Tuesday, October 28, 2008

2008-09 NBA Preview

The time has come (and almost gone) for me to look into my ... well, I don't have a crystal ball, but it's time for me to throw some darts at a dartboard and make semi-educated guesses at what will happen this season.
Without further ado...

Eastern Conference
Atlantic Divsion
Boston Celtics - The defending champs look for their first back-to-back titles in 40 years.
Philadelphia 76ers - Elton Brand joins a playoff team. Are they now legit Eastern contenders? (Hey, here's a video of a nice Andre Iguodala dunk, with Charles Barkley actin' a fool as a commentator)
Toronto Raptors - Key moves include adding Jermaine O'Neal and freeing up more minutes at point guard for Jose Calderon - although it came at the cost of losing T.J. Ford. (Bosh vid)
New Jersey Nets - With Jason Kidd in Dallas and Richard Jefferson in Milwaukee, Vince Carter is the lone man remaining from the Big Three of the past few years. New York Knicks - Things might be looking up in New York ... then again, probably not. At best, they'll finish in fourth in the Atlantic - which would be an improvement.

Central Division
Detroit Pistons - Six years in the NBA, six conference finals appearances for Gumby. Is another one coming?
Cleveland Cavaliers - Some people think this team can go really far. It's hard to doubt the King.
Chicago Bulls - Coming off a majorly disappointing season, these guys could break into the playoffs after a one-year sabbatical - you wouldn't hope for any less from a team with nine lottery picks on its roster.
Milwaukee Bucks - Exit Mo Williams, Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons. Enter Richard Jefferson, Luke Ridnour and draft pick Joe Alexander. It will be interesting to see how the pieces fit together on this team.
Indiana Pacers - At least one writer calls Danny Granger the most underrated player in the game.

Southeast Division
Orlando Magic - Superman, Hedo and 'Shard want to improve on last year when they advanced to the second round - it won't be easy though.
Washington Wizards - They'll have to survive a good chunk of the season without Gilbert Arenas once again.
Atlanta Hawks - I almost put them behind Miami, but decided last season's playoff experience and a talented starting lineup put them over the top.
Miami Heat - Looking for big production from Dwyane Wade, Shawn Marion, Udonis Haslem and rookie Michael Beasley. They don't have much else.
Charlotte Bobcats - This division might be the toughest to predict because all the teams have legitimate hope for the playoffs on some level, but you don't see a single one of them as a Finals contender. It wouldn't be a shock to see the 'Cats have a decent year, at least by their standards; they've never won more than 33 games in a single season ... Uh, how about a J-Rich dunk with more crazy announcers?

Western Conference
Southwest Division
New Orleans Hornets - One game away from the conference finals last season, they look to go even further this year.

Houston Rockets - Add Artest to Yao, T-Mac and a solid complement of players, and you should have a good team. However, Ron-Ron is combustible and Yao and T-Mac are fragile.
San Antonio Spurs - Some people would like to see the end of their run, but they're still a contender for now. They need to stay afloat 'til Ginobili returns from injury, but don't count them out yet.
Dallas Mavericks - Things have really unraveled for them in the playoffs since '06, but they still have enough talent to return to the postseason.
Memphis Grizzlies - Simply building for the future with some unfortunately named youngsters - Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo.

Northwest Division
Utah Jazz -Gunning for a third straight division title.
Portland Trail Blazers - A young team on the rise. Will they make the playoffs for the first time since 2003?
Denver Nuggets - They literally gave away Marcus Camby in a cost-cutting move. Could A.I. be next?
Minnesota Timberwolves - See Memphis Grizzlies, but a little bit better.
Oklahoma City Thunder - I promise this ranking is not based on bitterness over the move from Seattle.

Pacific Division
LA Lakers - It's kind of scary to add a healthy Andrew Bynum to a Finals team and to have the luxury of bringing Lamar Odom off the bench.
Phoenix Suns - Similar to Dallas, it appears the window for winning a championship has closed, but they are still capable of a good season - by most teams' standards, anyway.
LA Clippers - Al Thornton should be a rising star and Baron Davis and Marcus Camby help cover for the exodus of long-time Clips Elton Brand and Corey Maggette.
Golden State Warriors - Along with LAC, this team had some of the highest volume of transactions in the past offseason, losing star Baron Davis, but nabbing Corey Maggette, Ronny Turiaf and Marcus Williams, drafting Anthony Randolph, and resigning Ellis, Biedrins and Azubuike.
Sacramento Kings - Hey, they have Kevin Martin, right?

