- The Season's Over -

Welcome to the Conference Finals, Lamar

May 28, 2009

Lamar OdomKind of you to show up. You were missed. I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure if you were going to make an appearance at all. You’ve given new meaning to the concept of being fashionably late. But after that stellar performance in Game Five in which you were instrumental in sending this dance back to Denver with the Lake Show holding a 3-2 lead, all can be forgiven.

For the time being, at least.

Ever since he was named Parade Magazine Player of the Year in 1997 while finishing his senior year of high school with stints at three separate institutions Odom has been known as a mercurial personality; never one to be pinned down, and never one to be counted on – but also never one to be underestimated.

Odom’s career has played out true to form since, from his one semi-dominant season at Rhode Island to his days as a highlight-reel regular with the Clippers, when he was the poster boy for untapped raw potential, to his brief stint on South Beach to his five seasons with the Lakers. Every year, every stop of the way, Lamar has shown the rare combination of athleticism, talent and work ethic to dominate.

You’ve just never known when that’s going to be, or for how long

Mr. Odom couldn’t have picked a better time to flash that otherworldy skill set and have his best performance of these stellar 2009 Conference Finals. Game Fives are always pivotal in the series with the winning team advancing 83 percent of the time. A loss at home would have put LA in an almost impossible hole. Odom ensured that didn’t happen.

In fact, it was his finest performance since the Game Five close-out of the Utah Jazz in the first round in which he dropped 26 points, 15 boards, 4 assists, 3 blocks and 2 triples. Since that strong showing way back on April 27th Lamar has been notably absent in the Lakers bizarrely compelling struggles. First it was their seven-game semifinals matchup against the Rockets in which he failed to reach double-digits in points in five of the games. Odom bottomed out with a 2-point performance in their crushing Game Four loss to Houston in which he made just 1 of his 4 field-goal attempts and grabbed only 6 boards in over 25 minutes on May 10th. It was, understandably, the last time he started despite Andrew Bynum’s obvious struggles.

Coming into Wednesday’s Game Five clash Odom had been nearly as bad in every game of the Conference Finals. He had never reached double-digit rebounds, only notched 10 points once and totaled just 4 blocks, 4 steals, 8 assists and 2 threes in four games while shooting 10-29 from the field (34%).

The Lakers are a finesse team that’s been out-hustled and out-muscled all week despite the series being tied 2-2. They were sorely missing a versatile and strong big man who could hit the glass, play D, handle the basketball and knock down open jumpers. They were desperately missing somebody like Lamar Odom.

Fortunately for his teammates and Lakers fans he finally decided to answer the call in all respects, dropping a final line of 19 points, 14 boards, 4 blocks, 1 three and 3 assists on 7-15 shooting from the field with just 1 TO. It was all good for a game-high +18 in the +/- column, which sounds about right considering his impact in the second half and the deciding stretch of the final period.

Despite his struggles and inexplicable-yet-predictable disappearing act, in the fourth quarter on Wednesday, there was Odom leading the Lakers to victory. Knocking down jumpers. Playing tough interior defense and chasing men to the perimeter. Coming from the help side to swat shots. Attacking the basket, putting pressure on the Nuggets defense and either finishing strong or earning trips to the line (or both, on one spectacular throw down and one midway through the fourth).

The term “x-factor” has been used ad nauseum, and I hate to apply it. But Odom is one of the few players in the NBA who is exactly that. When he plays his best the Lakers are the best team in the NBA, when he doesn’t they aren’t. There’s very little this man can’t do on a basketball court, and yet on a given night you never know what Lamar is going to bring to the potluck. Since his high school days it’s been obvious that he’s capable of taking over games so many ways, and yet his complete disappearance is never a surprise.

Despite the goodwill earned with the performance, the question has to be asked: Where were you, Lamar? Why can’t you do this every night? And, failing that, why can’t you even bother to show up half the time?

“Got to come ready to play,” perpetual professional Kobe Bryant said after the win. Amen. But will Lamar Odom continue to do so? I have absolutely no idea.

