Archive for December, 2011

Czar Trivia

Monday, December 26th, 2011

Copyright 2011 NBAE - Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty ImagesNew team names can be hard for longtime fans to get used to, as basketball enthusiasts in our nation’s capital well know. The Washington Wizards have undergone the most name changes of any franchise in the NBA. The club originated as the Chicago Packers in 1961 when it was added as the NBA’s first modern expansion team following the consolidation of the league from seventeen franchises to eight during the early 1950′s.

After a one-season stint as the Zephyrs (a play on Chicago’s nickname “The Windy City”), owner Dave Tragere moved the franchise to Baltimore, Maryland in 1963 and renamed it the Baltimore Bullets. In 1964 Abe and Irene Pollin (along with former NBA referee Arnold Heft) purchased the Bullets for $1.1 million. When the Pollins became the sole owners in 1968 they moved the team to Washington D.C. And upon completion of the new Capital Centre arena in 1973 the team was called the Capital Bullets.

But in 1974 Abe Pollin changed names once again to the Washington Bullets. This name stuck for over two decades until Pollin made a controversial decision to amend the team’s name for the sixth and final time due to the violent/negative connotation associated with the word “bullet.” A contest was held to choose a new name, and Wizards” wound up winning the telephone poll that allowed callers to vote for their favorite of five finalists: Wizards, Sea Dogs, Dragons, Express and Stallions. The Bullets officially became the Washington Wizards when they moved into the new MCI Center for the 1997-98 season.

On May 10, 2011 the Wizards unveiled their new color scheme, uniforms and logo, reverting to the traditional red, white and blue colors that harken back to the team’s glory days of the late seventies and early eighties. Some diehard fans remain hopeful that a former name may someday be resurrected too.

Around the League

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

NBA 2011-2012 Eastern Conference Season Preview

Pro basketball diehards should be sated come the 25th. The lockout-shrunk 66-game NBA regular season kicks off on Christmas Day with five intriguing matchups. It’s been a long, long time since Dirk and Dallas bested Miami’s Big Three 4-2 in the 2011 NBA Finals. A lot has happened in this extended offseason to re-calibrate the pecking order of ‘power teams,’ and undoubtedly a lot more changes will occur in the near future as teams look to solidify their rosters in hopes of making the postseason for a shot at the 2012 NBA Title. Here’s a look at the East and some of the challenges each franchise faces in the upcoming season.

Atlantic Division

Photo by Al Bello/Getty ImagesThe Boston Celtics, with their solid if aging core of four returning All-Stars Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo, will make one last run to the Finals to try and win a second ring for this Hall-of-Fame trio and now veteran PG Rondo. Coach Doc Rivers signed a new five-year deal with the team last spring after rumors of his probable departure. The Green traded one LSU power forward for another, getting 6’8” Brandon Bass for 6’8” Glen Davis. The downsized C’s will miss TNT’s newest addition Shaquille O’Neal, who hung up his size 23′s after a stellar 19-year career, and 6’9” 5th-year Hoya Jeff Green, who was recently diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm that will sideline him for the entire season.

The New York Knicks, with the acquisition of newly-signed center Tyson Chandler, have what many hoops-heads think is the best starting frontcourt in the entire league. Forwards Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony give the MSG-guys tons of inside-outside scoring. The Knicks waived starting PG Chauncey Billups (now a Clipper) utilizing the new amnesty clause to make room for Chandler’s salary, so they might be a little thin in the backcourt. However, the last time there was a shortened season in 1999 the Knicks made it all the way to the NBA Finals.

The Philadelphia 76ers, who finished 41-41 and lost to the Heat in the first round of the playoffs last Spring, have 8th-year, do-everything Andre Iguodala and 13th-year big Elton Brand returning along with Coach Doug Collins, who in his first year on the City-of-Brotherly-Love bench had the team peaking going into the postseason. The Sixers went 28-18 over their last 44 contests before getting out-talented by the South Beach Sizzles. Having overachieved last season, they face the difficult challenge of having to play at a very high level throughout the shortened season to replicate their 2011 results.

