conferences.  So they will then have to adjust to a new conference and a new team.

Finally, there is Andrew Wiggins, who technically is not a new face in a new place since he has not played one NBA minute yet, having been was traded from the Cavs to the Wolves in the Love trade.

So he changed teams within a few months, and before officially playing one regular-season minute this year, he is still considered the front-runner for rookie of the year.  His Minnesota Timberwolves seem to be taking shape with the Spainiard Ricky Rubio and the former UNLV star Anthony Bennett backing him up.

Wiggins was the first overall pick for a reason.  He now knows where he will play this year, after he was unsure whether he would be a Cav or not.  He now has some additional fire after the Cavs traded him to show them what they missed out on with their first overall pick.

This year’s NBA season should be a good one, with the new big three formed in Cleveland, other teams stacking up their rosters to combat the Cavs, and of course the reigning NBA Champs in San Antonio.  As the season plays out, some of these questions might be answered, some might not.

Can they come out swinging or will they stumble out the gate?  Or will the stumbling happen at the end of the season come playoff time?  The Spurs, no longer the favorite to win, even though they won it all last year, want teams to underestimate them.

They know who they are, and with their mixture of veteran and young talent, it looks like they have the formula to do it again.  The league can also continue to try out the 44-minute game to see if it can actually work.  Now that the crazy free agency has come to an end and we see familiar faces in unfamiliar places, we get to see what they can offer to their new clubs.  Let the threes fly, the dunks slam, the trash talking begin, and the nasty crossovers commence.

The NBA is back.


Omar Rodriguez is a writer for Scouts Alley.

2014-15 New York Knicks Preview

By Joe Nocco


A season after finishing ninth in the Eastern Conference and missing the playoffs, the New York Knicks have revamped their team by re-signing Carmelo Anthony and hiring rookie head coach Derek Fisher. Finishing with a 37-45 record in 2013-2014, team president and general manager Phil Jackson hopes that he can lead the Knicks back to the postseason in his first full season in the front office.

After joining the Knicks front office in March, Jackson has attempted to change the attitude and culture of a struggling New York team through free agency, the trade market and a new offensive scheme.

It seems as if everyone in the Knicks organization is on board with the 11-time NBA Champion’s plan. In previous years, the Knicks’ complications stemmed from their lack of defense and focus solely on outscoring opponents. However, last season provided problems in all aspects of the game.

The Knicks finished in the bottom half of the league in most major offensive and defensive categories a season ago. New York ranked 20th in points per game—with 98.6—and 16th in field-goal percentage, coming in at 44.9. Despite ranking eighth in the league in fewest points allowed, the Knicks allowed the fifth highest field-goal percentage for opponents. Though the Knicks held their opponents to under 100 points per game, they allowed nearly 40 points in the paint per game as well.

It is difficult to win games when nearly half of the points allowed are inside the paint especially in close games. The Knicks went 3-8 in games decided by three points or fewer last season, while going 2-3 in overtime. Had New York closed out one of these games, they could have qualified for the postseason.

The Knicks also finished with a 15-29 record against teams with a win percentage over .500. With the second highest payroll in the NBA behind cross-town rival Brooklyn Nets, the problems begin and end at the top.

Derek Fisher, a longtime player under Jackson, was hired as the 26th head coach in Knicks history. Fisher was set to retire following the 2013-2014 after 18 seasons as a player and was signed to a five-year contract with New York on June 10. Fisher and Jackson won five NBA titles as a part of the Los Angeles Lakers and hope to implement a similar system that they used in LA in New York.

The system that will be used in New York is commonly known as the triangle offense. The sole purpose of this offense is to take the ball out of the hands of, in this case, Carmelo Anthony and spread the ball around. This would allow Anthony to get open without having the ball while letting other role players become involved with the offensive game plan. In the long run, the triangle offense relieves Anthony of the pressure of constantly handling the ball and always relying on him to carry the offense.

Carmelo Anthony finished second in the league in scoring, averaging 27.4 points per game. However, Anthony finished 72nd in field-goal percentage after sinking less than half of his shots. At 45.2 percent, the Knicks’ leading scorer made 9.6 out of every 21.3 shot attempts.

