- The Season's Over -

The NBA’s Top 2009 Unrestricted Free Agents

June 30, 2009

Carlos Boozer Boxes Out Pau Gasol

Carlos Boozer and Pau Gasol Photo Credit: Icon SMI

It’s the summer’s biggest garage sale, and everything must go. We’ve got power forwards with 20-10 resumes, we’ve got lunatics with all-world talent, we’ve got prima donna scorers, we’ve got tweeners with Swiss Army skill sets, we’ve got recent NBA champions, we’ve got kids long on talent but short on heart, and we’ve got yesterday’s superstars aging less than gracefully. We also have a couple of key free agents who could pay big dividends en route to a title.

Every summer the NBA’s free agent market has it all – it’s just never entirely clear who is what.

When it comes to free agency in the NBA the operative words are always caveat emptor. There are going to be a few contracts signed this summer that look pretty foolish in a year or two, there always are. Several of these guys will be overpaid, some will get injured, some will be outright busts and some will be happy to simply cash their fat paychecks until the early offseason rolls around every year.

It’s tempting to see every potential free agent as that missing piece you need to make your team more competitive, but remember: with UFAs there’s always a reason their respective teams let them hit the open market…

The Dirty Dozen: 2009′s Top Twelve Unrestricted Free Agents

Carlos Boozer, PF, 27 Years Old

Carlos Boozer has been the most talked about free agent of the summer, and with good cause. He’s going to opt out and there simply aren’t many legitimate power forwards in the league with his offensive prowess and rebounding skills. The broad-shouldered big man is a beast around the basket with a strong face-up game who will bring a baseline of 20 points and 10 boards with decent passing skills wherever he goes.

There are few teams that couldn’t use that.

Still, Boozer is not without his blemishes. His tweener height and lack of mobility make him a pretty mediocre defender, especially when asked to play out of position at center. While he thrives in a half-court offense, he would be woefully miscast in an up-tempo offense. He’s also a headcase with a me-first attitude and a history of back-stabbing. Many question his interest in anything beyond maintaining his own stat line on the court and bottom line off of it.

*UPDATE*: It appears that Mr. Boozer has decided to reconsider this whole “free agent” thing – or at least put it off for another year. Carlos declined to opt out of his current deal, much to the chagrin of Jazz fans everywhere, guaranteeing him $12.7 mill for the coming season. After this development, and Kyle Korver’s decision to play out his deal for $5.2 mill this year, the Jazz suddenly have a lot less room to maneuver or work to aggressively retain the services of Paul Millsap.

Ben Gordon, SG, 26 Years Old

Gordon is the best shooter, and by far the best shooting guard, in the unrestricted class. The man can fill it up, and at as just 26 he’ll be in his prime for the length of any contract he signs. He’s very streaky, which probably means he would best be served as the second or third option on a very strong team, but there are few pure shooters as electric as Gordon when he’s hitting. Gordon has also proven himself to be clutch and capable of taking over in crunch time, a quality that’s hard to put a dollar value on.

Like with Boozer, though, Gordon has a reputation as a selfish player who can be a less than ideal teammate. Gordon turned down a five-year, $50 million deal in 2007 and a six-year, roughly $54 million deal in 2008 making it difficult to guess just how valuable he fancies himself – but it’s likely too much.

*UPDATE*: Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Ben Gordon has agreed to sign with the Detroit Pistons. According to The Woj, “Gordon will receive a five-year contract worth around $55 million.”

Ron Artest, F, 29 Years Old

Ron Artest: True WarriorIt’s been a few years since “Snake Eggs” went berserk in the Palace, and he’s genuinely attempted to tone his act down since then, but there is still no scarier man in shorts and a tank top on television. And that’s a good thing. He’s a genuine intimidator with incredible competitiveness. Artest is all about intensity, and he brings it in spades on both ends of the floor. You can question his mentality or his off-court actions or his on-court decision-making, but you cannot question his defensive abilities or desire to win. The man is a bona fide difference maker, and there aren’t many of those in our league.

That desire to win, coupled with the questionably psychiatric report, has led Artest to sign some fairly modest deals. He won’t command top dollar, but in the right system and utilized correctly he can be one of the best players in the NBA.

“Snake Eggs” Photo Credit: Icon SMI

Trevor Ariza, SF, 24 Years Old

Mr. Ariza is one of my absolute favorite free agents this summer. He’s one of the youngest kids out there, his natural ability measures up with anybody available, he’s got tremendous work ethic, he’s constantly working on and improving his game and he’s already proven himself to be a winner. Oh, and on top of all that he’s a pretty good basketball player, too. Ariza is the rare defender who is both a strong man defender and an excellent vulture in the passing lanes. On offense he takes it to the rack hard and in the last year, especially in the 2009 postseason, he’s turned himself into a strong outside shooter.

Whoever signs Ariza, and it looks like it will be the Lakers, is getting an excellent, young, versatile small forward for the foreseeable future.