The New Jersey Nets, who will move to Brooklyn next year, are gearing up for their last season in the Garden State. Coach Avery Johnson’s guys were 24-58 last year. But in the second half of the schedule they traded for sixth-year All-Star PG Deron Williams. Williams is one of the truly elite lead guards in the game today and makes the Nets an enticing destination for another All-Star like Dwight Howard. Fourth-year 7-footer Brook Lopez can at times be a force around the rim. He averaged 20.4 ppg last year, starting all 82, but only grabbed six rpg. Unfortunately the Nets will be without their leading scorer for 6-8 weeks due to a stress fracture Brook suffered in a preseason game against the Knicks, which will impact both the Nets’ early season play and the prospect of a trade with Orlando.

The Toronto Raptors, who finished 22-60 in 2011, will attempt to reinvent themselves under first-year head coach Dwane Casey. 2006 first overall pick 7’0” Andrea Bargnani from Rome Italy and 6’10” newly bulked-up Tarheel Ed Davis, now in is sophomore season, lead Toronto. This roster will probably change a few times during the upcoming months as Canada’s NBA reps try to tinker and tailor with on-court combinations to keep pace with their Atlantic Division brethren.

Southeast Division

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Miami Heat took more ‘heat’, warranted and unwarranted, from the basketball universe and beyond than any other team in the league. In 2012 they will be looking to not only make the Finals again, but to come out victorious and silence the critics and haters. The Heatles lost PG Mike Bibby, but gained ‘Mr. Glue’ 11th-year defensive savant Shane Battier. With their Big 3 of LeBron, D-Wade and Chris Bosh having withstood a season in the trenches, both physically and mentally, expect the more experienced Heat to come out on fire with an in-sync attack.

The Orlando Magic face one of the most daunting tasks in the league – trying to win a division title with the Megatron Miami Heat sitting right above them. There is a lot of uncertainty here. Orlando, who finished 52-30 in 2011 and lost to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, will continue to have several suitors for First Team All-NBA center Dwight Howard until his future is firmly decided. The Magic do have vets Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson on the wings along with newly acquired forward Glen Davis, so this squad could stay as is if Howard chooses to sign an extension.

The Atlanta Hawks, who finished 44-38 and then lost to the Chicago Bulls in the second round of the playoffs last spring, have a strong, athletic, talented trio in 11th-year G Joe Johnson, 8th-year F Josh Smith and 5th-year F/C Al Horford. Super sixth man Jamal Crawford left for Portland, but the Hawks signed former 2x All-NBA First Teamer Tracy McGrady for the veteran minimum. With 14 seasons under his belt at only 32-years of age, maybe T-Mac will have a last gasp of greatness to help push this squad deeper into the postseason.

The Washington Wizards, with sophomore point guard John Wall, who finished second to Blake Griffin in the 2011 ROY voting, and rookie 6’11” combo-forward Jan Vesely, look to be on the upswing after a difficult 23-59 2011 season. It will take some time for the Wiz to put together a solid core through the draft and free agency, but with former #1 overall pick Wall steering the DC Ship and some healthy cap space for next summer, the Wiz should slowly be heading north in the standings.

The Charlotte Bobcats, who finished 34-48 last tilt, have exciting rookies in 7th overall pick Congolese PF 6’9” Bismack Biyombo and 9th overall pick UConn National Champ PG Kemba Walker. The Queen City ‘Cats will have trouble finding wins in the very competitive Southeast division. Charlotte is in the classic and often frustrating ‘rebuilding mode’ and can’t do a whole lot until next year when a lot of their current, underachieving contracts are off the books.

