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ETB’s 2009 NFL Season Previews: AFC West

July 17, 2009

San Diego Chargers LaDainian Tomlinson

LaDainian Tomlinson Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By Darren Yuvan

With training camp on the horizon for the 2009 NFL season, ETB’s Darren Yuvan will break down the league’s outlook division by division. Next up is the AFC West, where despite basically bringing back the same squad as last year, the Chargers are poised to dominate. Make sure to check out our AFC North preview too.

San Diego Chargers

With no huge offseason acquisitions and no major player departures, this is basically the same squad that went 8 – 8 last year. The thing is, with no other quality teams in the once-proud AFC West, the Chargers are clearly the most talented team in the NFL’s weakest division.

The offense should once again be highly potent. LaDainian Tomlinson and his 141 career TDs are (apparently) fully healthy, and the lightening-quick Darren Sproles has been franchised and is ready to spell the 30-year-old LT; the running game should once again be racking up the yards and trips to the end zone.

The highly competitive Philip Rivers is one of the best QBs in the league, and as usual. he’ll be throwing to three of the league’s best targets in Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers. The Chargers should once again have little trouble putting points on the board.

The defense, which struggled mightily at times last season–especially against the passwill be helped immensely by the return of physical freak Shawn Merriman, with rookie first-rounder Larry English ready to step in if Merriman’s knee isn’t fully ready. English has been everything the Chargers have expected so far in mini-camps. He and Merriman should allow the Chargers to improve on their woeful 25 sacks last season, with the added QB pressure reducing the scorching 3,958 passing yards they gave up as a team–second highest in the NFL.

Also expect better seasons out of Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer. The added QB pressure should allow them to improve on their interception numbers as they combined for only 4 picks all of last season.

Simply by remaining healthy, the Chargers should improve on last year’s record by a game or two, and 10 – 6 should be more than enough for a stranglehold on this division.

Darren Yuvan breaks down the rest of the AFC West after the break..

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1 CommentPosted by ETB Contributor on Jul. 17, 2009 at 10:39am in NFL

ETB’s 2009 NFL Season Previews: AFC North

July 16, 2009

Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By Darren Yuvan

With training camp on the horizon for the 2009 NFL season, ETB’s Darren Yuvan will break down the league’s outlook division by division. First up is the AFC North, where the Pittsburgh Steelers are the preseason favorites. Our AFC West preview is up too.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The boys from Steeltown will be right back in the thick of things this year and should once again be considered both a division and Super Bowl favorite.

Their trademark nasty, smack-you-in-the-mouth defense returns almost in it’s entirety, with the exception of CB Bryant McFadden, who signed with Arizona as a free agent, and LB Larry Foote, who’s now with the Lions. But veteran and one-time starter Deshea Townsend should step back onto the first team, with youngsters Anthony Madison and William Gay providing depth in the secondary.

Top draft pick Ziggy Hood also looks to be yet another impact Steeler defender obtained via the draft and should be in the defensive line rotation along with fellow 3-4 ends Brent Kiesel and Aaron Smith.

The offense looks to be just as potent in 2009 as well. Rashard Mendenhall will be back from the broken the shoulder he suffered last season at the hands of Baltimore’s Ray Lewis, adding depth and some power running to the speed of Willie Parker and the solid all-around play of Mewelde Moore.

The Steelers also solidified their offensive line for years by resigning linemen Max Starks and Chris Kemoeatu to long-term deals, with Trai Essex and Willie Colon being resigned to shorter deals as well.

The only potential Steelers weakness lies at the wide receiver position. Though Super Bowl hero Santonia Holmes and long-time fan favorite Hines Ward are firmly entrenched as starters, Ward isn’t getting any younger, and the Steelers have little depth behind those two after losing Nate Washington to Tennessee in the offseason.

Limas Sweed was plagued by the drops for a good portion of last season and needs to become more consistent if he’s to be counted on regularly, and rookie Mike Wallace likely isn’t ready to see the field yet, leaving the underwhelming Shaun McDonald as the most solid Steelers receiver after their two starters. If either Ward or Holmes goes down, the Steeler passing game could be in trouble.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens remain at least a step behind the Steelers, and I can see the gap widening even a bit further this year, though I do still expect Baltimore to at least challenge for a wild-card spot.