Lamar Odom Photo Credit: Icon SMI

Related Reading:
- Three Early Observations from the Conference Finals
- Time to Exhale for Lakers and Nuggets Fans

3 CommentsPosted by Andrew Thell on May. 28, 2009 at 1:57am in NBA

Still Think Rashard Lewis is Overpaid?

May 27, 2009

Orlando Magic forward Rashard LewisTwo years ago the Orlando Magic were roundly criticized for signing free-agent Rashard Lewis, then a member of the foundering Seattle SuperSonics, to a wallet-busting 6-year, $110 million contract. It wasn’t so much the signing itself that raised eyebrows, but the fact that the Magic were essentially bidding against themselves for Lewis’ services and that they probably could have signed him to a more modest figure.

Maybe they did overpay a little, and maybe one repurcussion of that lucrative contract is watching free agent Hedo Turkoglu walk this summer.

I’m guessing the price will be considered right, however, if the Lewis and the Magic finish off the Cavaliers, take care of the Lakers or Nuggets, and raise the Larry O’Brien Trophy as 2009 NBA Champions in a few short weeks. Right now that’s looking more and more like a real possibility thanks in part to Lewis’ late-game heroics in these somewhat shocking Eastern Conference Finals.

Rashard Lewis Photo Credit: Icon SMI

It started in Game 1, when the 29-year-old’s triple with about 15 seconds left proved to be the game-winning make in Orlando’s 107-106 win, a victory which ended the Cavaliers’ playoff unbeaten streak at eight games. Tuesday night in Game 4, Lewis was largely MIA through three quarters before snapping to life in the fourth and overtime, first draining a long three from the corner to erase a late Cavaliers lead, then calmly stepping to the free-throw line in OT to score his team’s final 3 points in their 116-114 win.

Sure, he did miss one of those freebies, which opened the door for James to take another shot at buzzer-beating greatness, but James’ prayer from 35-feet fell errant. Game over. The Magic are up 3-1, a lead which in NBA playoff history has only been overcome 4% of the time. I’m not ready to call this series over just yet, but the odds are certainly not in the Cavaliers’ favor.

On the series, Lewis is averaging 19.2 points on nearly 57% FG to go with 4.7 boards. The regular-season leader in three-point shot attempts (at 7 per) is also shooting about 58% from behind the arc, which has put a ton of pressure on the Cavaliers defense and kept them from sagging into the paint and overplaying Dwight Howard.

Lewis is of course not the only three-point threat on Orlando’s perimeter: in fact, Howard is the only Magic player in Stan van Gundy’s playoff rotation who can’t knock down longballs, save for infrequently used big men Tony Battie and Marcin Gortat.

He’s the best and most consistent shooter of the bunch, however, and it’s been a pleasure to see him flourish in these playoffs and rise to the occasion at crunchtime. You have to admire how this kid quietly goes about his business, keeps his cool, and doesn’t seem to get too high or too low.

In many ways, he reminds me of his former SuperSonics teammate Ray Allen; they’re both playing just about the same role for their respective teams, too, as the reliable long-range bomber, the high-percentage free-throw shooter, and the clutch shot-maker. Before too long, they just might share another common distinction: NBA champion. If and when that happens, the lingering whispers that Lewis is overpaid should be put to rest for good.

Related Reading:
- What Comes Next For Hedo Turkoglu?
- An Official Apology to the Orlando Magic
- It’s Time to Take the Magic Seriously Again

4 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on May. 27, 2009 at 7:37am in NBA

What Comes Next For Hedo Turkoglu?

May 26, 2009

Hedo Turkoglu Free AgentBy: Brendan K. O’Grady

It has become apparent to many NBA fans that Orlando, The Contender, owes as much of its success to its unsung players as it does to Dwight Howard’s defensive beastliness or Stan Van Gundy’s perimeter-based attack. It’s no surprise to those who’ve watched the Magic this year that a lot of buzz has recently begun to settle on one Orlando starter as deserving particular attention for the team’s success: 9th-year small forward Hedo Turkolgu.