Central Division

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Chicago Bulls, who owned the NBA’s best regular season record in 2011 at 62-20, are the top team by a large measure in the Central Division. The Bulls have locked up reigning MVP Derrick Rose by signing him to a five-year contract extension. Now in only his fourth pro season, Rose is sure to be great again and to continue widening his lightning-quick offensive repertoire. Surrounding the 23-year-old Rose is 10th-year PF Carlos Boozer, 8th-year SF Luol Deng, 5th-year, 6’11”double-double rubberband-man Joakim Noah, perimeter marksmen Kyle Korver and newly signed 3X NBA All-Star G Richard Hamilton. The Bulls, who lost to Miami in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, have depth galore. The question is do they have a consistent and solid 2nd and 3rd man to help Rose when top-tier teams key on him?

The Indiana Pacers qualified for the 2011 post-season with a 37-45 regular season record. They lost to top seed Chicago in the first round after putting a scare into the Bulls. Coach Frank Vogel’s roster has talent: 7th -year, 2-spot/3-spot Danny Granger, 3rd-year point guard Darren Collison, 7’2” center Roy Hibbert, forward Tyler ‘The Motor’ Hansbrough and 2nd-year guard Paul George. Indy acquired David West from the Hornets to help out on offense. This is a squad with decent, but not top-notch talent. So the challenge will be to make the sum greater than the parts with core chemistry and focused roles.

The Milwaukee Bucks, who finished the 2011 season with a 35-47 record, know where they must improve: offense. The Bucks averaged a league-worst 91.9 ppg and also had the lowest shooting percentage from the field. Coach Scott Skiles has former #1 overall pick 7’ center Andrew Bogut and 3rd-year point guard Brandon Jennings along with newly acquired vets Stephen Jackson and Mike Dunleavy to share the load. This team has weapons, but they are often undermined by the huge holes on offense that put pressure on Milwaukee’s defensive game and make it that much harder to rack up W’s.

The Detroit Pistons, with new head coach Lawrence Frank and the 8th pick in the 2011 NBA draft PG Brandon Knight, hope to improve on a tumultuous and strife-filled 30-52 season. Richard Hamilton is gone leaving Ben Gordon, 10th-year forward Tayshaun Prince, leading rebounder Greg Monroe at center, leading scorer/combo guard Rodney Stuckey, Charlie Villanueva and Will Bynum. The Motown Men have talent, but again, not playoff-caliber talent. So the Pistons will probably be on the outside looking in when the playoffs start.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, who finished a disappointing, post-LeBron 19-63 in 2011, landed the first and fourth picks in the 2011 Draft. With #1 they chose Duke Freshman PG Kyrie Irving, and they took U. of Texas Freshman PF/SF Tristan Thompson with #4. The Cavs released veteran PG Baron Davis through the new amnesty clause and will be looking to deal salary away for future draft picks. Coach Byron Scott and the Cavs organization have a lot of work to do through the drafting and development of young players before they’ll be back in the top 8 of the East.

Around the League

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

NBA 2011-2012 Western Conference Season Preview

Pacific Division

Copyright 2011 NBAE-Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty ImagesThe Los Angeles Lakers, who were swept 4-0 by the eventual 2011 champion Mavericks in the Western Conference Semis, thought they had pried PG extraordinaire Chris Paul from the Hornets via mega-trade only to have the deal nixed by Commissioner Stern. Instead the Lakers shipped 13th-year combo forward and reigning Sixth Man of the Year 6’10” Lamar Odom to the champs for a 2012 first round pick and an $8.9 million trade exception. Now in his in his 16th NBA season, Kobe Bryant endures as one of the league’s top talents. But like all athletes he is slowing down with age. The Staples co-habitants still have 11th-year All-Star 7’0” Pau Gasol and 7th-year 7’0” center Andrew Bynum, only 24 years old. But they want Dwight Howard, and he would play in SoCal. So the cast of the 2011-12 Lake Show is by no means set in stone. New head coach Mike Brown, who steps into a giant set of shoes from the departed too-many-rings-for-his-fingers Phil Jackson, will have to weather the perilous tides of change.