The defense, though it should still remains somewhat formidable, will suffer from the loss of coordinator Rex Ryan and other than All-World safety Ed Reed the secondary remains vulnerable and should be considered a weakness. Both Fabian Washington and Dominque Foxworth can be beaten on the corners, and strong safety Dawan Landry will be forced back into the starting lineup after the loss the solid Jim Leonhard to the Jets.

The linebacking corps remains deep, but not spectacular, with Ray Lewis yet another year older. Though his leadership qualities can never be questioned, I always have and still do consider Lewis one of the most overrated players in the league. Terrell Suggs has been a bit of a letdown in Baltimore, getting only 13 sacks total in the last two seasons combined.

The offense looks to be in pretty good shape, and the Ravens should once again lean heavily on the run behind Ray Rice and Le’Ron McClain, with Willis McGahee most likely relegated to backup duty.

Their road will be paved by a tough offensive line that will be helped immensely by the presence of rookie Michael Oher, who by all accounts has been quite impressive in the mini-camps thus far.

The receiving corps remains a question mark, with their only consistent threat, Derrick Mason, abruptly announcing his retirement; Demetrius Williams, Mark Clayton and free-agent acquisition Kelley Washington don’t really scare anyone. The signing of tight end LJ Smith should help once Todd Heap sustains his usual in-season injury, but still, the Ravens would be well-served to resist the temptation to turn the big arm of QB Joe Flacco loose and instead continue to utilize their power running game.

Darren Yuvan breaks down the rest of the AFC North after the break..

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6 CommentsPosted by ETB Contributor on Jul. 16, 2009 at 8:30am in NFL

Grading the 2009 NBA Summer League Rookies in Ten Words or Less

July 14, 2009

Blake Griffin's NBA Debut

By: Zachariah Blott

The Orlando Pro Summer League completed its five-game schedule last week, and the official NBA Summer League got going on Friday. Many big-name rookies have played so far; some have provided hope to their franchises’ fans, some have created doubt. If you haven’t kept up on the games, here’s a letter grade and short comment about each player’s performance up to this point.

Rodrigue Beaubois, PG, Dallas Mavericks
Comment: Very quick, nightmare to defend (19ppg, 4.3apg, 9-19 3′s)

DeJuan Blair, PF, San Antonio Spurs
Grade: A
Comment: Intense motor lead to uber-efficient double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds, 22 minutes)

Jon Brockman PF, Sacramento Kings
Grade: B
Comment: As expected, banger who chases every ball (27 rebounds in 52 minutes)

Chase Budinger, F, Houston Rockets
Grade: B
Comment: As always, able to be a take-over scorer (47 points on 30 shots in 3 games)

DeMarre Carroll, F, Memphis Grizzlies
Grade: B
Comment: Lots of intensity, various scoring methods (4-6 FG, 1-1 triples, 2-2 FT’s)

Omri Casspi, F, Sacramento Kings
Grade: D
Comment: Hasn’t shown much, too many misses and turnovers (12 in 3 games)

Darren Collison, PG, New Orleans Hornets
Grade: B
Comment: Drives with authority, decent decisions (6-3 assists-TO in debut)

Dante Cunningham, F, Portland Trail Blazers
Grade: B
Comment: Looked like a gamer with a place in the league (21 and 9)

Stephen Curry, G, Golden State Warriors
Grade: B
Comment: Gun slinger mentality, gun slinger results (23ppg, 39% 3′s, 31% 2′s)

Austin Daye, F, Detroit Pistons
Grade: C
Comment: Sporadic scoring, rebounding, fouling (8, 2, 1 one game – 11, 11, 8 another)

DeMar DeRozan, SF, Toronto Raptors
Grade: C
Comment: Putting up points, but on too many shots (45 points, 46 shots)

Wayne Ellington, SG, Minnesota Timberwolves
Grade: C
Comment: Will shoot no matter what (2-12 one game, 8-14 the next)

Tyreke Evans, G, Sacramento Kings
Grade: B
Comment: Scorer’s mentality, punishing driver (41 FTA in 3 games), good rebounder, careless TO’s

Breaking down Blake Griffin to Brandon Jennings to Hasheem Thabeet, after the jump…
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8 CommentsPosted by ETB Contributor on Jul. 14, 2009 at 6:49pm in NBA

The NBA Trade Winds are Still Blowin’: Five Guys Waiting to Be Moved

July 13, 2009

Center Tyson Chandler of the New Orleans Hornets

Tyson Chandler Photo Credit: Icon SMI

We’re well into the NBA offseason with the dog days of general inactivity looming, but there’s still plenty of player movement to be settled before training camp opens in a few short months–and we’re guaranteeing at least one more blockbuster trade which could involve one or more of these five players. One way or the other, we expect all five to be donning new uniforms at some point in the near future.