In the 159 regular season games played across his Most Improved Player-winning season and this year’s campaign, Hedo’s averaged 18 points, 5 assists, and 5.5 rebounds. In that time, he’s also earned a reputation as a clutch player who’s both capable and comfortable with taking and making big shots late in a game. He’s been a 38% shooter from behind the arc in those two seasons and posted multiple game winners and other 4th quarter heroics.

Perhaps most importantly, Turkoglu has also emerged as one of Orlando’s most consistent ball-handlers – especially in the absence of Jameer Nelson – and has demonstrated a knack for setting up an offense and finding shots for his teammates, a quality that’s rarely seen in a player of his size.

Hedo Turkoglu Photo Credit: Icon SMI

But Orlando, with too many dollars allocated to outsized contracts (Rashard Lewis), midlevel rotation guys (Mickael Pietrus and Rafer Alston), and player looming extensions (Courtney Lee), is looking less and less likely to be counting on Hedo Turkoglu as a part of the Magic’s long-term plans. Though he’s due $7.3 million next season, Turkoglu has every reason to exercise his early termination option and become a free agent this summer. While the current economic clime will prevent him from getting an over-inflated deal, it’s just as likely that if he waits things will only get worse and belts will only tighten further. Additionally, Turkoglu will likely want to avoid becoming just another face in the superstar free agent crowd of 2010, and will certainly be best be served as sought-after commodity in 2009 rather than an afterthought the next year.

At 30 years old, Hedo would actually be one of the more desirable options available amongst this year’s pool of available talent should he opt out of his current deal. So, with this being perhaps the last, best chance to get signed for his proper value (in, say, the $10-$13 million/year range), we can see at least a few teams with both the money to sign him this offseason and the need for a player with his particular skills.

Here are three of those potential destinations for Turkoglu this summer…

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6 CommentsPosted by ETB Contributor on May. 26, 2009 at 10:13am in NBA

An Official Apology to the Orlando Magic

May 25, 2009

Orlando Magic

Orlando Magic Photo Credit: Icon SMI

It’s time to give credit where credit is due. When you’re wrong, you’re wrong, and irregardless of whether or not they go on to upset the Cleveland Cavaliers and advance to the NBA Finals, I’m ready to issue a sincere mea culpa to the Orlando Magic. It’s long overdue.

Just over 5 months ago I wrote that the Orlando Magic, at that point boasting a 33-9 record, would not claim Eastern Conference supremacy this season. There’s still a good chance that they won’t, of course: the Cavaliers are experiencing severe matchup problems for the first time of these playoffs, but they still have a guy named LeBron James to lean on when all else fails. Nobody is counting them out. Still, without that miracle three-pointer from James as time expired in Game 2, the Cavs could have been looking at the possibility of being swept, something nobody would have predicted just one week ago.

Hypothetical talk though.

As it stands, the Magic lead the Cavaliers 2-1 and clearly have the firepower and manpower to win this series. After years of being punked by the Detroit Pistons, they’ve finally grown a collective pair. They won’t be pushed around by anybody. They have moxy. They have the confidence to not allow an improbable game-winning shot by the league’s best player to simmer, to frustrate, to exasperate. This team, like the other three teams still playing, has their flaws… but they also have a serious shot at not only winning the East, but challenging the Western Conference champ for the grand prize.

Does that make up for all the times I’ve dogged you the past few seasons, Orlando Magic?

No? Okay.

Stan van Gundy, I’m ready to admit you’re more than just a vacuum-cleaner salesman playing dressup in a NBA coach’s suit. Your brain still skips during crucial situations from time to time (see final second of Game 2), but you’ve done a marvelous job of catering your gameplans to your roster’s strengths, of indoctrinating somewhat of a bonehead PG named Rafer Alston into your starting lineup midway through the season, and of making the most out of bench headlined by guys named Anthony Johnson, Marcin Gortat, and J.J. Reddick. Well done, Stan–you weren’t my pick for Coach of the Year, but you’ve done a great job.

Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis… keep chucking. It’s working. I’ve been fairly critical of your threeball-happy ways this season (and it still may come back to bite you), but it’s also saved you and your team on many a-night. Through three games in the Conference Finals, Rashard, you’re shooting 9-15 from behind the arc. That’s restraint, and that’s marksmanship. Nice one. And Hedo, the 1-11 shooting night in Game 3 was ugly, but to your credit you’re making up for an overall poor series from the field by chipping in elsewhere: 18-20 from the free-throw line, 8.3 assists and 6 boards per.

Dwight Howard, you’ve learned the lessons imparted by your buddy Rasheed Wallace well. You’ve stepped up the intensity and stepped up your game–you know there’s no kryptonite left in the playoffs capable of stopping you when push comes to shove. Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao clearly can’t do it. Nene and Chris Andersen can’t do it. Andrew Bynum certainly can’t do it. Nobody can stop you. You know this. Hey, you’re making your free throws from time to time too (14-19 in Game 3). And I actually like the technical fouls (though be careful, five is plenty). I like the attitude.

Jameer Nelson… we’ll revisit next year. I’m not quite ready to cross that bridge.

So, there you go Orlando–I was wrong, you were right. You’re a legitimate contender after all. I hope I haven’t jinxed you.

Related Reading:
- The Orlando Magic Will Not Claim Eastern Conference Supremacy This Season
- It’s Time to Take the Magic Seriously Again
- Jameer Nelson Showing Leadership Skills for Orlando Magic This Summer
- The Orlando Magic’s Inferiority Complex

10 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on May. 25, 2009 at 10:53pm in ETB Articles

Three Early Observations from the 2009 NBA Conference Championships

May 22, 2009

BFFs: Kobe Bryant and Pau GasolBy: Zachariah Blott

1) Pau Gasol is absolutely phenomenal: He played 42 and 44 minutes in Games One and Two against a rugged Nuggets front line that had beaten the hoo-ha out of the Mavericks’ and Hornets’ big men.

The result?

Gasol grabbed game-high rebound totals of 14 and 17, almost as many as Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen added together (34). Not only that, 11 of those 31 were offensive rebounds, which is extremely valuable to a team that has a trigger-happy star who sees nothing but green lights on offense (Kobe has taken 48 shots).

Not only has Gasol controlled the glass and given the Lakers an advantage where they could have easily been outdone (LA has 89 rebounds to the Nuggets’ 79), the ugly Spaniard has been efficient on the offensive side. He’s connected on 10 of 17 shots, just about matching the 55% he’s shooting this postseason. Gasol has also blocked 4 shots and passed out of double teams for 6 assists.

Despite the series heading to Denver tied at one game apiece, if he continues his playoff dominance in the paint (18.0 points, 11.4 rebounds) and can neutralize Denver’s front line, his Lakers teammates will have it that much easier the rest of the series.

Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol Photo Credit: Icon SMI

2) Orlando knows how to play the risk-reward game of 3-point shooting: Hitting 9 of 20 (45%) trifectas in Game One was absolutely crucial in coming back from a 15-point halftime hole to shock the Cavaliers 107-106. This postseason, the Magic are 2-3 in the 5 games they shot under 30% from long range, and both wins were at home. When Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Mickael Pietrus and the gang ring up 30% or more from deep, Orlando is 7-2, with both loses coming on the road.

The heights of this trio read like an anchored-in-the-paint front line (6-foot-10, 6-foot-10, 6-foot-6), so it’s tough for Delonte West (6-foot-3) and Mo Williams (6-foot-1) to make a defensive impact against the three-ball. If the Magic continue to shoot over the Cavs, this series may go longer than expected.

3) Benches can win or lose these series: Each of the four teams have a superstar or two in their starting lineups, but they have to rest at some point. Los Angeles’ bench chipped in 27 points, 13 boards and 10 assists in 79 minutes during their Game One victory. Denver’s bench only accumulated 16 points, 12 rebounds, and 7 assists in 66 minutes.

Their contributions were much greater in Game Two, scoring 21 points and snaring 16 boards in 72 minutes (thanks in large part to Linas “Brickhouse” Kleiza’s 16 and 8), while the Lakers’ reserves picked up 22 and 15 in 78. In the East, Orlando’s non-starters outscored Cleveland’s 25 to 5, including 3 for 7 from deep. With as close as both series have been, the bench play could be the vital difference between a 2-point win or a 2-point loss.