Charlie Villanueva, F, 24 Years Old

Charlie V has as much offensive skill as any player on this list. He’s downright silky for his size and can literally score in every possible way. Unfortunately, he seems to have gone to the Rasheed Wallace School of Post Play: despite standing 6-11, Villanueva is always loathe to bang inside, preferring to drift to the perimeter and take lower-percentage threes. Charlie’s defense is also suspect and it’s hard to figure if he’s better being physically overmatched as a power forward or out-quicked as a small forward. The answer is likely a little of both, as any team that tries to shoehorn the long man into a given role will end up disappointed, but a team willing to build around and work with his skills could reap huge dividends.

*UPDATE*: Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Charlie Villanueava will join former UConn teammate Ben Gordon in Detroit. According to The Woj, “Villanueva’s five-year deal is expected to be worth about $35 million.”

Seven more elite UFAs and the best of the rest, after the jump…

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2 CommentsPosted by Andrew Thell on Jun. 30, 2009 at 3:01am in NBA, NBA Fantasy News

Looking Back at the Hits and (Many) Misses of the 2006 NBA Draft

June 29, 2009

Toronto Raptors forward Andrea Bargnani

Andrea Bargnani Photo Credit: Icon SMI

Most NBA observers have called the NBA’s Class of 2009 a weak one; we can only hope it’s not as weak as the Class of 2006 has proven to be 3 years later.

The 2006 and 2009 NBA Drafts were both considered generally bereft of high-impact players destined for stardom. But while handing out draft grades for 2009′s picks is fun, much of that analysis can be thrown out the window for obvious reasons. So, instead, let’s take a look back at the ’06 draft now that we’ve had a full three seasons to see how the picks panned out.

I’m warning you though: it’s not pretty.

In alphabetical order:

Atlanta Hawks
- Shelden Williams, PF, 5th overall
- Solomon Jones, F, 33rd overall
Comments: At least a third of this year’s lottery picks can now safely be called “duds,” and the lethargic Williams is near the head of that class. Now riding the bench for the frontcourt-strapped Minnesota Timberwolves, Williams’ stay in Atlanta lasted just two seasons before he was traded to Sacramento as leftovers in the Mike Bibby deal. The 6-9 forward has career per-game averages of 4.7 points and 4.2 rebounds and will likely play his way out of the league shortly. Jones is still on the Hawks’ roster, playing in 63 games last season and averaging about 3 points and 2 boards in just under 11 minutes per.

Boston Celtics
- Rajon Rondo, PG, 21st overall
- Leon Powe, F, 49th overall
Comments: They probably couldn’t have predicted it on draft day, but Rondo has already developed into one of this draft’s top talents and one of the best young PGs in the league at the age of 23. With a well-earned championship ring on his finger from the Celtics ’08 title, the cat-quick guard from Kentucky took another step towards All-Star status in ’09, averaging 12 points, 8.2 assists, 5.2 boards, 1.9 steals, 50% FG, with five triple-doubles and 12 games of at least 10 rebounds as a 6-1 PG (including the playoffs). We’re not sure why Danny Ainge seems to have developed a complex this offseason when it comes to Rondo; the kid is already very good and will only get better.

Powe was another steal at 49th overall; in fact, if the draft was redone today he’d probably be a lottery pick given the misfortune of most players taken ahead of him. At 6-8 Powe is a bit undersized as a power forward and too bulky to keep up with small forwards, but he’s stocky, strong, and like the Knicks’ David Lee has a knack for getting himself in good position for rebounds, easy putbacks, and follow-up dunks. He also flaunts a surprisingly soft touch around the rim. In seven games as a starter last season, Powe averaged 14.3 points (57% FG), 8.1 boards, and 1.4 blocks in just under 26 minutes per.

Charlotte Bobcats
- Adam Morrison, F, 3rd overall
- Ryan Hollins, F, 50th overall
- Walter Herrmann, F, Undrafted
Comments: The most productive player of the Bobcats’ ’06 draft class wasn’t even drafted, as Herrmann and His Beautiful Hair averaged 9.2 points (52% FG), 3 boards, and 1 triple per during his rookie season. Compare that with Morrison’s per-game freshman averages of 11.8 points (37% FG), 3 boards, and 1 triple in over 10 minutes more a night. If you surveyed NBA GMs this summer and asked them all things equal who they’d rather sign between Morrison and Herrmann, I’m betting that at least 85% would pick Herrmann, who could have his sights set on a return to international ball, where he’ll get more PT.

Morrison will get a NBA championship ring as a “member” of the Los Angeles Lakers, and is scheduled to make $12 million more over the next two seasons of his rookie contract on top of the millions he’s already collected for being a bad NBA player. In other words, despite his status as one of the biggest lottery-pick busts of the decade, he still has plenty to be happy about. Well done, Adam.

Chicago Bulls
- Tyrus Thomas, F, 4th overall
- Thabo Sefolosha, G/F, 13th overall
Comments: Thomas has emerged as this draft’s biggest enigma: supremely athletic, shows flashes of Amare Stoudemire-like talent, but somewhat of a head case who struggles to bring it all together on a nightly basis. One night he’ll post a high double-double with 4 – 5 blocked shots thrown in, the next he’ll shoot 16% from the field and mope his way to the bench. He won’t turn 22 until August, and had the best overall season of his career last season (11 points, 6.4 boards, 1.2 steals, 1.9 blocks per), but don’t be surprised to hear his name pop up in offseason trade rumors… again.