Carlos Boozer, PF, Utah Jazz – This one’s pretty obvious: the Jazz want nothing to do with Boozer, and Boozer’s only interested in staying for the hefty paycheck before bolting as an unrestricted free agent next summer. He won’t have to wait that long to pack his bags.

Whichever team he winds up on–Chicago and Detroit remain the most likely destinations–will probably be satisfied to let him play out most if not all of the final year of his contract before approaching him about an extension. His injury-checkered past has been well-documented, as has his reluctance to consistently play defense and totally dedicate himself to his first two NBA franchises (Cleveland being the other). He has to prove himself before he gets paid like he wants to be.

Even as a possible one-year rental, though, Boozer is a reliable 20 and 10 guy when healthy and one of the most offensively gifted big men in the league. And if he’s not back, hey, that’s $12.6 million off the books.

Tyson Chandler, C, New Orleans HornetsHe was already traded once (to Oklahoma City) for a bag of chips and a can of Wilcox at last year’s trade deadline, but was marked as damaged goods by the Thunder and sent back to the cost-cutting Hornets. Awkward.

Chandler’s ongoing rehab from his myriad injuries has and will likely continue to hamper the team’s efforts to move their $12 million-ish man in the middle, but they’ll continue to listen to any and all offers and prefer to move on. Health does remain a concern, but the 26-year-old seven-footer would be a major steal considering the likely low asking price and upside on the investment: in 79 games played in the 2007-08 season, Chandler averaged 11.8 points, 11.8 boards, and 1.1 blocks in 35 minutes per.

Richard Hamilton, SG, Detroit Pistons – With Ben Gordon in the fold and signed to a semi-lucrative $55 million deal, the rebuilding Pistons don’t have the luxury of keeping Hamilton with so many glaring holes in the frontcourt. GM Joe Dumars has a sentimental attachment to his All-Star shooting guard, one of the last remaining pieces of the ’04 championship team, but he’ll get over it once the right deal presents itself–and that could be soon.

There’s been plenty of talk about a straight-up swap with the Jazz for Boozer–if that happens, it’ll likely be this week with the clock ticking down on the Jazz to match Paul Millsap’s toxic offer sheet from Portland. If it doesn’t, Dumars could have trouble finding equal value with many teams loathe to take on a contract of Hamilton’s size (over $49 million for the next four seasons).

Ramon Sessions, PG, Milwaukee Bucks – Maybe there’s something going on behind the scenes we don’t know about. Perhaps Sessions has rubbed team brass and/or head coach Scott Skiles the wrong way. Who knows. Whatever the reason, resigning restricted free-agent Sessions doesn’t seem to be very high on the team’s offseason priority list and is even less so after they spent a lottery pick on Brandon Jennings (whom ETB contributor Zach Blott thinks should be stashed overseas for now).

In his second NBA season, Sessions averaged a respectable 12.4 points (44% FG), 5.7 assists, 3.4 boards, and 1.1 steals per 27:30, though we thought he’d be in store for even bigger numbers given his strong showing towards the end of his rookie season. A lot of his expected PT went to Luke Ridnour, unfortunately. Though Ridnour is on the final year of a contract that’ll pay him $6.5 million, Sessions seems the more likely candidate to be moved in a sign-and-trade, with the experienced, steady-as-(s)he-goes Ridnour leaned on to hold down the fort while Jennings adjusts to the NBA game.

Travis Outlaw, F, Portland Trail Blazers – Still only 24 years old, the six-year vet doesn’t seem to have a future in Portland with the team making every effort to upgrade the small forward position. They tried to add Hedo Turkoglu, were rumored to have pitched the Pistons on Tayshaun Prince, and have made no secret of their willingness to part with Outlaw for the right price.

With second-year forward Nicolas Batum in line for even more minutes this season, the only way we see Outlaw sticking around is if the team falls flat on their face (like Superman) in their pursuit of an established veteran starter–and that could very well happen. However, the writing is on the wall and a smart GM would be wise to pick up the phone and inquire about Outlaw: he’s a flawed player on both ends, but one who hasn’t yet hit his ceiling and is coming off a career-best season in which he averaged 12.8 points (45% FG), 4.1 rebounds, and 1 triple per 27:41 minutes.

