For our next installment in ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series we head out West, to La La Land. After falling to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals Lakers fans were understandably disappointed. However, the season was still a tremendous success for The Lake Show as they vaulted back into the NBA’s elite. Kurt from always solid Forum Blue and Gold was along for the ride, blogging the rollercoaster season from start to finish.
We asked Kurt to answer a few questions about the past and upcoming seasons, and he was nice enough to make time to oblige. Over the course of ten questions we weave our way through Andrew Bynum’s health, that Ron Artest-for-Lamar Odom trade chatter, Kobe’s competitiveness, the future of Jordan Farmar, handicap a potential Kyle Korver vs. Sasha Vujacic catfight and more. Enjoy.
Empty the Bench: Talk a little about Phil Jackson’s rotations and substitutions in the Finals. There are a few choices that boggled my mind, but what stood out to you?
Kurt: Phil Jackson was a desperate man, and that led to experiments at a time when your rotation should be pretty set. But he had no real choice, what had worked so well for the last couple months of the season and all through the Western Conference playoffs was now failing. A lot of that was due to matchups — Boston posed some serious matchup issues, starting with stopping Pierce — but part of the problem was that outside of Kobe or Fisher this was the first time Lakers players had seen the Finals, and they were a little taken aback by the Celtics desire. So Phil tried just about anything, even throwing Chris Mihm out there even though he hadn’t played a serious NBA game in nearly two years. Desperate times call for desperate measures. It didn’t work, so people were left scratching their heads, questioning his coaching.
ETB: Who would win the catfight between Sasha Vujacic and Kyle Korver?
Kurt: Does Korver have all those Salt Lake tweens in his corner, ready to jump on that Euro with the bad hair if he hurts their precious pretty boy Korver? If he’s got those girls, you have to lean Korver, never underestimate an angry teenager. Straight up, I’ll take The Machine.
We talk Ron Artest, Jordan Farmar, Kevin Martin and more after the jump…
NBA, I miss you so. I know, I know. We agreed to spend some time apart this summer and it hasen’t even been two months since we hung out. And I have been trying to get out there, I’ve even been seeing somebody else for the last week or so. Her name is Olympic Basketball, and she’s alright I guess. She’s treated me right so far. We went out for Chinese and Greek, and we’re going to try this little tapas place this weekend. And she lets me hang out with my boys Kobe and Chris and LeBron – not as often as you did, though. It’s just not the same without you, NBA. I miss you.
NBA, one on one, you and me, I wanna play that game. Tonight.
1 CommentPosted by Andrew Thell on Aug. 15, 2008 at 12:21pm in NBA
LeBron James makes his teammates better. Check that: LeBron James makes teammates who still have game better players. Some of the ragtag crew he’s been forced to run with these past few seasons have been simply beyond salvation. I won’t name names… oh, hell, I’m talking Eric Snow, Sasha Pavlovic, post-Pistons Ben Wallace, etc.
Maurice “Mo” Williams most certainly has game, and the King will, undoubtedly, make his new starting point guard look better. As you’ve probably heard by now, the former Milwaukee Bucks guard was the centerpiece of a three-team trade that sent him packing to that beautiful metropolis of Cleveland to join the Cavaliers. Spare parts and castoffs mostly comprised the rest of the deal, which ended up looking like this:
- Cleveland gets PG Mo Williams
- Oklahoma City (aka the Seattle Sonics) get SF Desmond Mason and F/C Joe Smith
- Milwaukee gets PG Luke Ridnour, PG Damon Jones, and S/F Adrian Griffin
Of course, we have some thoughts too. For the purposes of this post, however, I’m going to look at this strictly from a Cleveland Cavaliers perspective since they stand to gain the most from it and because there’ve been so many folks going ga-ga over the deal.
Is Mo Williams an upgrade for the Cavs at the point? Will The King help pad Williams’ stats? Yes, and often enough.