The triangle offense also translates to an effective defensive scheme. Instead of Anthony running down the court and chucking up a 25-foot shot, the ball will be worked around the perimeter until an efficient shot can be taken. This will increase the Knicks’ time of possession and keep fresh legs on defense, slowing down the tempo of the game. However, once the triangle is fully learned and executed correctly the tempo can speed up resulting in a high-scoring offensive attack.

Re-signing Carmelo Anthony was the key for the success of this offense. Though Anthony was a major part of this offense and team, the triangle offense cannot be executed properly with just one player. In lieu of re-signing the face of the franchise, Phil Jackson made his presence known in New York by making a six-player trade with the Dallas Mavericks.

Just 16 days after signing Derek Fisher to a contract, Jackson dealt center Tyson Chandler and point guard Raymond Felton to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for guards Shane Larkin, Jose Calderon and Wayne Ellington along with veteran center Samuel Dalembert. The Knicks also received the 34th and 51th picks in the 2014 NBA draft, a draft in which the Knicks previously had no picks.

The move not only bolstered the Knicks bench but made salary cap space for the possibility of Carmelo Anthony re-signing. Jackson’s thought processes proved effective after Antony returned to his hometown on a five-year, $124 million deal.

Jackson wasn’t finished after using the received picks to draft Cleanthony Early from Wichita State and Thanasis Antetokounmpo from Greece. The front office couldn’t believe that Early was still available in the second round and are expecting a strong rookie season. Antetokounmpo, on the other hand, will be stashed overseas to continue to develop for New York. His brother, Giannis, currently plays for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Still, Jackson wasn’t satisfied. The Knicks traded away Wayne Ellington two months after acquiring him from Dallas along with Jeremy Tyler in exchange for Travis Outlaw and Quincy Acy from the Sacramento Kings.

It seems as though Carmelo Anthony has bought into the Jackson and Fisher philosophy as the Knicks eye a playoff berth. Although the Knicks are set to win now, both Jackson and Anthony know that this may take time. However, along with the new acquisitions and the return of Anthony, the Knicks have other pieces in place that will allow New York to compete in a weak Eastern Conference.

Amare Stoudemire is in the last year of his contract and will be playing for his future—not just in New York but in the NBA. Stoudemire is set to make $23.4 million this season after signing a contract with the team in the summer of 2010. Former No. 1 overall draft choice Andrea Bargnani also returns to the Knicks’ lineup after suffering a season ending elbow injury. Both Stoudemire and Bargnani opted into the final year of their contracts to stay with the Knicks this season.

The Knicks backcourt comprised of Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Tim Hardway Jr. also remained intact, which will provide a three-point threat and solid defense at the top.

With his near $100 million payroll in place, Phil Jackson is ready to begin what appears to be an eventful 2014-2015 season.

“I flashed back to 1989 when I took over as head coach and had talked to Michael (Jordan) about how I wanted him to share the spotlight with his teammates so the team could grow and flourish,” said Jackson. “In those days he was a gifted young athlete with enormous confidence in his own abilities who had to be cajoled into making sacrifices for the team.

“Now he was an older, wiser player who understood that it wasn’t brilliant individual performances that made great teams, but the energy that’s unleashed when players put their egos aside and work toward a common goal. Good teams become great ones when the members trust each other enough to surrender the ‘me’ for the ‘we.’”


Joe Nocco is a writer for Scouts Alley and covers the New York sports beat on JoeNoccoSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JoeNoccoSports.

2014-15 Brooklyn Nets Preview

By Joe Nocco


Finishing sixth in the Eastern Conference a season ago, a new-look Brooklyn Nets team eyes a fresh start under new head coach Lionel Hollins. After defeating the Toronto Raptors in seven games in the first round of the 2013-14 NBA Playoffs, the Nets were bounced back to Brooklyn by LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the conference semi-finals.

Advancing to the postseason with a rookie head coach is no easy task, but after recording just 44 wins last season, expect a stronger year from the Nets in 2014-15.