Given the minutes, coaching, and the right system, down the road we can see this kid being a sparkplug–maybe even a starter–for a contender.

No CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Jul. 13, 2009 at 11:59pm in NBA

Reading is Great! NBA Offseason Updates

July 12, 2009

Ray Allen Reading

- TrueHoop – Shaun Livingston, the oldest 24-year-old in the NBA.
- Ball Don’t Lie – Who to watch in the Las Vegas Summer League.
- The Hoop Doctors – Is one team’s trash another team’s treasure?
- Deuce of Davenport – Allen Iverson is human after all.
- Golden State of Mind – Are the Warriors interested in Carlos Boozer?
- Detroit Bad Boys – Detroit’s Aaron Afflalo could be headed to Denver.
- Barkley’s Mouth – What happens if/when Paul Millsap joins the Blazers?
- Sports by Brooks – A claim that the Rockets covered up Artest’s bad behavior last season.
- The Baseline – That whole salary cap thing is a real pain in the ass.
- The Indianapolis Star – Are the Pacers too white?
- NY Daily News – NYC hasn’t been the premier FA destination it’s cracked up to be lately.
- NBA FanHouse – DaJuan Summers made a splash in his Summer League debut.
- Sactown Royalty – Tyreke Evans is looking really good so far too.
- HOOPSWORLD – DeMar DeRozan could be a perfect fit for the Raptors.
- D.C. Sports Bog – Oleksiy Pecherov’s final words as a Washington Wizard.
- NY Times – Andrea Bargnani needs ideas on how to spend his fortune.
- Third Quarter Collapse – Breaking down new Magic forward Brandon Bass.
- Bullets Forever – On the many nicknames of the Wizards’ JaVale McGee.
- T’Wolves Blog – The latest word on the Ricky Rubio drama.

2 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Jul. 12, 2009 at 9:41am in NBA

Is Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace Clinically Insane? Or is His Owner Just Insanely Cheap?

July 10, 2009

Zach Randolph

Zach Randolph Photo Credit: Icon SMI

By: Zachariah Blott

I’ll start where fellow ETB columnist Brendan K. O’Grady left off last week when the Memphis Grizzlies traded for Zach Randolph; they are stupid.

Randolph is quite possibly the worst locker room/team chemistry guy in the NBA today. He demands the ball no matter who is on the team, points fingers after losses, punched and injured a teammate in 2003, famously feuded with Nate Robinson on the bench during games in New York, and is an organizational nightmare off the court (multiple lawsuits, guns, drugs, gangs, DUI’s, crazy sexual assault accusation in 2007, and time in juvie back in HS for stealing guns).

He’s as saintly as Kwame Kilpatrick.

Regardless of his ability to consistently put 20 and 10 on a stat sheet, Randolph is not the type of guy you want anywhere near players not heavily involved in Bible study groups. He is the “people” someone’s talking about when they say, “so-and-so got mixed up with the wrong people.” You get the idea; trading for Randolph is a surefire way to either upset teammates or to find out how easily they are swayed to the Dark Side.

For starters, Wallace is nuts for trading for a guy who guarantees headaches to everyone and has never been responsible for a team’s improvement in the win column. And, now, Wallace and owner Mike Heisley are scheming to add Allen Iverson of all people into the mix too. Um… what?

Quick history on Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace before last week. Last year he traded the franchise’s best player ever, Pau Gasol, for… well, basically the rookie rights of Marc Gasol and a couple late first-round draft picks. Seriously? You can stop reading here and realize how inept Wallace is at making a team competitive—unless that team is the Lakers–or swinging a well-balanced trade.

Before he was found ripping apart the moral fabric of Grizzly Nation (all 472 of ‘em), Wallace acted as James Buchanan to Danny Ainge’s Abe Lincoln during Boston’s lowly pre-KG days. Part of Ainge’s brilliance at the helm of the Celtics is that he looks really good following up the pitifully topsy-turvy status of the team during Wallace’s years.

More on the “brilliant” offseason in Memphis after the break…

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4 CommentsPosted by ETB Contributor on Jul. 10, 2009 at 8:34am in NBA

Breaking Down the 2009 NBA Rookies’ First Day of Summer League

July 7, 2009

James Harden faces Jordan Hill
By: Zachariah Blott

The Orlando Pro Summer League, the first summer league action for seven NBA teams (the 76ers and Nets combined rosters to make up one team), got underway on Monday. Summer league ball is characterized by youngsters trying to earn a little burn in the upcoming season, free agents—many of them undrafted—trying to earn a roster spot, and first round draft picks attempting to prove that they’re ready to live up to the lofty expectations.