Is Williams the piece that will definitely put the Cavaliers over the top, slam-dunking the franchise onto the heads of the Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, and perhaps the Philadelphia 76ers? No.
Many casual NBA fans out there may not be all too familiar with Mo Williams and what he brings to the table. After all, it’s not like the Milwaukee Bucks make even intermittent appearances on nationally televised games, and they haven’t won a playoff series since they advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001. I’ll take a really quick look at Williams and what kind of impact he might have in Cleveland after the break.
You’re going to be hearing a lot about the resurgent Portland Trail Blazers in the coming years. There’s no better place to follow up on all that Blazers buzz than at Blazer’s Edge, a fantastic site “by Blazers fans, for Blazers fans.”
The main leader over there is Dave Deckard, who writes almost daily about anything and everything surrounding this resurgent franchise. Wondering what’s up with Greg Oden’s recovery from last year’s microfracture surgery? Looking for in-depth analysis of all these youngsters everyone’s clamoring about? Dave does a wonderful job of breaking it down and framing his thoughts in terms of how it all fits into the bigger Blazers picture.
Without further ado, we give you 10 questions with Dave Deckard as part of ETB’s ongoing Scribes of the NBA Interview Series. Enjoy.
Empty the Bench:The Portland Trail Blazers’ turnaround has been remarkable. The team has bodies stacked in spades at nearly every position. Does they need anything else other than time?
Dave Deckard: Time is the main ingredient, but there may be a few decorations yet to go on the cake. Among the most important could be a veteran presence to fill in the gaps our young leadership can’t. Brandon Roy is an amazing pro and the best kind of locker room presence you can imagine. The talent surrounding him has the potential to be awe-inspiring.
However, only one of the Blazers’ top eight rotation guys has been to the playoffs. There are certain lessons only experience can impart. Granted, the Blazers could go through a couple years of playoff runs learning those lessons but they’ll probably want to shortcut the process a little by adding the voice of someone who’s been there.
With Raef LaFrentz sitting on a $13 million expiring contract this year and the Blazers having the option to make a trade using that contract, or letting it expire along with others to create up to $25 million of cap space next summer, it’s a sure bet Portland will be dabbling in the market. The positions at issue are starting point guard and small forward overall. Look for some veteran acquisitions there.
ETB:Does Greg Oden as a franchise cornerstone make you nervous, or do you have confidence that this kid can stay healthy?
Deckard: The health issue is probably overblown because of past experience with other high-profile Portland centers. Oden has been keeping himself fit and is coming back in better shape than he was in before the surgery. He obviously will need some cardio work, but given a couple months of that and a solid rookie year adjusting to the league there’s no reason to assume he’ll be anything but fine. I’d be far more worried depending on Yao Ming at this point; there’s a track record of health issues.
ETB:What are your expectations for Rudy Fernandez in his first year in the NBA and with the Blazers? How about 3 years from now?
Deckard: Rudy should be able to hit shots right away. He’ll also be able to run the floor and finish with the best of them. He’ll have to adjust to the physicality of the NBA in several ways, and he’ll be surprised the first time he tries to drive the lane and gets clobbered. Ditto when he tries to run off of screens through the middle.
Most importantly of all he’ll need a lot of work defensively. He hasn’t seen players who can dismantle him like NBA shooting guards will. Those adjustments may put him a little lower in the rotation than some folks expect, but he’s quite quick for his size and you can’t teach that. That will give him a leg up.
Three years from now Rudy should have adjusted to the league and the team should have adjusted to him. He can be a powerful offensive force moving without the ball and the Blazers are an unselfish squad. That should make for a good combination. I would expect him to be one of the primary scorers off of Portland’s bench, averaging in the mid-teens at least.
ETB:Speaking of Fernandez, what does his arrival mean for Sergio Rodriguez, who was largely an afterthought in his sophomore season?