If you’ve spent any time on ETB, you know we’re big fans of Sefolosha, who’ll now be competing with the Thunder’s first-round pick, James Harden, for minutes at SG. His production may never match our hype, but we’re confident this kid can be a plus player for a winning team and will be in the league for a long time.

Cleveland Cavaliers
- Shannon Brown, G, 25th overall
- Daniel Gibson, G, 42nd overall
- Ejike Ugboaja, F, 55th overall
Comments: Though he never found his way in Cleveland, Brown may have found a home with the Lakers after bouncing around between the Bulls and Bobcats. The 6-4 guard averaged a respectable 13 minutes per off Phil Jackson’s bench during LA’s most-recent championship run, though his total output in the Finals was just 1 rebound. Still, Jackson has singled Brown out as a player he likes, which bodes well for the 23-year-old’s future. He was often turned to instead of Jordan Farmar, who was taken one pick later in this draft and at one point was deemed the Lakers’ “Point Guard of the Future.”

Gibson took a backseat in the Cavaliers’ backcourt rotation this season after the arrivals of Mo Williams and Delonte West, but as a rookie played an instrumental role in the Cavs’ surprising march to the NBA Finals in 2007, including 31 points over the Detroit Pistons in his team’s Eastern Conference Fianls series-clinching win. Still only 23 years old, Gibson’s specialty is the three-pointer, though he tends to hit them more at crucial times than with consistent accuracy (41% from behind the arc on his career).

Dallas Mavericks
- Maurice Ager, G, 28th overall
- Jose Juan Barea, PG, Undrafted
Comments: Ager, now a member of the New Jersey Nets, has averaged 2 points, 0.6 rebounds, and 0.2 assists per in 78 games played; yep, he’s going places. Barea has proven to be a great find for Dallas and a solid backup at the point, averaging 7.8 points, 3.4 assists, and 2.2 boards in 79 games played last season, 15 of which he started.

Denver Nuggets
- No Picks
Comments: The Nuggets traded their only pick, 49th overall, to the Boston Celtics, who took Leon Powe, a solid, high-energy contributor off the bench who averaged 7.7 points and 5 boards on 52% shooting last season.

Detroit Pistons
- Cheikh Samb, C, 51st overall
- Will Blalock, G, 60th overall
Comments: After being traded to the Denver Nuggets as part of the Billups-Iverson deal, the 7-1 Samb saw action in 18 games last season between three teams (Denver, Los Angeles Clippers, New York) and might be headed overseas for good this summer. Blalock is now in Germany and enjoyed a starring role in this classic Pistons holiday video:

Looking back at the rest of the NBA’s ’06 draft stories, from Golden State to Washington, after the break…

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6 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Jun. 29, 2009 at 4:16am in ETB Articles, NBA

The 2009 NBA Draft Blottie Awards

June 26, 2009

James Harden Bowtie

By: Zachariah Blott

The Fifth Beatle Award
Before the Clippers were on the clock, ESPN kept their cameras trained on … Blake Griffin? No, on Ricky Rubio. Not only do his floppy locks make him look like one of the famed Liverpool foursome, but ESPN treated him as such.

Hasheem Thabeet talked for a minute after his selection, and then it was more shots of Rubio. Sacramento picked Tyreke Evans, and the cameras immediately cut to Rubio clapping. When he was finally selected by Minnesota with the 5th pick, David Stern got into the gushing act by announcing the selection with more gusto than he did with any of the others.

We know whose rookie highlights will make it onto the league’s commercials next year.

The OJ Mayo Draft Night Wardrobe Redux Award
Did anyone else notice that James Harden was dressed like Farnsworth Bentley, Sean Combs’ one time valet/assistant? And did anyone else also notice that OJ Mayo pulled the exact same trick last year, in a very similar outfit? Take a look.

James Harden Photo Courtesy of Larry Brown Sports.

The Drafting Based On Obstacle Course Capabilities Award
Last year, the Milwaukee Bucks selected Joe Alexander with the 8th pick because of his ridiculous athletic abilities that would allow him to outleap, outrun, out (insert athletic skill that isn’t necessarily a precursor of basketball success here) everyone who got in his way.

Well, this year was more of the same when the Bucks took Brandon Jennings, who appears to be the most freakish talent in the draft, but who doesn’t seem to have it all together upstairs when it comes to decision making – on or off the court. (Jay Bilas said, “He’s a freak athlete.” Something tells me the exact same line was uttered about Alexander last year).

The Most Enthusiastic Fans Award
This one is not even close. The two people violently flapping Israeli flags who went bananas when Sacramento took Omri Casspi with the 23rd pick made wrestling enthusiasts look disinterested.