Zachariah Blott is an English teacher in Portland, not an Amish Charles Dickens character.

1 CommentPosted by ETB Contributor on May. 22, 2009 at 10:07am in NBA

Hasheem Thabeet or Bust for OKC Thunder

May 21, 2009

Connecticut Huskies center Hasheem Thabeet

Hasheem Thabeet Photo Credit: Icon SMI

With the third pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder select…

Who?

After Blake Griffin is taken first overall by the Los Angeles Clippers (sorry, Blake), the two next highest-rated prospects left on the board will be 18-year-old Spanish PG phenom Ricky Rubio and 7-3 shot-blocking menace Hasheem Thabeet of Connecticut. The Memphis Grizzlies pick second, and at this point it’s up in the air as to which of these two they’ll take.

With Mike Conley Jr. showing marked improvement in the second half of last season, there may not be a great need for Rubio; God knows they could use Thabeet’s size. But, then, the Grizz still don’t seem overly attached to Conley, and could use the opportunity to finally send him to Portland in a trade that’s made too much sense for too long, then pin their PG hopes on Rubio.

They’d also be doing the Thunder a big favor, allowing OKC to jump on Thabeet and finally complete their core of young up-and-comers that features Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, and Russell Westbrook. A rebounding, shot-blocking, defensive presence in the middle is one area this team still sorely lacks for–the 22-year-old Thabeet would fill this role immediately and likely step into the starting lineup from Day 1. The Thunder already tried to fill this gap by trading for Tyson Chandler, but were scared off by health concerns.

Maybe that was a blessing in disguise.

In his third collegiate season, Thabeet led his Huskies to the Final Four in averaging 13.6 points, 10.8 boards, and 4.2 blocks per in 36 games. The native Tanzanian didn’t even pick up a basketball until he was 15, which means that even at 22–a bit old by some standards when it comes to the draft–there’s still plenty of room for improvement, especially on offense. Lucky for the Thunder, offense is one aspect of Thabeet’s game they can afford to wait on.

He seems like a perfect fit. Rubio, on the other hand, does not. If Thabeet goes to Memphis, GM Sam Presti should have a backup plan–a pre-arranged trade–ready to execute immediately.

Why Hasheem Thabeet or a trade should be the Thunder’s only options after the break…

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8 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on May. 21, 2009 at 2:33am in NBA

Time to Exhale for Lakers and Nuggets Fans

May 20, 2009

Can The Denver Nuggets Check Kobe Bryant?Coming into Tuesday night’s opening game of the Lakers versus Nuggets Western Conference Finals matchup, this series had more question marks on both sides than any in the 2009 playoffs so far.

Had the Lakers completely lost their swagger after an unexpectedly hard-fought, seven-game series with the undermanned Rockets? Could they bang with a team that was not only physical like the Rockets but also proficient on the offensive end? Was this Nuggets team of two stars and a gaggle of role players that had unexpectedly beaten a path to the second seed and Conference Finals for real? Could Carmelo Anthony continue to excel like a star on the big stage of the NBA Playoffs?

There’s still a lot that remains to be seen. Series are rarely won by the home team in Game One. But after an excellent, heated first game to the proceedings, we now know three things: one, the Lakers can hang with these upstart Nuggets. Two, the Nuggets can hang with these incumbent Western champ Lakers.

And three, this is going to be one hell of a series.

Kobe Bryant and Kenyon Martin Photo Credit: Icon SMI

Both teams can take a lot from this game. The Lake Show has to be pleased to escape with a W after looking lost for much of the last week and trailing for 90% of this game. It wasn’t pretty, but they proved they can bang with a more aggressive squad that’s looking to punch them in the mouths every time down the floor.