Hollins, the former head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies, was signed to a four-year deal worth $20 million if the sides agree to a fourth-year option. The July 7th deal came just after head coach Jason Kidd was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks for second-round picks in 2015 and 2019. Kidd was the fourth head coach to leave a team following his rookie season and the first since 1979-1980.

While in Memphis, Hollins led the Grizzlies to four straight playoff appearances from 2010-2013 winning 50 or more games in his final two seasons with the franchise. The defensive-minded coach helped the Grizzlies regain a presence in the Western Conference through rebounding and a defensive authority. During the time Hollins spent in Memphis, his team ranked second in defensive efficiency, third in opponents field-goal percentage and tied for second in rebounding percentage.

The Nets ranked in the bottom half of the league in each of those categories.

“Practice, practice, practice,” Hollins said. “Repetition. We’re going to put them in stressful situations at practice. We’re going to push them and just try to get them to go beyond what you would normally do in a game. Can everybody be tougher? I think they can. How tough can they be? I have no idea and maybe one or two guys can’t make any change but that remains to be seen.”

Aside from a new head coach, the Nets have also added depth to the bench through the trade market and draft in hopes of reviving a struggling Nets offense that ranked 21st in points per game last season.

Brooklyn traded for guard Jarrett Jack to replace the void left by Shaun Livingston, who opted to join the Golden State Warriors. The Cleveland Cavaliers were eager to part ways with the veteran guard in order to make cap space for the return of LeBron James. Jack averaged 9.5 points per game in 80 games with the Cavs.

In addition to the departure of Livingston, the Nets also lost center Andray Blatche who joined the Xinjiang Flying Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association and forward Paul Pierce who signed with the Washington Wizards.

The Nets used the draft to acquire younger talent to replace Blatche and Pierce, adding Oklahoma State guard Markel Brown and Bojan Bogdanovic from Yugoslavia, who was originally drafted by the Miami Heat in 2011. Brown, who was typically overshadowed by his backcourt mate in Marcus Smart, averaged 15.3 points per game in his junior season and 17.2 points per game in his senior season. The rookie also averaged 34.7 minutes per game in his final two seasons at Oklahoma State.

With depth in the backcourt accounted for, center Brook Lopez must play a larger role in the Nets’ attack both on offense and defense. Lopez was cleared to play in August after suffering a Jones’ fracture in his foot in a December game but reinjured tissue in his foot and could miss 10-14 days. This is the same fracture that reigning MVP Kevin Durant recently suffered. Before his season was ended due to the foot injury, Lopez was averaging a career-high 20.7 points a game on 56.3 percent shooting.

The new-look Nets seem to have successfully paired youth and talent but must receive more production from veteran guards Deron Williams and Joe Johnson in order to truly improve. Johnson averaged 15.7 points per game and 2.7 assists per game last season while Williams averaged 14.3 points per game and 6.1 assists per game.

Key role players Andrei Kirilenko, Kevin Garnett, Mason Plumlee and Mirza Teletovic will all be returning to aid Hollins in his first year in Brooklyn.


Joe Nocco is a writer for Scouts Alley and covers the New York sports beat on JoeNoccoSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JoeNoccoSports.

NBA Preview: Atlantic Division

By Jonathan Diego


Boston Celtics

2013-14 Record: 25-57, 4th in the Atlantic Division

Coach: Brad Stevens

Returning Players: Chris Babb (G), Keith Bogans (G), Jeff Green (F), Chris Johnson (F/G), Phil Pressey (G), Rajon Rondo (G), Avery Bradley (G) (Re-signed), Jared Sullinger (F), Gerald Wallace (F), Brandon Bass (F), Vitor Faverani (C), Kelly Olynyk (C).

Players Acquired: Marcus Smart (G), James Young (G/F), Marcus Thornton (G), Tyler Zeller (F/C), Joel Anthony (opt-in) (C).

Players Lost: Jerryd Bayless (G), Kris Humphries (sign-and-trade) (F/C)

In season 2 of Brad Stevens’ tenure as head coach, the Celtics have plenty of different pieces that will definitely take some time to develop. With the selections of Marcus Smart and James Young in the 2014 NBA draft, the end of Rajon Rondo’s time in a Celtics jersey appears to be looming on the horizon.