The Los Angeles Clippers, who finished 32-50 last season, pulled off the biggest trade of the 2011-12 preseason and landed the much-sought-after PG Chris Paul to go along with unanimous 2011 ROY Blake Griffin. For balance the Clips added 15th-year PG Chauncey Billups, who will anchor their young roster with his focused, veteran presence. Coach Vinny Del Negro also has athletic 10th-year wingman Caron Butler and the defensive paint monster center DeAndre Jordan. There is already growing excitement around this promising team, and with tremendous upside come great expectations. 2012 may be the long-awaited year that the oft-maligned ‘little brother’ of the LA hoops world finally passes his glittery-gold big brother and takes over Tinseltown.

The Phoenix Suns, with the former 2x NBA MVP and 16th-year PG Steve Nash (best Canadian baller ever) missed the Western Conference Playoffs last season with a 40-42 record. Coach Alvin Gentry has newly-added 6th-year former Laker combo guard Shannon Brown to run with Nash. 5th-year center 6’11” Marcin Gortat gives Phoenix muscle and hustle up front, and 17th-year G/F Grant Hill helps out all over the stat sheet and court.  5th-year players G Aaron Brooks and F Jared Dudley will have to step up their production with the loss of Vince Carter to the Mavs. Also 7th-year F/C Channing Frye will be needed to crash the boards with Gortat to give the Suns a chance to run the way they like to.

The Golden State Warriors have a 43 ppg starting backcourt in 7th-year Monta Ellis and 3rd-year Stephen Curry, both 6’3” and 185lbs. Besides this lethal 1 and 2, rookie Coach Mark Jackson doesn’t have a whole lot to work with – especially in the frontcourt, even with the addition of onetime #1 overall pick 6’11” 11th-year Kwame Brown. 7th-year big man David Lee led the team with 9.8 rpg last year. It will be tough for this East Bay bunch to improve a whole lot on last season’s 36-46 finish. There is always talk that either Ellis or Curry is on the trading block because GS needs some serious help up front.

The Sacramento Kings have three players returning who averaged in double figures last season: 3rd-year guards Marcus Thornton and Tyreke Evans along with 2nd-year ultra-talented 6’11” center Demarcus Cousins. They drafted long-range bomber Jimmer Fredette from BYU and added former Cav 4th-year 6’9” J.J. Hickson to help out up front.  After enduring a 24-58 season last and the possibility of the franchise leaving SacTown, the Kings can build around a shaky, but skilled young nucleus. They are still a few years away from finishing in the top 8 in the West.

 

Northwest Division

Copyright 2011 NBAE-Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty ImagesThe Oklahoma City Thunder lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the WCF last spring, but gained valuable playoff seasoning and experience along the way. With First Team All-NBA 6’9” 2x league scoring champ 5th-year Kevin Durant leading the exciting Thunder, the OKC bunch finished 55-27 in 2011. With 4th-year 2011 All-Star and Second Team All NBA PG Russell Westbrook running the show and 3rd-year players Serge Ibaka and James Harden providing inside and outside help respectively, the Thunder should again top the Northwest division in the upcoming season. When center Kendrick Perkins is fully healed and ready to anchor the low post defensively, OKC will be formidable and difficult to beat when they’re ‘clicking’.  The next step in their team maturation should give them a solid chance at making the 2012 NBA Finals.

The Denver Nuggets played very well in the 2010-11 season considering that for a large chuck of it they had to deal with the Carmelo Anthony trade circus. Melo was eventually shipped to the Knicks and the Nuggets finished last year at 50-32 and lost to the Thunder in the WC first round. The Nuggets drafted 6’8” rebounding-machine Kenneth Faried in the first round of the 2011 draft and now have 6’10” 4th-year F Danilo Gallinari and 10th-year 6’11 Nene Hilario up front. In the backcourt they have 5th-year swingman Arron Afflalo and the 3rd-year all-galaxy-quick Ty Lawson at the point. Denver added Rudy Fernandez and Corey Brewer to take the place of Kenyon Martin, Wilson Chandler and J.R. Smith who are playing in China this year. Look for coach George Karl’s team to push the ball and play exciting, high-altitude hoops.

