Are the Spurs Done?

After losing in six games to the Thunder in what may have been the most entertaining series of the playoffs, the question comes up- are the Spurs, as they are currently assembled, done as a serious title-threat going forward? Tim Duncan becomes a free-agent, although both sides have basically accepted Duncan is a Spur-for-life. The core continues to age while the Thunder grow into their collective prime. Durant is amazingly only 23.

The Spurs have always been a favorite of mine to watch- they can seemingly plug in young unknowns (Gary Neal, James Anderson, Danny Green, etc…) and disposed-of veterans not producing on former teams (Boris Diaw, Stephen Jackson), and these guys will step in and produce. It is the San Antonio way. It is the Greg Popovich way. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of the Spurs in contention. In a shortened season where the older teams were supposed to struggle, the Spurs posted the league’s best record. Who says they can’t contend again next year, using the same formula? The key pieces will be back, along with emerging young star Kawhi Leonard.

Who knows if the Spurs can stop the emerging Thunder (and potential defending champ?) in the next few years. The fan in me isn’t ready for the breakup of the Spurs, or the end of Duncan’s career. I also wouldn’t bet against Duncan or Popovich.


Bobcats could make history, let’s hope they don’t

When the shortened NBA regular season started, most analysts predicted the Bobcats would finish near or at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.  No one thought this team would sniff the playoffs this season, or beat any of the league’s best.  It would be a rebuilding year, to be sure.  Develop the young players, make a good early selection in the draft, and continue to build around young talent. After the Bobcats beat the Bucks on the road on opening night, following that effort up with a close loss to the Heat, I felt some optimism that maybe this team would be competitive and win more games than expected.  I’m not sure anyone predicted the season would go this poorly, or that the team would have a chance to make history, and in embarrassing fashion.

If the Bobcats are unable to win any of their remaining six games, they would finish as the worst team in NBA history by winning percentage, overtaking the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers who finished 9-73. This would unfortunately be the most notable ‘feat’ for the franchise to-date, which in its short history has just one playoff appearance. Certainly not something you want your franchise to be known for. With each poor performance, each one more baffling than the one before it (67 point outing against New Orleans being the latest), the culture of losing builds, something that won’t change overnight with a high draft pick.

While the Bobcats will likely have a top-3 pick in the 2012 draft, there’s no guarantee the team will land Kentucky star Anthony Davis with the top pick. In the last 10 years, only twice has the team with the league’s worst record actually landed the #1 pick in the draft that same year, a somewhat alarming stat for any Bobcats fan banking on seeing this young star in the Queen city in the coming years. While Kidd-Gilchrist and Thomas Robinson aren’t poor consolation prizes, I don’t see them creating a buzz that would draw fans quite like the NCAA tournament MVP.

What kills me most about all of this is seeing some of the former Bobcats and could-have-been Bobcats succeeding on other teams. Tyson Chandler being in contention for Defensive Player of the Year for the Knicks, Ray Felton on playoff runs with the Nuggets in years past, even Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson getting significant minutes for the top-seeded Spurs out West. Draft picks that could-have-been such as Brook Lopez (taken right after D.J. Augustin in 2008- Sidenote, I remember the Bucks passing on Lopez and thinking, ‘hurray- the Cats just found their new starting center for the next decade!’ Only to see them pass on him for D.J. who has been solid, but quality NBA centers don’t come around often), Rudy Gay and Brandon Roy (taken after Adam Morrison in 2006), somehow not even having a first round pick in 2010, etc…

What I’ve realized while watching all this losing is that in the last 4 years since I moved to the Charlotte area, I’ve become a fan of this team. A handful of players on this Bobcats team are who I would consider ‘keepers’ at this point, and the list is small. I’ve enjoyed Gerald Henderson’s mastery of the mid-range game, Derrick Brown’s athleticism, Kemba Walker’s quickness and fearlessness, Bismack’s shot-blocking ability and even more shot-blocking attempts (I’d add Byron Mullens, but he doesn’t play defense). However, it’s embarrassing to follow a team that ranks among the worst of all-time. It’s terrible for the fans, and losing for the sake of a top pick (which may or may not pan out) is no fun at all. It turns people away completely, something that won’t change with one great draft pick.