Re-signing Avery Bradley solidified the Boston backcourt for now, and it will be interesting to see how Stevens continues to lead the Celtics through a rebuilding period.

Prediction: If Rondo stays for now, this team wins 30 games. If he leaves before the season starts, 28 wins and another 4th place finish in the Atlantic. This season also produces another Jeff Green buzzer-beater, and a Phil Pressey to James Young alley-oop that lands in the top 10 ESPN plays for one day.

Brooklyn Nets

2013-14 Record: 44-38, 2nd in the Atlantic Division

Coach: Lionel Hollins

Returning Players: Deron Williams (G), Joe Johnson (G), Jorge Guiterrez (G), Marquis Teague (G), Mirza Teletovic (F), Mason Plumlee (F), Andrei Kirilenko (opt-in) (F), Alan Anderson (re-signed) (F/G). Brook Lopez (C).

Players Acquired: Jarrett Jack (G), Sergey Karasev (G/F), Markel Brown (G), Cory Jefferson (F), Xavier Thames (G), Bojan Bogdanovic (F).

Players Lost: Shaun Livingston (G), Paul Pierce (G/F), Marcus Thornton (G), Ilkan Karaman (F), Christian Drejer (F), Edin Bavcic (F).

Hiring Lionel Hollins could turn out to be the biggest offseason addition for this team. After the whole Jason Kidd debacle, Hollins’ defensive mentality will certainly bring a refreshing look for this Brooklyn team.

In his last season as the Grizzlies Head Coach, they ranked in the top three in points allowed per 100 possessions, opponent field goal percentage, and rebound percentage, according to ESPN Stats & Information. And the fact that Hollins’ Grizzlies teams improved every year he was there is a promising sign as well.

The losses of Shaun Livingston, Pierce, and the sporadic scoring of Marcus Thornton will affect this team’s offensive production, but hopefully with the addition of Jarrett Jack, consistent play from Brook Lopez and Deron Williams, along with the continued development of Mason Plumlee, this team could make some noise in the Eastern Conference.

Prediction: If Hollins gets this team to cooperate and adapt to his defensive philosophies, this team wins 45 games, finishes second in the division, and is a 6 or 7 seed in the Eastern Conference. If injuries strike and luck favors their neighbors in orange and blue, the Nets could find themselves awkwardly in the middle of the pack.

New York Knicks

2013-14 Record: 37-45, 3rd in the Atlantic Division

Coach: Derek Fisher

Returning Players: Tim Hardaway Jr. (G), Pablo Prigioni (G), J.R. Smith (G), Carmelo Anthony (F) (re-signed), Andre Bargnani (F/C) (opt-in), Amar’e Stoudemire (F/C) (opt-in), Cole Aldrich (C) (re-signed).

Players Acquired: Jason Smith (F), Jose Calderon (G), Samuel Dalembert (C), Shane Larkin (G), Quincy Acy (F/C), Travis Outlaw (F), Thanasis Antetokounmpo (F), Cleanthony Early (F), Louis Labeyrie (F).

Players Lost: Toure’ Murry (G), Raymond Felton (G), Wayne Ellington (G), Shannon Brown (G), Lamar Odom (F), Jeremy Tyler (F), Tyson Chandler (C).

Since Phil Jackson was introduced as the president of the Knicks in March, Derek Fisher has been hired as the new head coach, Carmelo Anthony was re-signed, the team has traded pieces with the Dallas Mavericks, and drafted Cleanthony Early, who could turn out to be the steal of this year’s stacked draft. Things are looking up in The Big Apple.

That being said, these moves could turn out poorly for a team that was ranked in the middle of the pack offensively (11th out of 30), and near the bottom defensively (24th out of 30), according to basketball-reference.com. A new offensive system, a logjam in the backcourt, and a rookie head coach will provide plenty of potential drama in The City That Never Sleeps.

Prediction: If Carmelo fits into the triangle, and the others around him follow suit and gel into their respective roles, this team could be bound for a 43 to 45 win season, and a trip to the playoffs.