The Least Enthusiastic Fans Award
ESPN showed two fans wearing Syracuse jerseys when Johnny Flynn went to Minnesota with the number 6 pick. That last sentence encapsulates all of the excitement those two fans exhibited.

The Funniest Fan Interaction Award
After David Stern had to do a double-take to make sure the Knicks really were selecting Jordan Hill with the 8th pick, cameras showed a 5-year-old girl in the arms of her father making a thumbs down gesture. Her father reached over and turned the thumb upwards. If Hill turns out to be a complete bust, this girl should use that piece of footage to get a draft analyst gig someday.

More 2009 NBA Draft Awards from the desk of Zachariah Blott after the break…

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4 CommentsPosted by ETB Contributor on Jun. 26, 2009 at 9:58am in NBA

Counterpoint: Why Shaquille O’Neal Doesn’t Make Sense in Cleveland

June 25, 2009

Shaquille O NealBy: Brendan K. O’Grady

The biggest offseason trade to date (contract-wise, anyway) is set to bring Shaquille O’Neal to the Cavaliers, prompting Brian to declare the swap a win-win proposition for Cleveland. But I’m not so sure about that…

Putting aside for a moment the question of O’Neal’s prospective play, let’s ponder the logistics of this deal from Cleveland’s perspective. Trading Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic netted them the hefty, soon-to-expire deal attached to Shaq worth $21 million, and it has to be nice for any team to swap little-used depth guys for an asset like that. But with Wallace and Pavlovic likely retiring and being allowed to walk away, respectively, in the same timeframe as Shaq’s contract resolves, the numbers seem to be a wash.

But we’re also talking about a superstar, one of the most popular players in league history, and if he does anything less than totally tank his team’s chances of contending for a title, carrying Shaq now means probably having to overpay next offseason if they want to keep him. This will cut a big chunk out of the funds available to offer anybody else in 2010, and makes the prospect of extending LeBron even more of a luxury tax burden.

So, basically, Cleveland has to be betting that Shaq will give them be as good or better odds of winning a championship as anybody they could potentially sign for a longer term out of next summer’s much-hyped free agent class. If we’re to believe that Shaq has any value in this trade, it’s because he’ll play a potentially key role in next year’s NBA Finals. While I don’t think for a moment that Danny Ferry is finished with his offseason roster revamp, let’s analyze exactly what Shaquille O’Neal will (and won’t) bring on the court for the team that posted the best record in basketball last season.

A cursory glance at the Eastern Conference Finals might tell you that Dwight Howard had a monster series, and that Cleveland being unable to slow him down was the reason that LeBron never met Kobe on Nike’s biggest stage, but this overlooks the fact that Howard was really almost a secondary factor in his own team’s offense.

Make no mistake, it was Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis who lifted up the Magic in these playoffs, and it’ll likely be some combination of those two plus Jameer Nelson/Mickael Pietrus undoing Cleveland in next year’s matchups as well. Adding Shaq might win you a few more rebounding battles, but does absolutely nothing to address the inability of Cleveland’s wing players to defend big shooters to the three-point line.

The fact is, we’ve seen Shaq win rings as the best player on his team (with Los Angeles) and even as the 2nd best player on his team (with Miami), but does anybody believe he’s got the ability to be that guy anymore? I’d wager his arrival in Cleveland will likewise have no bearing whatsoever on whether or not Mo Williams can step up to serve as a legitimate #2 scoring option in the postseason crunch.

Shaquille O’Neal Photo Credit: Icon SMI

Remove the famously magical rejuvenating powers of the Phoenix training staff from the equation, and O’Neal/Williams figure to be the 2008-2009 All-Stars least likely to repeat that title next season. In fact, I ask if a 38-year-old Shaq won’t just do more harm than good against a team like the Magic. Crowding the paint with another aging big man will mean taking away the only thing that actually worked consistently against Orlando’s reigning DPOY: LeBron’s drives to the rim that force fouls and free throws.

With the league still apparently incapable of learning from Phoenix’ mistake, the Cavaliers can only choose to be willfully ignorant of their reality and blindly follow their Chosen One as he carries them into contention again. I suppose we can still hope for the best; Shaq and LeBron winning would make for a great story, after all. But when they fall short and James is forced to take another long, hard look at NYC, Cavs fans will only be able to take solace in the fact that at least their GM didn’t mess up his franchise in this trade as badly as Steve Kerr did his.

Brendan K. O’Grady writes about fantasy basketball and the NBA at-large full-time at his own site, 2nd Round Reach. He has a single-digit vertical leap.

Related Reading:
- Shaquille O’Neal Traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers; Let the Phoenix Bashing Begin

2 CommentsPosted by ETB Contributor on Jun. 25, 2009 at 9:23pm in NBA

Shaquille O’Neal Traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers; Let the Phoenix Bashing Begin

June 25, 2009

Shaquille O Neal

Shaquille O’Neal Photo Credit: Icon SMI

Amare Stoudemire, Steve Nash, Steve Kerr, and Phoenix Suns fans at large, come on down: you’re the next in line to be ridiculed and thrown under the bus by Shaquille O’Neal.