The Portland Trail Blazers, who lost former ROY and 3X NBA All-Star Brandon Roy to early retirement due to a degenerative nerve condition on 12/10/11, will have their work cut out for them in a talented and tenacious Western Conference. Portland returns 6th-year leading scorer 6’11” LaMarcus Aldridge (21.8 ppg) and 3rd-year 2-guard Wesley Matthews who put up 15.7 ppg and played in all 82 regular season games last year. In addition on 2/24/11, they traded for 11th-year 6’7” dynamic Gerald Wallace, who also averaged 15.7 ppg. Veteran PG Andre Miller was traded to Denver on Draft Day for 7th-year PG Raymond Felton. 16th-year 6’11” C Marcus Camby led the Blazers with 10.2 rpg in the 2011 season and is back again, while 4th-year former #1 overall pick center Greg Oden will once again start the year on the sidelines with troubled knees. The Blazers finished 48-34 last season and lost to the Mavs in Round 1. Portland should make the 2012 postseason but have age and injury questions that might hinder them.

The Utah Jazz, who finished last year at 39-43 and out of the playoffs, come into the 2012 season with much uncertainty surrounding them. 8th-year 6’10” Al Jefferson is their leading returning scorer at 18.6 ppg, and he started all 82 games last year. 6th-year 6’8” Paul Millsap is back after averaging 17.3 ppg. Up front they added #3 overall 2011 pick 6’11” Enes Kanter to develop alongside of 2nd-year 6’10” Derrick Favors. Their backcourt is made up of 8th-year PG Devin Harris and 7th-year 2-guard C.J. Miles. The Jazz have several players who can and will impact games. The question is can they impact the WC as a moldable group and return to the playoffs in 2012?

The Minnesota Timberwolves, who suffered through a dismal 2010-2011 season and finished at 15-67, have added #2 overall pick 6’8 Derrick Williams and 21-year-old 2009 #5 overall pick PG Ricky Rubio from Spain. New head coach Rick Adelman has 2011 MIP and league rebounding champ 6’10” Kevin Love to build around. If Minnesota fans will have any hope of improving on last season’s record, 4th-year F and scorer 6’10” Michael Beasley and 9th-year 7’0” Darko Milicic will need to contribute at a more consistent rate. The Wolves team defense was pretty bad in 2011, so they may be thinking trade in order to shore up that area. The bottom line is that this squad needs a lot in a lot of areas and needs to either be patient and try to develop what they have or to break up this current group and start again.

Southwest Division

Copyright 2011 NBAE-Photo by Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty ImagesThe Dallas Mavericks, the 2011 NBA Champs, are back to defend the title with a few changes that may be consequential come the 2012 playoffs. Center Tyson Chandler, Dallas’ 5th leading scorer, top board-man and best shot blocker, was traded via a sign-and-trade to the glow of Manhattan and the NY Knicks.  Former Laker 6’10” combo forward Lamar Odom, the 2011 6th-Man of the Year, arrived via trade on 12/11/11. Dallas also signed free agent Vince Carter, a 14-year vet, who can still light up the scoreboard on some nights. Coach Rick Carlisle still has 18th-year PG Jason Kidd running the show and 10x All-Star and 2011 Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki scoring from seemingly everywhere on the court. 13th-year F Shawn Marion is back and 11th-year 7’0” C Brendan Haywood returns, where he’ll be expected to fill Chandler’s important role as defensive-stopper.

The Memphis Grizzlies, who made it to the WC semis last spring before losing to the OKC Thunder in a great series, have 6th-year 6’8”SF Rudy Gay back to start the new season. 20-point a night scorer Gay, who had season-ending shoulder surgery last March and missed the entire 2011 postseason, will give the Griz even more firepower to go along with 11th-year PF Zach Randolph, PG Mike Conley, 7’1” Marc Gasol and SG O.J. Mayo. They still have Tony Allen for defensive shutdown assignments, however they lost veteran Shane Battier to the Heat and Darrell Arthur to a season-ending torn right Achilles tendon.  Memphis went 46-36 in a monster division where all five teams finished well above .500 last season.  Coach Lionel Hollins’ squad will be a tough team to beat, especially after gaining valuable playoff experience and victories last year.