If locker room issues arise, and the bad chemistry bug bites this team hard, then it’s another year of Knicks fans ranting on YouTube.

Philadelphia 76ers

2013-14 Record: 19-63, 5th in the Atlantic Division

Coach: Brett Brown

Returning Players: Michael Carter-Williams, (G) Brandon Davies (F), Arnett Moultrie (F), Nerlens Noel (F/C), Henry Sims (C), Hollis Thompson (G/F), Jarvis Varnado (F/C), Casper Ware (G), Elliot Williams (G), Tony Wroten (G).

Players Acquired: Joel Embiid (C), Jerami Grant (F), K.J. McDaniels (F), Vasilije Micic (G), Dario Saric (F)

Players Lost: Thaddeus Young (F), James Anderson (G/F)

When you look at this roster, names like Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, and Dario Saric stand out. And that’s pretty much it for this year’s edition of the 76ers.

Although Williams started to pick up some poor shooting habits last year, he still shows promise as a playmaker. Noel had a nice Summer League campaign as he returns from an ACL injury, and with the selection of an injured Embiid, the Sixers should be hoping that history repeats itself in that regard.

Saric is staying in Europe for at least one more year, but the former Croatian League Finals MVP could make a big impact on a team that is struggling to find an identity at the moment.

And with coach Brett Brown looking to emulate the Spurs system, it will be interesting how Noel and Embiid will eventually factor into the rotation.

Prediction: With the potential to land a lottery pick in next year’s draft, it’s safe to say that the Sixers aren’t going anywhere in the Eastern Conference. This team will most likely match it’s record from last year, while Noel makes his case to win Rookie of the Year.

Toronto Raptors

2013-14 Record: 48-34, 1st in the Atlantic Division

Coach: Dwane Casey

Returning Players: Kyle Lowry (G) (re-signed), Patrick Patterson (F) (re-signed), Greivis Vasquez (G) (re-signed), Dwight Buycks (G), DeMar DeRozan (G), Landry Fields (F), Tyler Hansbrough (F), Chuck Hayes (F), Amir Johnson (F/C), Terrence Ross (G), Julyan Stone (G), Jonas Valanciunas (C).

Players Acquired: Bruno Caboclo (F), DeAndre Daniels (F), Lucas Nogueira (C), Will Cherry (C), Jordan Hamilton (F/G), Greg Stiemsma (C), Diante Garrett (G), Lou Williams (G).

Players Lost: Nando De Colo (G), Steve Novak (F), John Salmons (G/F).

The Raptors had a low-key offseason, as they managed to retain Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez, as well as turn John Salmons into Lou Williams and the 16th overall pick, Lucas Nogueira, from the Hawks.

The addition of Bruno “The Brazilian Kevin Durant” Caboclo was certainly a perplexing one, but it’s one that could turn out to be a pleasant surprise.

Other than these additions, this team looks pretty much the same, but with another year to play together, this team could remain the third-best team in the Eastern Conference. If the returners can continue to improve their skill sets and team chemistry, then this team will make another exciting playoff run.

Prediction: 50 wins and a first place finish in the Atlantic Division is their realistic ceiling this season, barring any hiccups. I also expect Drake to hold an impromptu concert in the Air Canada Centre if the Raptors stumble into the Eastern Conference Finals, or—at the very least—attempt to do the Shmoney Dance on live TV after a vicious DeMar DeRozan game-winning dunk.


Jonathan Diego is a staff writer for Scouts Alley.

Team USA’s World Cup Roster is Set

By Matt Graber


Team USA has finally settled on its final 12-man roster for the 2014 FIBA World Cup, which begins one week from today in Spain. Coach K and his crew cut Damian Lillard, Kyle Korver, Gordon Hayward, and Chandler Parsons from the team last night, leaving the 12 man roster as follows: Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Klay Thompson, DeMar Derozan, Rudy Gay, Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond, Mason Plumlee.

Irving, Curry, Harden, Faried and Davis will likely be the starters and should form a strong unit.  The trio of Irving, Curry and Harden will provide plenty of scoring, with each being a threat from beyond the arc, while Davis and Faried should be a long, athletic and energetic defensive pairing that will snag plenty of rebounds.