First Round

West: (1) Lakers vs. (8) Trail Blazers
(2) Hornets vs. (7) Mavericks
(3) Rockets vs. (6) Suns
(4) Jazz vs. (5) Spurs

East: (1) Celtics vs. (8) Hawks
(2) Pistons vs. (7) Wizards
3) Cavaliers vs. (6) Raptors
4) Magic vs. (5) 76ers

Conference Semifinals
West: (1) Lakers vs. (5) Spurs
(2) Hornets vs. (3) Rockets

East: (1) Celtics vs. (4) Magic
2) Pistons vs. (3) Cavs

Western Conference Finals: (1) Lakers vs. (2) Hornets
Eastern Conference Finals: (1) Celtics vs. (3) Cavs

NBA Finals: Lakers defeat Celtics
So there you go; I'm predicting a Finals rematch, only with the other team winning it this time.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Why it's good to be a Spurs fan: Reason No. 5-Diversity

Previously we alluded to the fact the Spurs were trendsetters in the field of international scouting. And let me tell ya, these guys come from around the globe.

Currently the roster includes Emanuel Ginobili and Fabricio Oberto from Argentina, and Tony Parker and Ian Mahinmi from France. Tim Duncan - who is from the U.S. Virgin Islands - could be considered a pseudo-international player, and American Ime Udoka, whose father was born in Nigeria, has played for Nigeria's national team.
In recent years, the team was more international, with Rasho Nesterovic and Beno Udrih of Slovenia reppin' the squad, as well as Dutchman Francisco Elson and Kiwi Sean Marks. All of these players were with the team in 2005 or later ... oh, and who could forget the stellar career of Romain Sato, a 2004 draft pick from the Central African Republic?

The Spurs also have a pet project of drafting players from overseas and letting them stay there until they're ready to play in the Association. As John Hollinger of ESPN said, "They were the first team to think of using its second-round draft picks to build up a base of players in Europe who could develop on somebody else's dime. They were also the first ones to realize there were perimeter players from overseas good enough to be NBA stars, and stole Parker and Ginobili in the draft because of it."
Their current stash includes Brazilian big man Tiago Splitter and Lithuanian Robertas Javtokas.

Only recently has this trend backfired, as Splitter was able to command a much higher salary playing for Spanish powerhouse Tau Ceramica than he could as a late first-round pick under the NBA's rookie salary scale. The team could sure use Tiago agora. Also, trading away Argentine baller Luis Scola after letting him develop in Spain - he played in Europe until 2007 after being drafted by San Antone in 2002 - didn't turn out so well.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why it's good to be a Spurs fan: Reason No. 6-Teamwork

Share the ball. Cover for each other on defense. Don't worry about who gets the credit for the team's success.
These might as well be lines from Gene Hackman in "Hoosiers." And I'm sure many a high school coach has extolled these virtues to young athletes. But this could never happen with multi-million-dollar professional athletes. Unless they really bought into what their coach and management told them...

A lot of pundits and fans thought the 2005 NBA Finals between the Spurs and the Detroit Pistons were a bore. I, for one, actually enjoyed it. Why? First of all, I probably need to get my head checked. Secondly, both teams had a tremendous amount of talent, combined with unselfishness, high basketball IQ and effort. Maybe the rest of the world wanted more slam dunks, or an in-team soap opera with guys like Kobe and Shaq who are practically tabloid material, but as for me and Hubie Brown (who was broadcasting the series and is old enough to be my grandfather), we'll be just fine, thank you, with some team basketball.

On a side note, you should have heard Hubie go own about the "defensive rotations" and other little things the teams were doing so well. It was kind of funny, but the retired coach certainly knows what he's talking about. Regardless of how old school he may be - he's the human equivalent of a one-room red brick schoolhouse ... really "old school" - he knows hoops.

(And here's a funny link about Brown's penchant for going into unnecessary detail about a simple play.)

Back to San Antonio: For a cohesive team like the Spurs that always talks about "flying under the radar" - and enjoying it - spotlight hogs are something to make fun of.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sweet 16 ... but not 17

If you had the chance to have the best 16th birthday ever, but you wouldn't be guaranteed a 17th, would you take that?
Me neither.

But since we're talking about football here, how about this example: you're told your team will win 16 games in a row, but not a 17th. How does that sound?
Most people would be cool with that, I think.

But some of the extreme BYU faithful seem to think the end of their longest-in-the-nation winning streak is the end of their lives season. The loss to TCU is probably the end of their hopes to get into a BCS game, although if they win out (perhaps a dicey proposition at this point), who knows what could happen?

The point is, Cougar fans, to be grateful for the team's success. We all know you/we wanted more, but this team just isn't up there with the elite teams (Texas, Oklahoma, etc.). So take a time-out and consider how much the team has accomplished these past three seasons.