All told, six first round selections from the 11-day-old NBA Draft participated. How did they fare?

James Harden, SG, Oklahoma City Thunder

Selection: #3

Hype: Gifted scorer with so-so physical skills. His nose for breaking down a defender and finding a way to put the ball in the hoop is proven.

Day 1: Harden played 21 minutes off the bench, backing up Kyle Weaver. Harden did what Harden does, scoring 17 points in a variety of ways, all of them efficient. He connected on 6 of 9 shots, 2 of 3 3-pointers, and all 3 of his free throws. Throw in 4 rebounds and a steal, and it’s safe to say Harden found a lot of ways to stay involved. On the flip side, he had 1 assist versus 3 turnovers.

If I was an OKC fan: Competent scorer other than Durantula? Check!

B.J. Mullens, C, Oklahoma City Thunder

Selection: #24

Hype: Athletic big man who has supposedly “limitless” potential. His production and defense in one year at Ohio State, however, were quite limited.

Day 1: Mullens did very little on the boards, clearing them for only 3 rebounds in 22 minutes of play, which is even worse when you realize the opposing Celtics made only 41% of their shots. He hit 4 of 9 shots and 3 of 4 free throws for 11 points. Mullens also had 3 personal fouls and 0 blocks.

If I was an OKC fan: He’s so talented that he has to be good eventually. Right?

Terrence Williams, SG/SF, New Jersey Nets

Selection: #11

Hype: High-IQ player who plays great defense. Williams is known more for rebounding, smart passing, and locking opponents down than for scoring.

Day 1: Williams continued his assault on the boards, pulling down 9 rebounds in 35 big minutes. Granted, only 1 of them was on the offensive end, but he also contributed 3 blocks and 2 steals. Did this defensive gem of a game (at least statistically) have any offense to go with it? In a word: no. Williams made only 1 of 8 shots for 2 measly points.

If I was a NJ fan: Well, we got what we expected.

Jrue Holiday, PG, Philadelphia 76ers

Selection: #17

Hype: Super athletic point guard who had underwhelming production in his one year at UCLA. Holiday is known for his heady, mature game that doesn’t rely on any one trademark skill.

Day 1: Holiday’s production was again underwhelming. In a day-high 38 minutes, Holiday had 2 assists to 5 turnovers, and 9 points on 3 of 11 shooting. I’m curious how big his 4 steals and 2 blocks came across to observers who couldn’t have been impressed by his ability to set up an offense.

If I was a Philly fan: Boooo!

Tyler Hansbrough, PF, Indiana Pacers

Selection: #13

Hype: Hansbrough’s motor is always on, but can his great effort make up for skills many experts don’t expect to translate well at the NBA level?

Day 1: In what must have been a huge exhale for Larry Bird, Hansbrough showed he belonged, at least for one game. He scored a team-high 17 points in 25 minutes, connecting on 6 of 13 shots and 5 of 8 freebies. In the effort stats, Psycho T had 3 steals and 3 offensive boards (out of 5 total). He also got called for 5 personal fouls, possibly a career high after the ACC refs catered to his every need for the past 4 years.

If I was an Indy fan: Wow, Bird may have been right…

Eric Maynor, PG, Utah Jazz

Selection: #20

Hype: Smart and crafty point who does everything well, but nothing amazing. See what I said before the draft.

Day 1: Maynor played with a collection of duds Monday evening that scored only 19 points in the first half and got blown out 87-56 by Boston. Maynor was one of very few bright spots for the Jazz in the game. Playing 25 minutes in a starting role, Deron Williams’ new backup made smart decisions to the tune of 4 assists and 0 turnovers, and this is on a team that turned it over 19 times yesterday. He shot a decent 4 of 9 for 9 points, collected 4 rebounds, and was called for only 1 foul against Boston’s starting guards who both played in the league last year.

If I was a Utah fan: I knew who he was at VCU, I swear.

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

1 CommentPosted by ETB Contributor on Jul. 7, 2009 at 5:57pm in NBA

Ron Artest, Trevor Ariza, and the LA Lakers: It All Makes Perfect Sense

July 3, 2009

Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe Bryant & Ron Artest Photos Credit: Icon SMI

By: Brendan K. O’Grady

If you’re Trevor Ariza, Ron Artest, or the Los Angeles Lakers, this all makes perfect sense.