There’s little in O’Neal’s childish history as an (un)professional basketball player to anticipate otherwise: he’s wasted no time in burning bridges and spouting off about his former franchises and teammates in Orlando, Los Angeles, and Miami after moving on, so it’s only a matter of time before Phoenix feels the petulant wrath of O’Neal now that he’s been sent to the Cleveland Cavaliers. My money is on Stoudemire and Kerr taking the initial brunt of O’Neal’s blame for his lack of success in Phoenix, but everybody’s fair game when it comes to the big man’s finger-pointing and public dress-downs.

Of course, we’ve already spent a great deal of time outlining our thoughts on O’Neal and his unapologetically jackass persona, so for now I digress.

From a strictly basketball standpoint, we have one GM stepping up and doing what it takes to push his already deep team further into contention, and the other GM waving the white flag of financial surrender. For Cleveland, Danny Ferry has obviously fortified his frontline by adding a perfect compliment to incumbent starter Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Neither O’Neal nor Big Z seem capable of heavy minutes at this point in their respective careers, so this works out well for both. When the Cavs want to go finesse and stretch the floor with a big who can shoot, they go with Big Z; when they need to hunker down and pit brawn vs. brawn, they insert O’Neal.

It’s a win-win scenario for Cleveland, who’s only on the hook for one more season of O’Neal’s bloated contract. This also sets up the storyline you’ll soon get tired of hearing about: the possibility of the old Superman facing the new Superman in the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals.

As for Phoenix, my colleague Andrew Thell aptly observed earlier tonight that “Steve Kerr is really taking that franchise places.” He’s right–down a blackhole of no return. This notoriously cheap franchise seems to have two priorities this offseason: shedding salary (Stoudemire is being actively shopped) and extending Steve Nash. Does having an aging, defensively challenged, white point guard leading the team towards sub-mediocrity sell more tickets than a roster with real hopes for postseason success? I guess we’ll find out.

Rejoice, Cavaliers fans: your team just added a first-ballot Hall of Famer whose presence in the middle no doubt makes your team the East’s clear-cut favorite to advance to the NBA Finals next season. Enjoy it while it lasts, though, because you’re next on O’Neal’s bash list.

Related Reading:
- Shaquille O’Neal Cements His Legacy
- Does Anybody Personify Petulance More Than Shaquille O’Neal?
- The NBA’s Most Depressing Players of 2008
- Shaquille O’Neal Still Keeping it Classy
- Shaq Likes to Breathe Heavily Into His Cell Phone

No CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Jun. 25, 2009 at 3:47am in NBA

Minnesota Decides to Shuffle Up and Deal

June 24, 2009

Randy Foye TradedMinnesota Timberwolves’ new GM David Kahn is doing his best to erase the Kevin McHale era in Minnesota–and he’s not wasting any time in doing so.

Nobody can blame the guy. McHale’s reign over the last 15 years ranks among the worst (and most inexplicably long) in professional sports history. Some changes in policy and ideology are unquestionably in order.

Just one week after dismissing Mr. McHale from his coaching duties in Minneapolis, Wednesday afternoon Mr. Kahn shipped out two of McHale’s more high-profile acquisitions. There was chatter on Tuesday night, but the move became official the next day as Minnesota consummated a five-player swap with the Washington Wizards that sent Randy Foye and Mike Miller to the nation’s capital for the services of Oleksiy Pecherov, Darius Songaila and Etan Thomas and the rights to the 5th overall pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft.

Of course, Wolves fans should have no qualms about moving on from the McHale era in all respects. However, there is some understandable trepidation involved in dismissing these two, especially Foye, for a handful of mediocre-to-meaningless role players and a draft pick.

I’ll admit to being slightly shocked, and momentarily disheartened, upon hearing the news. After all, Randy Foye was the 7th overall pick just three years ago, the same day he was traded for Brandon Roy. Between injuries, poor decisions and poor shooting he’s shown flashes of brilliance over the last three years and was considered one of the franchise’s more significant building blocks. Mike Miller is a former Rookie of the Year and, also formerly, one of the NBA’s elite perimeter shooters.

If Randy Foye isn’t going to develop into a star in Minnesota, what, exactly, was the point of the last two seasons?

There was none, other that developing and re-signing Al Jefferson. Let’s face facts: we have no reason to believe Randy Foye or Mike Miller are, or can be, winners. Sometimes when you’re too close to a situation, as I have been, it takes a fresh set of eyes like Mr. Kahn’s to see that kind of harsh truth. Especially with Foye, because if he’s just a third or fourth option then the fact that Minnesota gave up a talent like Brandon Roy to acquire him is almost too painful to bear.

Randy Foye Photo Credit: Icon SMI

I’ve certainly been guilty of being a Foye apologist over the years. For example, in January I was all too eager to respond to a winning stretch by the Wolves that was inspired by strong play by Foye. I declared that Randy was finally turning a corner. He wasn’t. The year before, after digging through the numbers I declared Foye to be closer to Roy than anybody gave him credit for, saying, “If you look at their per minute averages from last season, Foye posted nearly identical stats to ROY Brandon Roy (per 48 minutes: 21.3 points, 1.7 threes, 5.6 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.4 steals for Foye; 22.7 points, 1.3 threes, 5.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 1.6 steals for Roy).” Foye doesn’t deserve to be compared to Roy.