Deckard: Sergio’s future depends more on Sergio than on Rudy. The Blazers should up the offensive tempo now that they have an interior line that can defend and rebound. That would seem to open the door for Sergio to re-emerge. However, Sergio needs to work on the parts of his game which keep him on the pines: shooting and defense. Unless he can stay in front of his man and stick the jumper when he’s open he won’t get many minutes no matter how fancy his passing gets.
Much more from Dave Deckard on the Portland Trail Blazers after the jump…
Last night I dreamt I was starting for the U.S. men’s basketball team.
It was a fairly detailed dream, too. It’s becoming more and more hazy by the minute, but I remember deflecting a pass on defense, passing up an open shot and deferring to LeBron James, and coming off the floor during a timeout feeling relatively good about my performance.
Once I got to the bench I took a seat next to head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who said I was playing good defense, that I shouldn’t be afraid to look for my own shot, and to stop passing it to LeBron and Carmelo every time I got the ball. He imparted this advice rather good-naturedly, though the minutes ticked away in the first half and I didn’t get back on the floor. Surely Coach K hadn’t forgotten about the deadly three-pointers and pivot-into-the-lane hook shot from the low block that I so often wield on the streets of NYC?
LeBron James Photo Credit: Icon SMI
My fanboy dream gets a little hazier after that. I remember sitting near Carlos Boozer during my time on the bench in the first half. As you may have heard, Boozer has been gifted a new nickname during these Beijing Olympic Games: “Fan Gu Zai,” which literally translates to “Betrayal Skull Dude,” an apparent reference both to his baldness and that famous about-face he pulled some years ago in bolting from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Utah Jazz.
I remember talking to Tayshaun Prince, who’s found himself at the very end of this team’s bench, and asking him about which move his Detroit Pistons made this summer has him most excited (that or which new player he’s most excited about playing with). He kept asking me who I was talking about, and I kept drawing a blank… kept having this unnamed player name stuck on the tip of my tongue. Perhaps it’s because very few people outside of Kwame Brown and Will Bynum have been bowled over by the free-agent signings of Kwawe Brown and Will Bynum, including me and my friend Tayshaun?
My Olympic dream pretty much ended there, though something about George W. Bush walking into a courtyard through a well-varnished oak door during halftime was in there too. If there was any justice this dream would have continued on into the second half. I would have pulled down a rebound, outletted to Chris Paul on the fast break, ran down the floor and set up on the wing behind the arc, and given CP3 another assist after calmly swishing the trey. I would have taken Coach K’s advice and looked for my shot–not passed to LeBron… and of course LeBron would have totally agreed with this game plan.
We’d of won the game and I would have been interviewed by Craig Sager on the sideline. I would have been contacted promptly thereafter by a representative from Topps interested in procuring my game-worn jersey to be cut up and included in next year’s special set of Team USA insert relic cards.
We featured the Charlotte Bobcats toward the end of the regular season in a series about the league’s non-playoff teams. When I started researching the piece I looked around the blogosphere for some opinions from Bobcats fans and came across the excellent Queen City Hoops. I was familiar with the Brett Hainline’s Bobcats blog, and I decided to ask him for some analysis on a few players, rotations, and roster moves I wasn’t well versed about. He was all too happy to respond with several pages of insightful analysis on everything I asked – and he had it for me within just a few hours.
I ended up using several large block quotes from Mr. Hainline in that Bobcats article, and so when we were looking for bloggers who cover individual teams for our Scribes of the NBA Interview Series he was an obvious choice. True to form, Brett was again happy to lend his insight and knowledge about these Bobcats. ETB sent him ten questions, and Brett responded with ten answers covering the villainous Alonzo Mourning, the enigma that is Raymond Felton, the disappointment that is Adam Morrison, the logic of a Gerald Wallace-for-Andrei Kirilenko swap, the future of Jared Dudley, reaction to the Bobcats’ draft, and much more.