The Lakers also know that even though they eeked out the win, they can play better. Perhaps the only positive to come from going the distance last round, LA knows that Andrew Bynum is capable of stepping up and making a bigger impact on the glass and in the paint (6 points, 6 boards and 5 fouls in only 15 minutes). They also know that Trevor Ariza isn’t just a steals artist (3 swipes in the contest, including one on a crucial inbound pass for Denver in the final minute), and that he can pester Carmelo Anthony into a less efficient game. They know somebody from their bench, most likely Lamar Odom, can contribute more than a measly 7 points. They also know they can take better care of the ball as a team (25 assists to 15 turnovers) and do a better job of keeping Denver’s bigs out of the paint.

Why Denver fans have reason for optimism, after the jump…

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No CommentsPosted by Andrew Thell on May. 20, 2009 at 1:15am in NBA

Chauncey Billups Must Tame the Nuggets’ Inner Knucklehead for Denver to Beat LA

May 19, 2009

Denver Nuggets Chauncey BillupsThe Denver Nuggets are rolling, and they have much more than a sporting chance to knock off the Los Angeles Lakers and advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since they joined the league in 1976.

Contrary to the popular belief that this series’ outcome will come down to which version of the Lakers decides to show up more regularly–Jekyll or Hyde–I think Denver is playing well enough, and has enough advantages in key matchups, that their fate now lies solely in their own hands. If they play like they did in rounds one and two against the New Orleans Hornets and Dallas Mavericks, they’re going to advance.

I don’t want to hear anything about how if the “real” Lakers show up, they’ll have no trouble dispatching of the Nuggets. Bullshit. The real Lakers are a flawed product and not the invincible force they have at times resembled during the regular season and, on fleeting occasions, these 2009 playoffs. I might be in the minority on this one, but I’m just not overly impressed with this Lakers team. Haven’t been all season.

Of course, they’re talented. Very much so. And they have Kobe, arguably still the best playoff performer in the league and at the very least one of the top two. And they have Phil Jackson on the bench, a big man named Andrew Bynum who has so much room for improved play, a hardcore clutch shooter in Derek Fisher, a reliable machine on the blocks in Pau Gasol, and all the other intangibles that somehow manifest themselves in otherwise subpar players once they pull that purple-and-gold jersey over their shoulders, Kwame Brown notwithstanding.

But I hope these Lakers got the memo about Chauncey Billups: he’s a very dangerous, very deadly, and very motivated man right now. The keys to this franchise may be in Carmelo Anthony’s pocket, but Billups is the one driving the car right now. And it’s Billups who will be tasked with the same responsibility he’s had since his arrival: taming the Nuggets’ inner knucklehead and channeling that energy, that passion, into something that’s productive, not destructive.

He’s succeeded thus far, but this series promises to test his reach and influence on his Nuggets teammates like it never has before.

Chauncey Billups’ Western Conference Finals responsibilities after the break…

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2 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on May. 19, 2009 at 10:09am in ETB Articles, NBA

The Way Forward for the Houston Rockets

May 19, 2009

Houston Rockets center Yao Ming

Yao Ming Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By Darren Yuvan

Despite taking the LA Lakers to the brink of elimination in their second round playoff series in what was the most exciting Houston postseason since 1997, the Rockets nonetheless find themselves in an all-too-familiar position: sitting at home watching someone else battle on in the championship quest.

With their two superstars finishing the season on the injury shelf and two other key members of their squad set to become free agents, the Rockets face several big questions going forward that will truly tell the tale of if this team has maxed out it’s potential, or if this year was only a precursor to better things to come.

Dealing with the oft-injured Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady should be at the top of the Rockets’ offseason to-do list. Both are entering their final contract years and neither has shown the durability needed for an extended playoff run. And while I’ve already made my feelings on McGrady known, moving Yao, even with his injury concerns, is simply not an option. He’s simply too much of an offensive load and adjustment-forcer, even when he’s not scoring, for the Rockets to consider trading him.

And while his immense size prevents him from being a good pick-and-roll defender, and he doesn’t rack up huge numbers of blocks, his mere presence in the paint, much like in his offensive game, forces other teams into adjustments they wouldn’t normally have to make. The Rockets are at their best defensively when their stellar perimeter defenders can funnel driving opponents to the middle, where Yao awaits, possibly for a block, possibly for an alter, or even just intimidating opponents into a miss with his size alone. Ask MVP Lebron James how effective Houston’s defense can be when successfully utilizing this strategy.