So that brings me to the title of this post more-like-rant. Let’s hope the Bobcats don’t make history in this negative fashion, and instead move forward into the offseason and make good basketball decisions, as well as not trade away fan favorites such as Gerald Wallace, etc… I am firmly in the ‘tanking is not necessary to succeed’ camp. The Indiana Pacers have rebuilt without a pick higher than 10 in 2010, and just two seasons ago were competing with the Bobcats for the East’s final playoff spot. The roadmap is 1) Let your bad contracts expire, or try to trade expiring contracts for positive assets 2) Make solid draft picks on known entities or guys that you perceive to have a good ‘value’ for the spot you are picking 3) Don’t overspend to get players who surely will not be long-term parts of the teams’ future.

The Bobcats can avoid being known at the worst team ever with just one more victory in their last six games. When the Cats take on the Bulls without Derrick Rose or Luol Deng this evening, I’ll be hoping the Cats pull off the upset.

Warriors retire Mullin’s jersey, fans boo owner

I guess Warrior fans aren’t too pleased with the team’s recent trade sending Monta Ellis to the Bucks for an injured Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson (who they then shipped to the Spurs for Richard Jefferson).  Since the trade the team has lost 4 straight games, when prior to they were at least in contention for the last playoff spot in the West.  It’s a shame this all happened during Mullin’s jersey retirement.  Mullin and Rick Barry tried to settle down the crowd, but Warrior fans were persistent.

Well, congrats on a recent Hall of Fame induction and a well deserved jersey now hanging in the rafters, Chris!

Surprising Team #1: Philadelphia 76ers

While the Sixers have played one of the league’s easiest schedules so far in the early season, their 12-5 record cannot be discounted.  Even in a loss to the Wade-less Heat Saturday night, I was struck by the quality depth of this Sixers squad.  In Louis Williams, Thaddeus Young, and Evan Turner, they’ve got three guys who would start for some teams and heck, they should probably be starting for their own team.  Team balance is a result of their quality depth.  Going into their game Monday against the Wizards, the Sixers had seven players averaging double figure scoring, led by Louis Williams (coming off the bench) at 15.5 ppg.  Sidenote: Louis is currently shooting better from outside the 3-point arc than inside it.

With a young core that is locked up for the next several years, this team should be a contender in the East for years.  They’ve already got some playoff experience and will get more this season.

Will this recent success and bright outlook for the Sixers have any kind of hobby impact?  While Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday have more recent and probably more readily available rookie cards and autographs, some other Sixers might be flying under the radar a bit. Andre Iguodala’s rookie cards and autographs have some room to grow in value.  Louis Williams autographs can be had for less than $10 easily.  A few of the cards below might be worth a pickup if you can find them on the cheap:

2004-05 Topps Chrome #174 Andre Iguodala RC
2004-05 SP Authentic #179 Andre Iguodala AU RC
2005-06 SPx #126 Louis Williams JSY AU RC

and other rookie autographs.

2012 All-Stars: Who Are Your Starters?

The second round of All-Star voting returns was released on Thursday.

Eastern Conference starters as of today: G Derrick Rose, G Dwyane Wade, F Lebron James, F Carmelo Anthony, C Dwight Howard
Western Conference starters as of today: G Kobe Bryant, G Chris Paul, F Kevin Durant, F Blake Griffin, C Andrew Bynum

Are all of these players deserving as of now?  Sure.  We don’t have anyone the fans are voting in based just on name/reputation, like Iverson, McGrady, Vince, etc… in their less than All-Star starter caliber years.  But all of these guys have a legitimate case to be an All-Star starter based on production in this current season, and most are just locks.  Production aside, if the game is truly for the fans, and it is,  then some guys I’d like to see, and for a bunch of minutes, are:

Ricky Rubio – This guy is made for the All-Star game.  The fans see it too, as he’s 3rd behind Kobe and Chris Paul in the West at guard in votes so far.  Would love to see him make the jump to starter.  Something tells me that’s where he’ll be in future years.

Rajon Rondo – Want to see Rondo for the same reasons as Rubio.  Rondo sets others up.  He’s also the best player on the Celtics these days, and happens to be 3rd in the East at guard in votes.