Empty the Bench:A lot of people on the outside looking in are confused by the Raymond Felton conundrum. Could he be a point guard? Is he an NBA shooting guard? Is he a potential franchise cornerstone?
Brett Hainline: Raymond Felton – as currently constructed – is a point guard. Or he needs to be anyway. He is never going to be a Jason Kidd, pass-first-second-and-last kind of guy. But he just is not good enough of a scorer to be played at the 2. He is not a great shooter or finisher, but he can get by his man and get to the rim – where he is and should be looking to dish to his teammates.
ETB:As a Bobcats fan you’ve seen your share of poor draft picks and personnel moves. What specific moves or move has hurt this franchise the most?
Hainline:Adam Morrison. And I don’t think it is close. Brandon Roy or Rudy Gay could have been in Charlotte – and either almost certainly would have been enough to push the Cats into the 8th spot this year. Can Morrison contribute at the NBA level? Maybe – but never at the level expected from someone drafted where he was – and he’ll never have a season like the ones already put up by both Gay and Roy.
If the Bobcats lose Emeka for pennies on the dollar (or for nothing at all, if he takes the qualifying offer then walks next year) – well, then Adam would have some competition. [Ed. Okafor signed a a six-year, $72 million contract just after this interview]
ETB:You’re the Bobcats GM. Who is on the block, who is untouchable and who are you targeting in trades?
Hainline: This team has no untouchables – the only reason MJ called J-Rich untouchable recently is because there is no one who would take on his contract. And I think J-Rich is a good player, though overpaid. Gerald Wallace may actually be underpaid – but he is also a walking infirmary and I would like to see that be someone else’s issue. While most may not agree, I would love to see Utah and the Bobcats swap AK-47 for Crash: Similar players, but we could play AK at the 4, where he fits better, and Crash could actually man the 3 for Utah, instead of Andrei playing out of position.
The undersized David Stern and Muggsy Bogues after the jump…
Hats off to Chinese national team, who stuck with Team USA for longer than anybody expected. Behind the strength of remarkable three-point marksmanship the score was tied 29-29 with 6 minutes left in the 2nd quarter before LeBron James & Co. finally pulled away in impressive fashion. The early volley of threes from China and the fervor of the home crowd put some pressure on the more talented USA squad, but after stumbling early all fears were put to rest in the third quarter… for the time being.
The turning point and defining moment in the match was a second-quarter Dwyane Wade-to-LeBron James alley-oop that brought down the house and served as a fitting symbol for a contest defined by American hops, aggressiveness, athleticism and dominance both in the open court and around the basket. LeBron was an absolute demon and the second-best play had to be James pinning a hapless Chinese guard’s shot to the backboard with two hands before outletting one of many fast-break dunks (above).
As Kobe mentioned this week, LeBron has been the unquestioned vocal leader of this team. He was the leader again on Sunday, bringing an intensity and presence on both ends of the floor that nobody else in the arena could match.
The most impressive part of this victory could be Team USA’s ability to pressure the ball on nearly every possession. All of the guards were able to keep the Chinese points off balance for much of the game, causing a number of turnovers and easy fast-break baskets. The defensive intensity, spearheaded by Mr. James, was a welcome sight for those who have grown disenchanted with Team USA basketball in recent years.
As an NBA fan there were a few developments of note. First, D-Wade is back. His quicks and his ups were beyond reproach and Wade looked far more agile and explosive than he did at any point during the 2007-08 regular season. Second, Yi Jianlian is going to be a maddening disappointment in the NBA. He has skills and he has the physical tools to be an exciting player and he shows brilliant flashes, but his basketball IQ appears very low, he lacks confidence and he doesn’t display the traditional skill set of a small forward or power forward. Third, Dwight Howard is a bad man. Fourth, LeBron James is an even badder man.
All things considered, Team USA acquitted itself nicely and succeeded in turning the contest into one of athleticism and physical prowess — though their outside shooting and three-point defense still left something to be desired. It should also be noted, by Yao Ming’s own admission, this Chinese team has “no chance” to win an Olympic medal.