The Rockets are also an incredibly undersized squad without Yao, and with Dikembe Mutombo’s career over, the Rockets have already shown they don’t have the size in the paint sans Yao to compete with the NBA elite. Despite all this, the fact still remains that Yao means nothing to this team if he can’t stay on the court, and while Yao’s issues with his lower extremities may end up always causing him problems, the Rockets have to find ways to keep him healthy season-long and into the playoffs. Yao himself has taken a huge step in helping the Rockets by finally taking the summer off from playing for the Chinese National Team, only the second time in 12 years Yao has elected to sit out.

The other step is the responsibility of the Rockets organization. They have to find Yao a capable backup whom they can trust to give solid minutes on a night-in, night-out basis in order to keep Yao fresh and to help to eliminate the heavy wear and tear a man of Yao’s size endures lumbering up and down the court 3 hours a night.

Unfortunately for the Rockets, they have no draft picks this year. Their first-round pick belongs to Sacramento from the Ron Artest deal, and their second-round pick is San Antonio’s, sent cross-state two seasons ago for the rights to Luis Scola. And with several of their own free agents to deal with and limited cash, their only option for some relief for Yao will be by trade.

More thoughts on the Houston Rockets’ offseason outlook after the break…

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1 CommentPosted by ETB Contributor on May. 19, 2009 at 12:16am in ETB Articles, NBA

It’s Time to Blow Up the Dallas Mavericks

May 15, 2009

The Dirk Nowitzki Era is Over

The Dirk Nowitzki Era is Over Photo Credit: Icon SMI

The Denver-Dallas series mercifully came to an end on Wednesday night, with the Nuggets putting the Mavericks and their fans out of their misery in convincing fashion with an easy 124-110 vanquishing. Only the most delusional of Mavericks homers could have expected any other result after the Nuggets bullied and badgered on both ends of the floor all series, proving to be the superior team in nearly every respect beyond a shadow of a doubt.

The era of proud Dallas Mavericks basketball that began on draft night in 1998 when Dallas traded Robert “Tractor” Traylor and Pat Garrity for Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash is over. After an ignominious end to their 2008-09 campaign Dallas fans should be thinking one thing: burn it down.

In his post-game presser Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said what the rest of the NBA community has been forced to acknowledge in recent weeks, “These guys are legitimate, a legitimate championship-caliber team. They’ve got a great shot. They’ve got a real opportunity.” The Mavericks weren’t, they didn’t, and they haven’t for a few years now. As we said a month into the season: Dallas was a mediocre team. All year they sat mired in the ether somewhere between an aging squad making one more desperate, ill-advised run at contention and a complete rebuilding phase.

It’s been a good decade, but today it is impossible to deny which of those directions the Mavericks should be headed. The days of the Nowitzki, Finley and Nash triangle are a distant memory. And Dallas could easily have won a title if not for an internal collapse and the transcendent play of Dwyane Wade that led to four consecutive losses in the Finals in 2006, but it’s been all downhill since. They were embarrassed in the first round two seasons ago by former coach Don Nelson and his eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors. Last season the New Orleans Hornets again dispatched them with ease in the first round, 4-1. This year the Mavs actually managed to make it out of the first round, but don’t confuse that with progress – they merely leaned on the injured, older man that was the San Antonio Spurs.

The Mavs had the second-largest payroll in the league at $92.3 million this season, but next year that number falls to $68.8 million thanks in large part to the $21.4 million of Jason Kidd (the fourth-highest paid player in the NBA this season) coming off the books. Should Dallas make an effort to resign him? Absolutely not. At 36 and with deteriorating skills on both ends he can no longer be the starting point on a championship-caliber team, and hitching their wagon to the old man will only hold them back.

In fact, it’s time to clean house.

Why Dallas needs to clear the books, after the jump…

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9 CommentsPosted by Andrew Thell on May. 15, 2009 at 4:00am in ETB Articles, NBA

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