If you’re Ariza, you feel disrespected.

It’s hard not to take this personally when you just played a critical role in helping anybody win a NBA championship for anybody, let alone a storied franchise like the Lakers. This is the team synonymous with your city, the place where you grew up, where you played college ball. This is the team you dreamed of playing for as a pro… and the team that, in the end, declined offering you the security of the long-term contract that you’ve damned well earned.

Any other competitive team would be thrilled to have you, and you’d likely be the crucial missing piece for any one of them. You are that good. (Maybe.) And when you win that second ring with somebody else, you’ll be in store for an even bigger payday than this one. And then the Lakers will be sorry…

If you’re Mitch Kupcheck and Jerry Buss, you feel like you can’t count on getting lucky breaks again. You see Kobe Bryant a year older and finally showing the mileage of over a 1,000 NBA games (plus extra-curricular Team USA activities.) You let Shaq leave under the pretense that you were going to ride out the rest of Kobe’s prime for as many rings as that could net. You realize that, sure, you could bring back the same roster and probably win the West, but Orlando, Cleveland, and especially arch-nemesis Boston are all coming back a little better, a little stronger. And they’re coming back at YOU.

You look at Ariza and you see a player who’s never played a fully healthy season before last year. You see a player whose recently reliable three-point stroke is the sole, tenuous difference between his being a do-it-all starter or a more of a defensive specialist off the bench. And you see a player who now has a bad attitude about only being offered what every other contender is willing to pay him… and you see that he’s threatening to out-and-out walk.

And, then, you look up and see a smiling Ron Artest, who’s ready to sign a contract for relative peanuts.

Why Ron Artest is not a good fit for the Lakers after the break…

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4 CommentsPosted by ETB Contributor on Jul. 3, 2009 at 12:05am in NBA

Trading for Zach Randolph a New Low for Memphis Grizzlies

July 2, 2009

Zach RandolphBy: Brendan K. O’Grady

Let’s just forget about objectivity for a moment: having spent three years and the better part of four seasons closely following the Memphis Grizzlies, I’m incapable of not having a biased opinion on the happenings of this franchise.

They’re my secondary rooting interest, and I care. A lot. I want good things for them, right up to Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals where they can lose to my hometown Lakers, as it was written.

So imagine my shock and horror when the news emerged that they’d reached an agreement to acquire Zach Randolph from the Clippers in exchange for the right to pay Quentin Richardson an undeserved fortune.

Up until then the talk had been of Memphis making a run at a restricted free agent like David Lee or Paul Millsap. Both represented a very attractive option as proven role players who could who could step in and better the team immediately as starters, while still possessing room to grow along with the Grizzlies’ young-but-talented core.

Lee had been a frequent enough topic of discussion to have emerged as the fan-favorite option. He’d of given the Grizz an already decent–and still improving–option offensively, as well as an all-around nice guy to boot (chemistry not an insignificant matter on the current roster). If Memphis is serious about wanting to keep pushing the pace, they could have easily squeezed out a few more wins with Lee in the fold out of sheer, combined hustle, and hopefully have gotten their heads right enough to win a few more on top of that.

Paul Millsap, a power-packed forward who bangs for absolutely every board, could have heralded an interesting new identity for the Grizzlies. The combination of Millsap, Hasheem Thabeet, and Marc Gasol (average age less than 24) would instantly rank as one of the best young defensive frontcourts in the league. Pair them with explosive, All-World talented wing scorers (Rudy Gay and OJ Mayo) and a point who likes to move the rock (Mike Conley) and you’ve got the makings of a competitive team… right? Maybe?

Lee or Millsap, it wouldn’t have mattered: the Grizzlies couldn’t possibly have been any worse than they are right now, and all those blocks and dunks and threes would have been fun as hell to watch.

But all of that goes out the window after trading for Zach Randolph, who’s a known quantity at this point in his career. He wants to be the first option on offense. He wants the ball in the halfcourt and the time to find his shot. He wants 9 or so rebounds a game (defensive only, please.) And he will give exactly the amount of effort it takes to get his, night in and night out, and absolutely nothing more. He’s also a cancer.