Rose has looked impressive in camp, and while his minutes might be limited due to his knee, he’ll be a strong backup and can make a serious impact with his athleticism. Thompson can play the 2 or 3 and adds more shooting, as well as good defense and some familiarity with Curry. DeRozan once seemed like a likely cut, but he has looked great when given playing time. Gay, a last-minute replacement for the departing Kevin Durant, can bully smaller forwards and has the size to play the 4 if necessary. Cousins, Drummond and Plumlee give the team valuable depth in the frontcourt and should each serve their own role. Cousins is a monstrous post presence, Drummond is a great rebounder and the best athlete of the trio, and Plumlee can handle the dirty work.

While the four players who missed the cut could have each been valuable additions, their exclusions make sense. Lillard, while a clutch shooter, fell behind Coach K fave Irving pretty early in camp and didn’t play in the team’s exhibition victory against Puerto Rico. With Irving, Rose and Curry locks to make the team, Lillard faced an uphill battle. Korver is a great shooter and has a better all-around game than people think, but the team has plenty of shooting with Irving, Curry, Harden, and Thompson, and he lacks the size to play the 4. It seemed like either Hayward or Parsons would make the team thanks to their all-around game and positional versatility, but they seemingly fell behind DeRozan in the rotation, and because Gay has a little more size, he is a better choice to play the 4.

The most interesting takeaway from the roster is the decision to keep Cousins, Drummond and Plumlee. While it initially looked like Cousins and Plumlee would be fighting for one roster spot, with Drummond on the outside looking in, the team seemingly opted for a larger roster to counter Spain’s massive front court of Pau and Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Davis, Faried, Cousins, Drummond and Plumlee will give Team USA a large, athletic and deep front court that can overwhelm smaller teams and can withstand Spain’s attack.

Realistically, this roster shouldn’t run into much trouble until a likely finals matchup with Spain. This team has the offensive talent, especially in the backcourt, to blitz opposing defenses with speed and shooting, and the team now has the size and depth to be a defensive force. Cousins, Drummond, and Plumlee are the X-factors. If one or more of them proves able to serve as a strong compliment to Davis, that matchup with Spain becomes a whole lot easier.


Matt Graber is a writer for Scouts Alley, Wizards 101 and Air Alamo. Follow him on Twitter @Matt14Graber.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is a Future Star

by Matt Graber


 

Giannis Antetokounmpo, the amiable, ever-smiling Milwaukee Bucks  phenom affectionately known as the Greek Freak, is turning conventional basketball wisdom on it’s head. At 6’11” and still growing, he’s tall enough to play center but can handle the ball like a point guard:  he has the potential to legitimately play all five positions one day.  He’s a freakish athlete who can do things like this:

And this:

And he does them on a routine basis; his personal highlight reel is already extensive and growing every game. The scary thing is, he’s only scratching the surface; if his skill development ever matches his scary physical potential, then the sky’s the limit.

Of course, Giannis is still incredibly raw and untested, and his on-court exploits didn’t exactly translate into success for the 15-67 Bucks. But Giannis and the Bucks have time to figure things out; it’s not like their trying to compete for the title this year. Given time, Giannis, Jabari Parker, Larry Sanders, John Henson, Brandon Knight and Nate Wolters could develop into a nice young core.

Try Giannis at point guard. Try him at forward. Give him free reign to attempt all the chase down blocks and three point floaters he wants. He’s already one of the most unique players in the league with the ball in his hands; if and when he puts it all together, the Bucks could have a superstar on their hands.

Fortunately for himself and the Bucks, Giannis seems well-equipped to handle his potential future stardom, as his Twitter reveals:

 

 

Loyal and determined? Check. Good with the fans? Check. Entertaining? Check. Incredible athlete with unlimited potential? Check and check.

Sure, Antetokounmpo is a pain in the ass to type, and it’s probably just as hard to pronounce properly. But it’s a name worth remembering; we may be saying it for years to come.


