Czar’s 2011-12 Season Preview

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The CzarFather: NBA Survival Tips

Speculating on the ever-rotating rosters of sports franchises is one the media’s favorite past times. Headline dominating conjecture about Melo and the Nuggets picked up where our obsession with LeBron left off after he announced his decision to leave the Cavs in 2010. The abbreviated 2011-12 season will be no different. Signing and trade rumors began flying as soon as the handshake deal that ended the five-month NBA Lockout was announced over Thanksgiving weekend.

With free agency fast approaching for Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Deron Williams, the Magic, Hornets and Nets all face franchise-altering decisions. Every organization is structured differently as far as who’s involved in personnel decisions. Some teams want the head coach to be a vital part of the process, while others don’t permit the coach to weigh in at all. Instead they leave the team building chess moves entirely up to the owner, president and general manager.

When faced with the possibility of losing a franchise player, no question the most critical task is to break down all communication barriers by going directly to the source. You can’t rely on third-party negotiations because messages can easily get misconstrued during the back-and-forth. Instead I would start by sitting down to have a candid, face-to-face discussion with the player in question. Look him in the eye and say, “We want you here. We want to build our franchise around you.” Then ask him point blank what he wants to do, “Do you want to be here or not?”

If the player is ready to move on then management has to cut its losses and do what’s best for the team. You have to go after a deal that will get you as much as possible in return for that player. Otherwise you risk being left empty-handed like when Shaq parted ways with Orlando. Best-case scenario you reinvigorate your roster and reinvent your team like George Karl and the Nuggets were able to do through their successful handling of Carmelo Anthony’s departure.

Guys on the team are obviously affected by media speculation, especially those rumored to be on the trading block. The best approach you can take as a coach is to be honest with them. Let them know what you know whenever possible. Hopefully that will help them feel somewhat settled. There’s so much turmoil involved for a player and his family when they have to relocate, so they appreciate it when you keep them in the loop. And the fact is they’re reading about it in the news anyway. The worst thing is when they believe the hype and it’s inaccurate. Being straightforward is the best way to handle this dubious situation.

Gameday Dish: Hornets at Nets

The New Orleans Hornets pay their once-a-season visit to the Garden State tonight. The Hornets currently sit in fifth place overall in the Western Conference at 32-21. Coach Monty Williams, the youngest headman in the league at 39 years old, brings his talented and exciting squad to the Prudential Center on a 3-game losing skid, most recently dropping a 104-92 contest to Kevin Love and the Timberwolves in the Big Easy on Monday night.

The Hornets eighth-year PF David West, a local guy from Teaneck, leads New Orleans in scoring at 18.8 per game. The man with the plan running the on-court show for Team Buzz is sixth-year PG Chris Paul.  Paul, the NBA’s 2006 ROY and 4X-All Star, averages 9.8 dimes per game, third best in the league, and leads the team in minutes played at 35.3.

On the defensive end of the court, CP3 is tops in the NBA in steals at 2.55 swipes per game. Starting center Emeka Okafor anchors the interior D and swats away 1.78 bpg and ranks sixth in the league in glass-work with 10.1 rpg. His hustle and rim-protection abilities matched with lead guard Paul’s swarming perimeter presence have made New Orleans the second stingiest team in the league at 92.3 ppg allowed.

New Orleans started the season white-hot, victorious in their first 8 games and in 11 of the first 12. Then, the script flipped dramatically as the Hornets went 5-11 over the next 16 games. They are average at best away from The Pelican State, going 12-14 on the road so far.

So while tonight’s interconference matchup has the Brick City boys playing a formidable foe, at 12-13 at home, almost a .500 clip, the Nets have reason to be confident going into tonight’s game. New Jersey last played on Sunday and lost at home, 105-86. They are also on a three-game winless streak. However, on the sunny side of Prognostication Avenue, the last two times Avery Johnson’s team had three days between contests they came out with their A-game – losing at Phoenix in a tough-fought OT battle and winning in Newark on January 5th against the Chicago Bulls and their do-everything PG Derrick Rose.

With the NBA East lacking the depth of the NBA West, the Nets sit only 7.5 games out of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. So tune in tonight at 7PM ET on YES for game 53 of the 2010-11 season and see if third-year Nets Big Man C Brook Lopez and crew can change things up and a make the Prudential Center a ‘Hornets Net’ instead of a ‘Hornet Nest.’