Will he help Memphis win a few more games next season? It’s debatable. Probably, I guess. But that’s not the point: the Grizzlies have to know that there just isn’t a future with Zach Randolph on this team. The Commercial Appeal actually nailed the motivation behind this deal on the first try: it’s all about the money.

That may seem like a leap given that Randolph is currently playing on one of the most laughably inflated contracts in basketball ($33.3 million over the next two seasons), but the analysis makes sense. The worst owner and the worst GM in the NBA took the path of least resistance and picked up a guy who’s somehow managed to maintain production close to his advertised 20 and 10 instead of committing slightly more long-term money on the free agency market.

And in the process, the worst owner in the NBA and the worst GM in the NBA have ensured they’ll preside over the worst team in the NBA for the foreseeable future.

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.

Zach Randolph Photo Credit: Icon SMI

1 CommentPosted by ETB Contributor on Jul. 2, 2009 at 9:25pm in NBA

Ben Gordon Won’t Be Paid $55 Million to Back Up Richard Hamilton

July 2, 2009

Changing of the Guard in DetroitSomething’s gotta give in Detroit, and that something is one of the last remaining pieces of Detroit’s 2004 NBA Championship team leaving town: Richard Hamilton, who will soon be traded.

I think. He has to be, right?

Despite reports that GM Joe Dumars has stated he has no intentions of trading Hamilton, it doesn’t make much sense to have two All-Star caliber shooting guards capable of playing 34 – 36 minutes a night (and getting paid like it) at the same position. Both were their respective team’s leading scorers last season (Gordon 20.7 for Chicago, Hamilton 18.3 for Detroit), both revel in the role of being the go-to guy on the floor, both have a well-documented history of not happily accepting a sixth-man role off the bench.

Though Gordon is a much higher-character guy than Allen Iverson, the last thing Dumars and the Pistons need is another backcourt controversy: as you recall, it was first Hamilton, then Iverson, who publicly bemoaned their demotions to the bench in favor of the other. I can’t imagine that Gordon made the move to Detroit to be a backup, nor can I see Hamilton suddenly having a change of heart and stepping aside to make room for Gordon in the starting lineup.

Something’s gotta give.

The Pistons have decent backcourt depth, with late-season surprise Will Bynum backing up Rodney Stuckey at the point and improving ’07 first-round pick Arron Afflalo at the off-guard position; another veteran backup could be brought in on the cheap, which would probably happen regardless of what happens with Hamilton.

Rip Hamilton & Ben Gordon Photo Credit: Icon SMI

There is still a market for the well-conditioned Hamilton, who at age 31 should still be plenty effective for the duration of his three-year extension, which kicks in for the 2010-11 season. That said, he’s already hit his peak and last season was only the second time in his 10-year career that he’s played in less than 70 regular-season games (67). He’s a luxury this team can no longer afford: though standing at 6-11, newly signed Charlie Villanueva is not a natural center, and Kwame Brown is not a starter.

Dumars has options, too, as our man Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports recently noted:

The signing of Gordon, 26, could make another former UConn player, Richard Hamilton, expendable in a trade. Hamilton, 31, could be used to bring back another low-post presence: perhaps Utah Jazz forward Carlos Boozer, Los Angeles Clippers’ center Chris Kaman or New Orleans Hornets center Tyson Chandler.

ESPN’s Ric Bucher says on Twitter that Rip for Boozer was “a hot rumor, but that got shot down before it left the blocks.” Still, you know Utah isn’t happy that Boozer chose to stick around and make resigning Paul Millsap a lot more difficult; I wouldn’t totally discount the possibility. According to ESPN’s Trade Machine, a straight-up swap would work financially.

Chandler makes more sense, though, given Villanueva’s general lack of defensive prowess. Though injury concerns linger, at 27 years old Chandler fits the mold of the Pistons’ rebuilding plan and would give the team much-needed rebounding, shot-blocking ability, and overall grit in the middle. Last season was basically a wash due to a foot problem, but in 2007-08 he lasted the whole season, averaging 11.8 points (62% FG), 11.8 boards, and over 1 block per in 35+ minutes a night. In Detroit he wouldn’t be asked to do much more than rebound, play defense, and score easy gimmes–all his strong suits. Hamilton for Chandler, again, apparently would work.

Those are just two of many trade options Dumars figures to have in about a week when Gordon and Villanueva officially sign on the dotted line. Once they do, it’s trade Hamilton or bust.

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7 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Jul. 2, 2009 at 6:44am in NBA

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