(AP Photos/Donna McWilliam)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Daily Herald updates

More links to stuff I did for the Daily Herald (I might not keep posting these, except for maybe the Daily Wrap videos, because the articles will be easily accessible at this link. I will put the link on the right side of this blog under the heading "Favorite Web Sites"):

Daily Wrap video
BYU student wins $20,000 on Regis and Kelly show
Nebo School District makes the grade
Organ recipient gets ATV from Make-A-Wish Foundation
Youth hockey team helps out special needs team
Utah County Sheriff Dept receives grant money to stop sex predators
Fall weather coming to Utah County

Governor Huntsman and power companies celebrate wind power project
Daily Wrap video
MP3 players and social isolation
others I contributed to: Daily Log 10/9, Daily Log 10/10, Transportation open houses

Food bank donations start to rise, more still needed
Springville High monument to honor alumni who lost their lives in battle Jolley's Ranch gets ready for winter with outdoor activities
Salem seeks fire and ambulance volunteers
Daily Wrap video
Salem library expanded, reopened with state certification
BYU study shows infants note difference between happy and sad music

(Fall weather and iPod photos: Craig Dilger/Daily Herald. Baby pictures: Mark Philbrick/BYU)

Why it's good to be a Spurs fan: Reason No. 7-Lack of ego

When Michael Finley signed with San Antonio in 2005, he was not far removed from a starring role with a prominent NBA club. At this point, you may think of Findog as the guy that fires away - and fades away - with heavily-contested jumpshots from the left elbow, while the only thing he hits frequently is the rim.

But three years ago, Finley was a vet near his prime with several championship-contending teams lining up to sign him. Phoenix and Miami were able to offer more money, and likely more playing time, than the Spurs. What convinced him to sign with the Silver and Black? He thought it was his best shot at winning a ring - which he won in 2007 - and he liked the idea of being part of the Spurs' organization and team culture.

Two years later, Ime Udoka signed for about $1 million per year. Now that may sound like some serious scratch to you or me, but believe me, in the NBA, players coming off a season in which they started 75 games, played good defense and made 40% of their 3-point attempts generally earn much, much more.
But perhaps no one embodies the team's unselfish ways more than Manu Ginobili, an All-Star-caliber player who has won just about every major basketball tournament in the world and has garnered his share of individual accolades as well.
Alternating between go-to-guy and complementary player from game to game, Ginobili has accepted the role of coming off the Spurs' bench with open arms - in spite of being one of the team's stars (there will be much more on Ginobili later on in this countdown).

This is what Brent Barry (no longer with the Spurs) had to say about his then-teammate coming off the bench:

"We've gotten to the point in professional athletics where we just expect somebody to be upset with that role or automatically assume it's a demotion of some sort.
"Ultimately, I think that's what people assume it comes down to: saying you're in the starting five, as opposed to not being announced in arenas around the country. ... I don't know how much importance there is in that for guys on our team.
"He's a starter in a substitute's role. He's Clark Kent, then he checks in and gets his Superman cape on.''

Friday, October 3, 2008

Why it's good to be a Spurs fan: Reason No. 8-The Organization

Remember this list? Of course you don't. But I figured I would continue the list I started last year. The timing is right, now that a new season is coming upon us.

The No. 8 reason on my list of what's good about the Spurs is the organization. What do I mean when I say organization? Basically, I'm referring to the management team and the culture created within the team. So the owner (Peter Holt) and general manager (R.C. Buford) are the ones I'm referring to first, but also the head coach, Gregg Popovich - who also happens to fill a management role - and whoever does the scouting.

ESPN's John Hollinger wrote this one year ago: "The Spurs are the best-run organization in sports, hands down, and this grows more evident by the stampede of owners from other teams racing in to mimic their methods - in many cases by hiring directly out of the Spurs' organization."

The Spurs were the first team to make a habit of finding diamond-in-the-rough players overseas. Now all NBA teams are sending scouts to Europe and other places.

The Spurs have created an environment where people can fit in, plugging in players with specific skill sets to complement their stars. Except the stars don't always get the royal treatment. Popovich is not above chewing out, say, Tim Duncan. And the fact that Timmy doesn't take it personally or act like a prima donna lets everyone else on the team know they're not above the occasional (or frequent) scolding they'll get from the coach should they mess up.

Popovich told Sports Illustrated, "We try to spend as much time to bring people to the program who have, quote-unquote, gotten over themselves.'

The Spurs organization has been successful to the point that other franchises have modeled their style after them. It's no wonder the Seattle Supersonics Oklahoma City Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers have taken their current head coaches and GMs from San Antonio. Mike Brown and P.J. Carlesimo were assistant Spurs coaches directly before landing their current gigs, and Danny Ferry and Sam Presti were front-office executives.

And the culture/atmosphere created among the players? Let's just let James White tell you how it is (yes, this James White). And if you don't know White's history, he played a handful of games in the Spurs 2006-07 championship season, but never suited up in the playoffs that year.

"It was a very cool experience going through the playoffs with the Spurs even though I didn’t play at all. Just living in that atmosphere, watching how the veterans were able to handle all types of different situations. … It was great. You learn a lot just being around. No matter how tough it was when they cut me, I’m going to keep good memories from my time there."