Team USA should be considered the clear-cut favorite for the gold until something changes, but this win isn’t anything to get too excited about.
It sure was a hell of a lot of fun to watch though.
“Hey everybody, Brian just got a Sergei Fedorov rookie card!”
It was 1991, and I had just become the proud owner of a coveted Pro Set Federov rookie card amidst a sports-card opening blitz in the back of the school bus. Speaking more with jealousy about the lack of premier cards in his packs than with excitement for mine, Dan Bargowski made the above proclamation for all to hear. As usual when I’m thrust into the center of attention, I slouched down in my seat and silently resumed sifting through the duds and keepers.
That was the heyday of my card-collecting era. With my days as an awkward middle-schooler fast giving way to my time as an only slightly less awkward high-schooler, those days on the bus opening pack after pack after pack of baseball, football, basketball, and hockey cards actually proved to be some of my last.
About a month ago ETB embarked on a day-long frisbee golf outing in upstate New York. With about 80 holes or so in the bank, we stopped in the thriving metropolis of Florida, NY, in search of a cool beer at a weird local bar. We spotted one on Florida’s “main strip,” parked the Zip Car, and on the way ducked into a random local card shop; it was the first time either of us had stepped foot in one since, I don’t know, before we got our drivers licenses. On a whim, we both ended up purchasing a pack of 2007-08 Topps basketball cards—almost instantly that addictive sense of mystery and excitement of opening packs of cards came rushing back.
We were hooked, again, some 16 odd years after I’d retired as an amateur card-collector.
Fast forward to this past Tuesday night when I cracked the last pack from a full box of those Topps basketball cards. Okay—the last pack of three boxes. And when I was done, I took each pack back out of its respective box, arranged the cards in numeric order by piles of 10 (1-10, 11-20, etc.), parceled out the doubles, put the special inserts aside (Chauncey Billups ’57-58 Relic Variant with a piece of game-worn jersey!), then went down the checklist and circled the few cards I was still missing from the series.
I was a 12-year-old all over again… and, yes, the ETB dons will soon be having some heated trading sessions in the name of completing our respective sets. That’ll have to wait, however, until we’ve each gotten our hands on the jumbo boxes (10 packs, 46 cards per pack!) that are in the mail as I write this.
That’s right—jumbo boxes. Variation Relic inserts. Trading sessions. We’re nerding up here at ETB lately, but I’m not ashamed to admit this: it’s been fun.
Much more on ETB’s rekindled passion for opening packs of cards after the jump…
Next in our summer cavalcade of celebrities we present Mr. Tom Ziller, who was kind enough to be the latest participant in ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series. Tom is the curator of Sactown Royalty, without question the best Sacramento Kings blog on the internet. In fact, Sactown has developed into a full-fledged online Kings community chock full of reader participation and active fan forums. If you’re looking for the latest discussion of all things Kings, SR your destination.
The questions here focus on Mr. Ziller’s beloved Kings as we cover the roster from top to bottom. However, at this point the masses may be more familiar with Tom’s work over at AOL’s FanHouse. He’s a regular contributor to the site and one of our favorite NBA scribes – be sure to check out his work over there as well, you’ll learn something.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Tom Ziller.
Empty the Bench: The big men are almost as muddled with Brad Miller, Kenny Thomas, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Mikki Moore, Sheldon Williams, Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes. Clear up some of this mess, who’s a keeper, who needs to go and what sort of rotation do you want to see this year?
Tom Ziller:Thompson and Hawes are definitely keepers for now. Hawes showed quite a bit late last season. Shelden Williams hasn’t won the hearts and minds of Sacramento’s decision makers – and he skipped out of a summer league game for the ESPYs. Everyone in Sacramento (including Kenny Thomas) prays Kenny Thomas will get traded two weeks ago. Shareef has discussed potentially retiring this summer due to knee issues. Miller is tradeable, but seen as a decent mentor (on the court) for Hawes. Moore is also tradeable, but offers some athleticism in the frontcourt that only Thompson can match.