In every instance, I was seeing what I wanted to see. In the back of my mind, I knew I was the historian who only researches as far as he has an ax to grind. I was putting blinders on; being a fan.

No, Foye and Miller were both McHale players. They weren’t what we thought they could be, and they clearly didn’t fit into Kahn’s plans. It was time to move on. They were talented-yet-flawed, capable of being productive, but only in an ideal situation. A rebuilding franchise is not that situation, and it’s time to admit that Minnesota hasn’t made a lick of progress in their rebuilding efforts since trading Kevin Garnett out of town two summers ago. They’re still at square one. They have Al Jefferson, who can be a true cornerstone, and a roster of question marks.

I wanted Foye to be a building block just like every other Wolves fan, but wanting it doesn’t make it so. Facing an almost blank slate once again, especially after doing so for so many lean years, is a scary proposition. And a disheartening one. It’s not fun. But it had to be done.

The Wizards’ angle and the bottom line, after the jump…

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1 CommentPosted by Andrew Thell on Jun. 24, 2009 at 8:30pm in NBA

Will the Detroit Pistons Regret Pulling the Plug on Amir Johnson?

June 24, 2009

Forward Amir Johnson of the Milwaukee BucksI hate to see it end like this.

Amir Johnson, whom I’ve spent the last 2 years hyping up to anybody that would (or wouldn’t) listen, has been cast off by the Detroit Pistons in exchange for net savings of about $1.7 million on the team’s payroll.

In the end, all that potential and freakish athletic talent the 22-year-old infrequently flashed over his four seasons in Detroit amounted to little more than extra salary-cap space in a summer when the league’s best unrestricted free agents are mostly viewed with a skeptical, sleepy yawn.

I’ll be the first to admit that Johnson blew a golden opportunity last season to firmly establish himself in the Pistons’ long-term plans, especially since they’ve clearly transitioned into rebuilding mode. Handed a starting job on the Pistons’ frontline alongside Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince, Johnson fizzled early, was eventually benched, and essentially fell out of the regular rotation by season’s end for the 39-43 Pistons.

On the season he recorded just two double-doubles (and those came against the meek New York Knicks and Sacramento Kings) and averaged 4.8 points, 4.9 boards, 1 block, and nearly 4 fouls per 19:30 minutes as a starter; he was, in fact, one of the most foul-prone players in the entire league.

Few expected an immediate huge jump in production in his first season of extended playing time, but most thought he’d at the very least add the kind of jump-out-of-the-gym athleticism and explosiveness this team sorely lacked. Unfortunately, it never really happened, with Johnson’s on-court body language often alternating between disinterested, confused, and discouraged.

Put some of that on head coach Michael Curry and the coaching staff, but going balls out with consistent effort, hustle, and moxy isn’t something that needs coaching. Johnson had a poor season which, if anything, saw him regress instead of improve.

A late-second round pick in ’05 out of high school (he’s in the record books as the last high-schooler to be drafted before David Stern imposed the age limit), Johnson still has a chance to make an impact at the professional level. In some ways he compares favorably with the Washington Wizards’ Andray Blatche in that he’s long, athletic, can do a variety of things well, but struggles with consistency, is far too foul-prone, needs to bulk up, and must improve his basketball IQ. Whether his new lease on NBA life in Milwaukee will have a similarly positive impact as Chauncey Billups’ rejuvenating move to Denver did remains to be seen.

At the very least, this is a decent roll of the dice for the moribund Milwaukee Bucks and GM John Hammond, who you recall came to Wisconsin after a long run in Detroit’s front office next to GM Joe Dumars. Maybe he knows something about Johnson, thinks there’s still something there, and capitalized on the fact that his old partner is trying to clear out as much salary as possible at the moment.

Johnson is in a contract year, so he should be motivated and should be given the chance to earn big minutes on a so-so Bucks’ frontcourt. How he’ll mesh with head coach Scott Skiles is anybody’s guess, but as an unabashed Johnson fan and apologist for awhile now, this at least gives me somewhat of a reason to tune into the Bucks on League Pass from time to time next season, especially if the team loses incumbent starting power forward Charlie Villanueva (restricted free agent).

As for the Pistons, they’re angling to make a huge splash in the free-agent market and, perhaps, by taking on salary via trade. Rumors abound about Dumars’ hot pursuit of both Ben Gordon and Carlos Boozer, especially if he’s looking to move Richard Hamilton to a SG-needy team who can offer something of value in return. (New Orleans for Tyson Chandler? Philadelphia for Samuel Dalembert? Utah for Andrei Kirilenko?)

This conversation belongs in its own post, but speaking strictly as a Pistons fan, Gordon and Boozer fit the bill of players who look good on paper, but who don’t strike me as championship-team core material. But, then again, maybe there’s more to Dumars’ plan than Gordon and Boozer; we’ll find out soon enough.