Josh Smith – This guy is having a fantastic season for the Hawks who are sitting 2nd in the East (now minus Al Horford).  Smith would have the potential to throw down some nice dunks.

Who do you want to see?  Any other exciting young players that would make the game more entertaining?

Nobody Can Guard LeBron James

Last night I saw LeBron James play in-person for the first time.  I was not left disappointed.

Corey Maggette tried, Derrick Brown tried.  Valiant efforts.  The Bobcats left it all on the floor last night at TWC Arena in uptown Charlotte.  But in the end, the big 3 turned it on and had just enough to keep the Heat undefeated in the early season.   No one in the league can guard LeBron James when he’s locked in.

In the first half, the Heat looked like they were playing their 3rd game in 4 nights.  They were struggling on the defensive end.  Gerald Henderson was getting open looks on the baseline whenever he wanted them.  Boris Diaw made everyone forget that he’s starting at center because the team doesn’t have a true starting center.  Augustin was hitting contested outside shots.  The Cats jumped out to an 11-0 lead before the Heat scored their first points, and they had extended the lead to 15 at the half.  A friend asked me whether or not the Cats would keep it up.  I said, ‘Why not?  The Heat look tired.’  I should have known better.

In the 2nd half, LeBron was getting to the rim at-will.  Gone were the possessions of settling for outside jumpers.  When on his game, LeBron is unguardable.  I knew this already but it was confirmed in a big way seeing him glide past defenders for spectacular lay-ins and dunks time after time.

LeBron and Chris Bosh pulled the Heat close, and Wade was once again the finisher.

Where Will Clippers Finish?

With the recent acquisition of Chris Paul, how will the Clippers mesh?  Can all the main pieces stay healthy?  Paul, Blake Griffin, Caron Butler, all have sustained major injuries during their career.  With a less than to be desired bench, it will be critical for those guys to stay healthy during the condensed season.

My prediction barring major injuries, 4-5 seed in the West.  Why so high (or so low if you’re really optimistic about the Paul/Griffin combo)?  Chris Paul was able to get the Hornets to the 7 seed last year with a lesser collection of talent around him.  He then pushed the Lakers 6 games in a difficult first round series.

I don’t see a ton of teams in the West that actually got better during this quick free agency period.  The Mavs lost their main defensive weapon in center Tyson Chandler to the Knicks.  The Lakers basically gave away Lamar Odom to the Dallas because he was unhappy because of almost being traded.  The Spurs are one year older and lost their 6th man to Indiana.

So, I think the Clippers can make a run.  It’ll be exciting to see the relevant Clippers either way.

Brandon Roy to Retire

After meeting with doctors Thursday, Brandon Roy has decided to retire due to degenerative knees, per ESPN.  Roy’s career, which already included three All-Star appearances and a Rookie of the Year award, will be cut well short and certainly be a blow to the Blazers, who lose their star shooting guard.  Best wishes to Roy following his great career!

Seattle Thundersonics?

Came across this video from the folks at The Basketball Jones that was too funny not to share.  They ask for reactions from local Thunder fans at the ‘news’ that the team is moving back to Seattle as part of the lockout negotiations.

TBJ Tour Video: Seattle gets back the Thunder from The Basketball Jones on Vimeo.

NBA Returns!

And with the NBA training camps opening December 9th, just one short week away, hopefully this means we will see some new releases from Panini in the near future.  With five games now slated for Christmas day, the start of the regular season can’t get here soon enough.

Until then, we get to occupy ourselves with free-agency and trade talks.  Chris Paul (through his agent), has reportedly requested out of NOH, his preferred destination being the Knicks.  Unfortunately for him, though, the Knicks have little of value to send back to the Hornets for Paul’s services.  If Paul is intent on leaving, the Hornets can surely get a better package than what the Knicks could offer.

Wednesday’s CP3 rumor involving Rajon Rondo had Paul landing with the Celtics.  Paul later stated he wouldn’t sign an extension with the Celtics.  You can expect a lot of rumors over the next couple weeks, with little immediate resolution.  As always, it’s fun to speculate.  I for one am happy to see the rumors, because it means the NBA has returned!