I’d love to see one of Moore and Miller get traded and watch the remainder mix with Hawes, Thompson, and some Williams in the rotation this year.
ETB: You look at Kevin Martin’s stats and say, “Wow.” Then you watch him play and come away even more impressed. Why doesn’t this guy get national attention? And what is the ceiling for Kevin, can he be a franchise player?
Ziller: His name is Kevin Martin, which is really bland for a superstar two-guard. And he lives in Sacramento. That sums it up, really. It happened to Mitch Richmond, too. Martin is the franchise player right now – he’s only 25, he can drop 40 any given night, and he’s one of the league’s most efficient shooters. He needs a lot of help, but Martin’s a brilliant selection as a cornerstone.
Mr. Ziller talks Ron Artest, Beno Udrih, AOL FanHouse and Christie Brinkley after the jump…
Sweet Lou has the physical tools and basketball skills to be a a big-time scorer off the bench and it’s not hard to imagine him starting in a year or two. Given his upside, $25 million over five years will be a bargain.
Louis Williams Photo Credit: Icon SMI
General Manager Ed Stefanski is one of our favorite personnel men in the league, making a number of savvy moves since coming over from the New Jersey Nets in late 2007, and this is another shrewd decision on his résumé. The Sixers’ official site has a nice breakdown of the young man’s numbers:
“Originally the 45th overall pick by the Sixers in the 2005 NBA Draft, Williams (6-2, 175) has appeared in 171 games, averaging 7.2 points, 2.2 assists and 1.5 rebounds in 15.8 minutes per game. For his career, he has shot 42.9% from the floor, 34.7% from 3-point range and 75.7% from the line.
The 21-year-old enjoyed breakout success last season, averaging career-highs in scoring (11.5 ppg), assists (3.2 apg), rebounding (2.0 rpg) and steals (1.01 spg). Williams had the fifth highest point/rebound/assist total for any player coming off the bench last season and received votes for both the Most Improved Player and Sixth Man of the Year awards. He scored the fourth most points of any reserve last season, had the second-most assists, tallied the most steals and recorded the third-most free throw attempts.
After hitting a total of 14 three-pointers in his first two seasons, Williams was second on the team with 55 3-point FGM in 2007-08 while shooting a team-high 35.9% from behind-the-arc. Williams was also the Sixers second leading scorer in fourth quarters last season, with 42.3% of his season point total coming in the fourth.”
Williams is the self-proclaimed fasted man in the NBA, and he’s built a reputation on his ability to put points up in bunches. The former Naismith Prep Player of the Year possesses tremendous quicks and natural scoring ability, is electric in the open court and is going to be an 18+ PPG player just as soon as he gets 30+ minutes a night. He’s not as good on defense and around the basket, but Williams reminds me a lot of Monta Ellis in Golden State and could blow up in similar fashion.
The improving jumper is something to keep an eye on as he will likely be the best outside shooter on the Sixers again this year. They’ll desperately need that production from the perimeter: this team finished dead last in the NBA with just 3.7 three-pointers made per game. Newcomer Elton Brand will command a lot of attention in the middle and Philly needs consistent outside shooters to keep defenses honest — but by the same token Sweet Lou should get plenty of opportunities from behind the arc with Brand drawing so many doubles.
While he has been more of a scoring combo guard thus far, he may eventually be asked to man the point in the approaching post-Andre Miller era once Lou’s passing skills and basketball IQ mature. Sixers fans can tell you that those are coming along. Many outsiders don’t see a prototypical NBA point guard in Williams, and he will never be that, but let’s also not forget that while this young man famously averaged 46 points per during a three-game stretch in the D-League in 2006 he also averaged 14 assists in those games. The tools are there.