 

Matt Graber is a writer for Scouts Alley. You can follow him on Twitter @Matt14Graber

Why Everyone Wins The Kevin Love Trade

By Matt Graber


The last major move of the NBA offseason has finally been made, as the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves reportedly have a handshake agreement in place to swap Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a first round pick for Kevin Love. Here’s a look at how the blockbuster trade affects each team’s future, and how it’s a rare win-win situation.

What It Means For The Cavs: So it’s probably safe to say that the Cavs won this offseason, huh? Adding LeBron James and now Kevin Love has taken the team from perennial disappointment to title favorite. James, Love, and Kyrie Irving give the Cavs a legit Big Three and give LeBron the opportunity to compete for titles now instead of waiting for a young team to mature.

This was a great trade for the Cavs. When you have the opportunity to add a top-10 player to your team, you take it, especially when that team already includes the best player in the world and a 22-year old All-Star point guard. And for all the talk of Love being overrated, or stat-hungry, or a sub-par defender, he’s still one of the best players in the league.

Sure, stats can be overrated and they don’t necessarily tell the whole story, but 26 and 12 can’t be ignored. Love is an elite rebounder, a quality three-point bomber, and one of the best passing big men in the league; the mere thought of Love throwing his brilliant outlet passes to LeBron must have Cavs fans salivating.

The Cavs made the right call in taking Love’s proven production over potential. Wiggins could have developed into a perfect sidekick for LeBron. Anthony Bennett might make major strides this season. But ‘could’ and ‘might’ aren’t really what the Cavs are looking for after signing a 29-year-old Lebron to a two-year deal. Both parties know there is pressure to win now; the Love trade gives them the best chance to do that.

And that’s the new question on everyone’s mind; can the Cavs win it all this year? They seem to be mirroring the Heat’s blueprint for roster construction: flank LeBron with an All-Star on the perimeter (Irving, Wade) and in the frontcourt (Love, Bosh), then use the allure of playing with LeBron to attract battle-tested veterans looking for one last shot at a ring; guys like Mike Miller, James Jones, and possibly Ray Allen, Shawn Marion and Chauncey Billups. Add in youngsters like Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellevedova and veteran forward Anderson Varejao, and the Cavs should have the talent and depth to make a serious run.

They won’t be a defensive juggernaut, as both Love and Irving are lacking in that department. But James, Love, Irving and Waiters will give the team a scary offensive arsenal. They’ll be able to outscore anybody, and they’ll have experienced role players who can still thrive in the playoffs. Love takes them from title contenders to title favorites, making the trade a smart and necessary move.

What it Means for the Wolves: This was the best haul the Wolves could have gotten, even better than Golden State’s offer of Klay Thompson and David Lee. Thompson, while a skilled shooter and sound defender, doesn’t have the potential that Wiggins does, and his game wouldn’t look nearly as impressive without Steph Curry. He’s better off staying in Golden State with his fellow Splash Brother, and the Wolves are better off not paying for two years of Lee at $15 million a pop followed by paying Thompson the massive new contract he’ll likely command in 2016.

Wiggins has the potential to become a legitimate two-way superstar. Whether he’ll live up to that potential remains to be seen, but his floor seems to be quality perimeter defender and decent scorer. If he can improve his ball handling and his shooting, he can become much more than that – he can be a two-way menace. Either way, Minnesota will find out soon enough. Wiggins won’t be a third option on this team – he’ll be a focal point on both ends of the floor and the new face of the franchise. That has to be appealing to a kid who recently said he just wants to go to a team that wants him.

The Wolves won’t be a very good team next year, but they’ll be a hell of a lot of fun to watch. A crafty passer like Ricky Rubio surrounded by athletes like Wiggins, Zach Lavine and Corey Brewer will lead to some breathtaking dunks and entertaining fastbreaks. They’ll be League Pass darlings, not the worst label for a rebuilding team.

Wiggins will join Rubio, Lavine, Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, who came on strong last year, to form an intriguing young core. Add center Nikola Pekovic and forward Thad Young (Anthony Bennett to the Sixers for Young seems like a done deal), and the Wolves have a decent collection of talent. Couple that with two first round picks next year, and the Wolves rebuild is off to a quick and promising start.