Gameday Dish: From the City of Blues to the Birthplace of Jazz

The New Jersey Nets come to the Big Easy after back-to-back wins and will try to make it three in a row for the first time in almost two years. The Hornets return home after a loss at Detroit on Sunday in OT and a heartbreaking defeat at the buzzer in Indiana. Both squads are 3-7 over their last ten contests, but the Newark boys seem to be on the upswing while the Hornets have lost some of their buzz after starting the season 11-1.

The Nets ended a 10-game road losing streak to the Memphis Grizzlies last night by a score of 101-94. Center Brook Lopez led the team with a strong 26-point effort. Newcomer Sasha Vujacic came off the bench for 16 points, and seventh-year forward Kris Humphries pulled down 15 boards, including 4 on the offensive end. Coach Avery Johnson’s guys will have their work cut out for them trying to put points on the board against this stingy New Orleans team. The Hornets currently rank third in the NBA in points allowed at 92, while New Jersey is at the bottom of the league in scoring – 28th overall with 93 ppg.

We’ll get to see two of the NBA’s top point guards Chris Paul and Devin Harris go at it tonight. Former First Team All-NBA player (2008) and 3x All-Star Chris Paul leads the NBA in steals and is fourth in dimes per game. And All-Star Devin Harris has recently hit his stride, averaging 19.5 ppg and 7 apg over New Jersey’s last four games. Lopez will have his hands full with Hornets’ Emeka Okafor, a seventh-year center from UConn who had arguably his best game of this season in the loss to Indiana with a season high 15 rebounds. He also scored 19 points, had 3 blocks and 2 steals.

This should be a special night for New Orleans native Avery Johnson, who has remained connected to his hometown and will no doubt be greeted by many family and friends at the Arena. When New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton was hired back in ’06, he enlisted the local inspiration (who was coaching the Mavericks at that time) to serve as a motivational speaker for the team in its first training camp. Avery continued to be an ardent supporter and made subsequent pregame appearances including the Saints’ first home game in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 Super Bowl. The Saints went on to become Super Bowl XLIV champs and Payton rewarded Johnson for his role in the team’s success with his very own Super Bowl ring.

Avery Johnson is hoping for a similar rise-to-success story for his Nets. Last night’s victory in Memphis, the home of the Blues, coupled with a win tonight against the Hornets in Crescent City, the birthplace of Jazz, would be sweet, sweet music to Nets Nation. Ian Eagle and I have the call at 8:00 PM ET on YES.

Around the League: Jump Starts

Certain teams started out the season like they were supposed to: The Lakers are undefeated, while the Heat and Celtics are 4-1. Meanwhile some other teams have surprised us. There were big question marks about the Hawks, Hornets and Blazers heading into the season and all three have gotten off to a much better start than expected.

The Hawks steadily improved through each year of Coach Mike Woodson’s six-year tenure, culminating with three straight playoff appearances and an impressive 53-win season in 2009-10. In light of ownership’s decision to let Woodson go and the absence of any spectacular improvements to the roster, Atlanta’s future seemed tenuous. But since former assistant coach Larry Drew took over the reigns, his talented bunch (led by nine-year veteran Joe Johnson who’s averaging 19.6 PPG) have come out of the gates flying to five straight wins to lead the Eastern Conference.

Afflicted by injuries, superstar point guard Chris Paul was only able to play in 45 games last year, and his Hornets had to settle for a disappointing 37-win season. With Chris Paul’s rehabilitation ongoing this summer, all the speculation surrounding rumors that he would demand a trade, and the firing of Coach Byron Scott, New Orleans was bracing for another touch-and-go season.

But CP3 stayed, and in his first NBA campaign Head Coach Monty Williams has gotten off to an excellent start. Boasting a perfect 4-0 record, the Hornets trail the champion Lakers by just one win. And their future looks bright as Paul appears back to form, averaging over 35 PPG and 9 assists for fifth in the league.

Touted as the next big thing just a few years back, the Trail Blazers were plagued with injuries last season. 13 players combined to miss 311 games including Joel Przybilla, Greg Oden and Brandon Roy. Considering Portland is still without big men Oden and Przybilla, they have gotten off to a surprisingly solid start. Last night the Blazers came up just one point short of a win over Durant and the Thunder in overtime to put their record at 4-2.

The Blazers capitalized on a fortuitous opening season schedule, catching the Knicks, Suns and Clippers who are all struggling with subpar starts. Portland is getting a balanced attack from Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Andre Miller who work well together. And guys like Nicolas Batum are stepping up while they await the return of their bigs. Nate McMillan is an excellent coach. Having assisted Coach K and Team USA, he didn’t have much down time in the off-season but came back ready to go. Przybilla is targeting November 26 for his return to the lineup so if the Blaze can stay healthy, they should continue to contend.