The San Antonio Spurs, after posting a 61-21 regular season record (good for #2 overall in the league), were upset in the first round of the playoffs by the upstart Grizzlies. Mr. 4-Rings, future 1st ballot HOF’er 35-year-old Tim Duncan, posted career lows in scoring and rebounding during the 2011 campaign.  Manu Ginobili, the 34-year old crafty Argentine wingman, is still clutch and productive in a pinch, but he too has lost a step and some zip in his frenetic, soccer-like on-court game. The third member of the Spurs triumvirate is French PG Tony Parker. He led the team in scoring and dimes, but he too is probably past his prime. SA traded combo guard and fourth leading scorer George Hill to the Indiana Pacers for rookie Kawhi  Leonard on draft night in June. The Spurs still have the talent to beat any team in the NBA, but it remains to be seen whether they do it in a 7-game series.

The Houston Rockets finished a very respectable 43-39 in a loaded division, but missed out on the postseason. Celtic great Kevin McHale is the new headman in Houston, and he has some potent scorers on his roster. 8th-year 6’7” G Kevin Martin led the team with a 23.5 ppg average. 5th-year rugged PF Luis Scola put up 18.3 ppg and led the team in rebounding with 8.2 rpg last year. 6th-year PG Kyle Lowry was the third leading scorer and led the Rockets in dimes with 6.7 apg. Houston will be able to score. Their difficulties will come on the defensive end where they’ll be forced, until a change is made, to play Hasheem Thabeet and Jordan Hill in the middle. Look for the Rockets to be active in the trade markets this season to change up the composition of their starting five.

The New Orleans Hornets went 46-36 and lost to the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. Now they’ve lost All-World PG Chris Paul via a requested trade with the Clippers. NO’s top scorer in 2011, F David West signed with the Pacers recently. From the Clips, the Hornets received top-flight 4th-year SG Eric Gordon, only 22 years old, as well as big man 7’ Chris Kaman and 2nd-year combo forward 21 year old Al-Farouq Aminu. In addition, the Hornets received an unprotected #1 draft pick that the Clippers got from the Timberwolves. New Orleans is in a difficult spot in that the league and the 29 other owners are in charge of The Big Easy’s hoops team. This is a franchise in limbo. Head coach Monty Williams will have his hands full at first and will need to rely on size. Both 6’10” Emeka Okafor and 6’9” Carl Landry will be called upon to provide front court production and toughness for the new-look Hornets.


From the Booth

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Ukraine and The Czar

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Over the weekend I joined the Ukrainian delegation in Munich, Germany to support their bid to host the FIBA European Basketball Championship in 2015. The campaign was truly a team effort.

Sports and entertainment marketing specialist Impact34 worked with the Ukrainian Basketball Federation to deliver the proposal, and Our Agency assembled the hardcover bid book. National Olympic Committee President Sergey Bubka (the legendary pole vaulter who won six consecutive IAAF World Championships and Olympic gold in 1988) fronted the bid. Deputy Prime Minister Boris Kolesnikov made the trip to Munich to demonstrate the Ukrainian government’s commitment, while AeroSvit Airlines volunteered to transport the players during the tournament.

Sasha Volkov and Sasha Larin both worked unbelievably hard to make this happen. Thanks to the tremendous support they received, and perhaps in part the candle I lit for them at the cathedral, they succeeded. On Sunday FIBA Europe President Olafur Rafnsson announced the Board’s decision to award Ukraine the bid. It was a great moment for the country and for Ukrainian basketball. No doubt staging this prestigious tournament will help Ukraine in its endeavor to become one of the European powerhouses.

Now the hard work begins. This is going to be a massive undertaking. 180 million euros will be allocated for preparations for EuroBasket 2015, including the building of new hotels, the construction of three new arenas and the re-developing of four existing arenas.

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