For now, the Amir Johnson Era in Detroit has ended with a whimper; I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t just a little bit sad. It’ll be even worse if Johnson follows the same late-blooming career development of Tracy McGrady or Jermaine O’Neal.

Related Reading:
- Four Factors in the Detroit Pistons’ Sudden and Surprising Fall from Grace
- Untapped Potential: Ten NBA Players We Want to See on the Court More Often
- Amir Johnson Becoming a D-League Favorite
- Keep Your Eye on Amir Johnson
- ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series – Matt Watson of Detroit Bad Boys

Amir Johnson Photo Credit: Icon SMI

No CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Jun. 24, 2009 at 9:55am in NBA

Reading is Great! 2009 NBA Draft Edition

June 23, 2009

Los Angeles Clippers president Andy Roeser

Andy Roeser Photo Credit: Icon SMI

- Yahoo! Sports – Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen to Detroit? Joe Dumars declines.
- The Hoop Doctors – DeMar DeRozan: future All-Star or draft-day bust?
- Blaze of Love – A round-up of Blazer news from one of the best Blazer blogs.
- Dime Magazine – The real reason Hasheem Thabeet canceled his workout for Memphis.
- Ball Don’t Lie – Our man Skeets teams up with SB Nation on one of the better mocks.
- Hoops Addict – Your first chance to see this year’s draft picks in action is in Vegas.
- Celtics Blog – Boston is eyeing Dahntay Jones, formerly of the Denver Nuggets.
- Sportspolymath – Two second-round sleepers not to sleep on.
- NBA FanHouse – Everybody has an opinion about Ricky Rubio.
- Strait Pinkie – Another day, another report of a draft-day promise.
- Pippen Ain’t Easy – Who will be the next piece to the Chicago Bulls’ puzzle?
- Hornets 24/7 – The five most likely first-round picks for the New Orleans Hornets.
- Detroit Bad Boys – On why Ty Lawson would look great in a Pistons uniform.
- Rufus on Fire – Why are the Bobcats going to waste $5.5 million on Raymond Felton?
- Inside Hoops – Eddy Curry and J.R. Smith, two peas in a pod.

No CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Jun. 23, 2009 at 7:14am in NBA

Finding Value (Over and Under) in the 2009 NBA Draft

June 22, 2009

Ty Lawson

Ty Lawson Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By: Zachariah Blott

Come Thursday evening, most NBA teams get an opportunity to be winners and at least pretend they’ve added an important piece to their developing puzzle. The NBA draft gives teams a chance to find greatness in the late picks (like Tony Parker, the 28th pick in 2001 by the San Antonio Spurs), a chance to trade for an undervalued commodity (Tayshaun Prince, the 23rd pick in 2002 by the Detroit Pistons), and a chance to not screw up a tough decision (Dwight Howard, 1st pick in 2004 over Emeka Okafor).

Though no accurate post-draft critiques can or should be taken seriously for a few years, I’ve seen a ton of college basketball over the past 20 years and feel that I have a good eye for spotting a few undervalued studs and overvalued duds every season. As such, here are the players I’m expecting some discussions about in five years, for better or for worse.

Players Who Will Be Better than Expected

Eric Maynor, PG, VCU

Likely Draft Position: 17-25
Why He’ll Be Better: He’s an extremely smart point guard who does virtually everything better than average. He can shoot, drive, dish, and defend well enough to be a starter in this league for years to come. The big knock against him is that he doesn’t have elite-level athleticism, but his hoops IQ more than makes up for it.

Although he has some bad turnover totals in some big-time games, VCU opponents focused all their attention on him. Maynor had been forced to carry the Rams singlehandedly, and it’s resulted in some spectacular team over-achievements over the years (a win over Duke in the 2007 tournament, a win at Maryland in 07-08 season, a 1-point loss to UCLA in 2009 tournament). It’s easy to imagine Maynor as a Derek Fisher/Mark Jackson type of baller who plays within himself and can often be found running the show for a successful club.

Ty Lawson, PG, North Carolina

Likely Draft Position: 17-25
Why He’ll Be Better: He’s extremely fast, makes great decisions (6.5-2.0 Assists-TO), and is a solid pull-up shooter (47% from 3-point land). Lawson will not be one of the top-five point guards selected, however, because he’s only 6-0 tall. Here are some common comments made about Lawson: “good floor general,” “savvy distributor,” “quick,” “lacks size.” These are actually some exact quotes from HoopsHype about DJ Augustin, who made the NBA’s All-Rookie 2nd Team this past season. I’d say Augustin’s first year went alright, averaging 12 points, 3.5 assists, 1.7 turnovers, and 44% from behind the arc in a role off the bench. Lawson is a stronger version of Augustin, which doesn’t sound bad at all.