 

Photo credit: Keith Allison / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)


Matt Graber is a writer for Scouts Alley. You can follow him on Twitter @Matt14Graber

Eric Bledsoe and the Pitfalls of Restricted Free Agency

By Matt Graber


Restricted free agent point guard Eric Bledsoe is in a tough spot, trapped in stasis due to the conflicting nature of restricted free agency. For those who aren’t totally aware of his situation, here’s the quick rundown:

  • Bledsoe wants a max deal of five years and around $80 million.
  • The Suns won’t give him a max deal, instead offering a 4 year, $48 million deal.
  • The Suns already added his potential replacement(s) in Isaiah Thomas and Tyler Ennis.
  • No one else but the Sixers can offer him a max deal, and they’ve shown no interest in him.
  • Teams that had cap space and a need at the position, like the Bucks or Lakers, never put forward an offer sheet, fearing that the Suns would match it.
  • A sign-and-trade looks unlikely.
  • It looks like Bledsoe will either have to agree to a lesser deal with the Suns, use his $3.7 million qualifying offer and wait for unrestricted free agency next year, or hope for a great sign-and-trade offer.

Bledsoe, while a phenomenal athlete and defensive talent, isn’t a max-level player, at least not yet. He’s battled injuries, including a meniscus injury last year, and he’s started less than a season’s worth of games in his career. But we live in a world where Gordon Hayward makes $16 million a year, so angling for more than the $12 million the Suns reportedly offered is reasonable. The problem is, Bledsoe has no leverage in this situation. The Suns don’t have to offer him more because they’ve scared everyone else away by stating they’ll match any offer sheet. Teams didn’t want to spend three days waiting for Phoenix to inevitably match the deal while other teams were filling out their roster. Now the only team with the cap room to offer Bledsoe a max deal is the Sixers, and that won’t happen with last year’s Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams at point guard.

Bledsoe could always use his $3.7 million qualifying offer, but that has pros and cons. He would be able to enter unrestricted free agency and play with the team of his choice next year, but he’d be making way less this year, and another injury or a disappointing season would kill his chances of ever getting a big payday.

If Bledsoe does sign with the Suns, it likely won’t be for four or five years. He’s more likely to follow LeBron or Lance Stephenson and sign a two or three year deal. That way, if he can prove his value over the next couple of seasons, he can cash in on an even more lucrative deal once the salary cap rises, as is expected.

The sad thing about this situation is that all kinds of intriguing opportunities existed for Bledsoe outside of Phoenix. Orlando could have paired him with Victor Oladipo in a young backcourt that would have had scary defensive potential. The Lakers could have made him one of their faces of the future. The Rockets could have added their third star; Bledsoe patrolling the perimeter alongside Trevor Ariza and running the offense alongside James Harden and Dwight Howard could have made the Rockets serious contenders. The Kings could have reunited him with friend and former teammate DeMarcus Cousins. My personal favorite; the Bucks. Bledsoe, Larry Sanders, Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo on the same team, with Jason Kidd as coach? That’s an intriguing young team, and entertaining as hell, both on and off the court.

However, at this juncture none of those teams seem to have the cap room or trade assets to make a sign-and-trade doable. Bledsoe seems destined to return to the Suns, where he’ll pair with Thomas and Goran Dragic to form Jeff Hornacek’s three-headed guard monster. That’s hardly a bad situation, as the Suns are among the NBA’s rising contenders.

Restricted free agency is a confusing landscape. While players like Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward cashed in with questionable contracts (not trying to bash Hayward, I like his game, but 4 years, $63 million?), Bledsoe, a player with a higher ceiling than both of them, will miss out on his payday and settle for less than he wanted. It’s not like he’s getting ripped off; he’ll make about what Kyle Lowry, a comparable player, will make. But with the Suns holding all the cards, all the intrigue was taken out of what could have been an intriguing situation.


Matt Graber is a writer for Scouts Alley and an editor at Wizards 101. You can follow him on Twitter @Matt14Graber.

Photo credit: Joseph Glorioso Photography / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)