Sam Young, SF, Pittsburgh

Likely Draft Position: 20-30
Why He’ll Be Better: Young gained notoriety at Pitt for his offensive exploits, notably his explosive dunks and best-in-the-world shot fake. His size, athleticism, and workmanlike dedication to improvement will likely result in his becoming a defensive specialist in the mold of Ron Artest or Trevor Ariza, however. He’ll be the guy asked to stop shooting guards through power forwards, and as an added bonus, Young’s jump shot and rebounding are better than expected. He has the smarts and attitude to be the ultimate glue guy for any club.

Three players who won’t live up to the pre-draft hype after the break…

Read the rest of this article »

No CommentsPosted by ETB Contributor on Jun. 22, 2009 at 2:19pm in NBA

What’s the Portland Trail Blazers’ Plan for Jerryd Bayless?

June 18, 2009

Portland Trailblazers guard Jerryd BaylessPortland Trail Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard has made a number of sound personnel decisions while rebuilding the franchise from the post-Jail Blazers Era rubble, but his track record is not without tarnish.

The Darius Miles fiasco was embarassing at best, and the decision to draft Greg Oden over Kevin Durant is fast turning into Sam Bowie Redux with each passing game that reveals Durant as one of the NBA’s next truly great superstars.

(For the record, we’re not giving up on the gregarious big man just yet, but a third straight injury-riddled season would obviously cause the Blazers’ to seriously rethink their future in the middle and to perhaps downgrade Oden’s status from “potential cornerstone” to “depth with upside.”)

Spending a first-round pick on a point guard at this week’s NBA draft would be another questionable move we hope Pritchard doesn’t make. Why? Because we have a serious infatuation with the Blazers’ first-round PG pick from last year, 6-3 Jerryd Bayless, a guy who we think has the tools to be a high-impact starter at the professional level–and soon.

Drafted 11th overall last year by the Indiana Pacers, then shipped to Portland for Brandon Rush, Jarrett Jack, and Josh McRoberts, the 20-year-old Bayless didn’t have the sort of breakout rookie season that many thought possible after he tore up the 2008 Las Vegas Summer League to the tune of nearly 30 points per on his way to being named Vegas’ MVP. Playing behind vagabond starter Steve Blake, Bayless struggled to get off Nate McMillan’s bench during the season’s early and late stages, logging most of his substantial playing time in January and February.

When given the minutes, though, we saw occasional flashes here and there of the Bayless who wowed crowds in Vegas. For example, on February 2 and 4 against the New Orleans Hornets and Dallas Mavericks when Bayless logged 24 and 34 minutes, respectively, he posted combined per-game averages of 16.5 points on 72% shooting, 5 assists, 3 boards, and a steal. Back in March my ETB colleague Andrew Thell named Bayless as the Trail Blazer he most wanted to see more of over the team’s final month of the regular season:

The 2008 NBA Las Vegas Summer League MVP has game. His quickness is out of this world and the kid can finish, making him a scintillating slasher. He can also shoot the ball, and I don’t have a hard time seeing him average 20 points a game in the right situation. His quicks also mean Bayless can be a very good defender on the other end. And who doesn’t want to see a 6-3 dude who can flush it like this…

Rumors are that Portland might be eyeing a PG in Thursday’s NBA draft, and that Pritchard could be working the phones to try and move up to snag one of the position’s top prospects. It’s no surprise that the Blazers would be looking to upgrade on Blake; that they’d be looking to the draft as a means to potentially fill that void is what’s strange, especially since depth isn’t a concern at the moment with another young, raw, undeveloped, but talented point on the roster (for now) in Sergio Rodriguez.

Unless they’re looking to trade Bayless–and maybe that’s the plan–why would the Blazers pull the trigger on a PG in the first round? If Pritchard wants to indulge his annual draft-day sweet tooth and trade up, the more logical pick would be a big man, i.e. B.J. Mullens of Ohio State: not because we’re enamored with the seven-foot Mullens (hardly), but because right now I’m ready to call Oden a bigger question mark than Bayless. If Oden’s balky body were to continue limiting his games played and effectiveness, Mullens is a young kid who could provide more long-term value to the Blazers than a, say, Jrue Holiday or Eric Maynor.

Of course, who knows what the Blazers, or any other NBA team, are really working on behind the scenes at the moment. Maybe the Blazers are, in fact, confident that Bayless can be their guy and won’t be looking at unproven PG help on Thursday. Maybe they’re still talking to Memphis about Mike Conley Jr., and would be content to let him battle it out with Bayless (and I suppose Rodriguez) for PG minutes next season. Perhaps they’re serious about pursuing over-the-hill and future Hall-of-Famer Jason Kidd as a 1- to 2-year stop gap solution (not crazy about that idea, but it could work if Kidd is ready to accept a major paycut).

And, maybe, Oden isn’t a question mark at all, and will soon blossom into a healthy, dominant offensive and defensive force who does for the Blazers in the middle what Dwight Howard did for the Orlando Magic. Mmhmm.

Who knows.

I do know this, however: the Portland Trail Blazers would be foolish to give up on Jerryd Bayless before he’s even gotten started.

Jerryd Bayless Photo Credit: Icon SMI

1 CommentPosted by Brian Spencer on Jun. 18, 2009 at 10:47pm in NBA

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