- The Season's Over -

ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series – Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead

September 2, 2008

The Big Lead's Jason McIntyre gets his moment in the ETB spotlight

The Big Lead has become somewhat of a real-life Field of Dreams… if you replaced Kevin’s Costner’s baseball field with one of the most heavily updated sports blogs on the Web. Now, that’s not to say the site’s head honcho and subject of our latest ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series, Jason McIntyre, has heard any whispered promises of “if you build it, they will come.” But since launching The Big Lead in 2006, come they have: TBL is now receiving upwards of 2 million+ hits a month.

Like many bloggers, McIntyre enjoyed an anonymous life in his field until being unmasked in a recent Sports Illustrated profile. Of course, ETB’s fellow Brooklynite had already long been revealed as a clever writer, tireless worker, and excellent interviewer, the latter through an ongoing series of talks with some of the biggest and most well-known names in sports media (links to a few of those below).

Without further ado, we sit down for a cozy fireside chat (via email) with The Big Lead’s Jason McIntyre.

Empty the Bench: The Big Lead has, in part, made its name from its ongoing series of excellent interviews with sports media personalities. Who’s been your
favorite interview so far in 2008 and why?

Jason McIntyre: It’s tough to pick just one. My sentimental choice would be Kornheiser, just because I idolized him growing up reading the Washington Post. Buzz Bissinger was timely and fun. Klosterman was fun. Karen Crouse’s responses might have been the most memorable. Selena Roberts’ may have been the most eye-opening. Readers, for the longest time, had wanted to hear from Joe Posnanski and Wright Thompson, and their responses were terrific.

ETB: The Big Lead is known for maintaining a high volume of daily content. How often do you experience “writer’s block” and how do you try to get over it?

McIntyre: Food, the gym, or interns. I also try to read as much non-sports as possible during the day. There’s no way I could sit at a computer for nine hours and think and write about sports. Impossible. Lately, I’ve been taking some mid-day Madden breaks just to break up the monotony.

ETB: Which free-agent signing or trade that’s happened so far this summer will have the most impact next season in the NBA?

McIntyre: Elton Brand? The swing for the Clippers and 76ers was massive.One day, the Paper Clips had Baron Davis and Elton Brand and Chris Kaman and enough talent to reach the playoffs; the next week, Elton Brand was gone and offensively-challenged Marcus Camby was in the mix.

Love Brand on the 76ers. I can see them finishing as high as third in the East. Brand, when healthy, can be a 20-10 machine. Bullish on the 76ers to win a round, maybe two in the postseason, even though Brand doesn’t have a playoff history to warrant that outlook. (Editor’s Note: this is not McIntyre or anyone affiliated with TBL in the video below.)

More from The Big Lead’s Jason McIntyre after the break…

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No CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Sep. 2, 2008 at 8:48am in Interviews, NBA

ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series – Lee Grammier of The Dream Shake

August 28, 2008

Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon

Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon Photo Credit: Icon SMI

The Houston Rockets’ season ended in heartbreaking fashion, felled once again by those vile Jazz of Utah. After knocking the Rockets out for a second consecutive season, one of the best rivalries in basketball has been reborn – one that started with The Dream versus Stock and The Mailman (1994, 1995, 1997 and 1998 playoffs). But Houston made the biggest offseason splash this side of Philadelphia with the acquisition of controversial forward Ron Artest, and they’re hoping his addition will push Houston past Utah and deep into the postseason.

You won’t find a better blog chronicling those playoff dreams than The Dream Shake, named in honor of everyone’s favorite Rocket. The Dream Shake is curated by David Clark and Lee Grammier, two rabid Rockets fans who live and die with their team and know as much about them as anybody in the blogosphere.

ETB is proud to present ten questions and ten answers with Mr. Lee Grammier.

Empty the Bench: Tracy McGrady: vent or defend him. Is T-Mac just a loser?

Lee Grammier: Tracy is a very capable player, one of the greatest talents the NBA has ever seen. And I truly mean that, his skill as a basketball player is up there with the best of all time. Why hasn’t he made it out of the first round? In Orlando his team sucked, they were there solely on his back, you can’t pin that on him. In Houston, we’ve run up against a Dallas team that we should have beaten and Utah twice, a team the Rockets have not matched up well with. Is Tracy a loser for not making it out of the first round? I say no. His playoff stats are better than his regular season stats and that says a lot about him. Is his career legacy at stake if he doesn’t get out of the first round this year? Yes. [Ed. Note: That sounds familiar... ]

ETB: Who would you rather keep: Tracy McGrady or Shane Battier? Salary — and who else it could be used on — is a factor.

Grammier: With the addition of Artest, the answer is to keep Tracy. Without Artest, I’d lean towards keeping Shane. Seems crazy, but the real reason is the “salary is a factor” part. If I can spend $20 million on someone else, or $10 million on two someones, I think it’s almost a no brainer to do that. With Artest the Rockets have three legitimate stars, and luckily we don’t have to get rid of any of them if we do not want to.

ETB: What does Rick Adelman do for the Rockets that Jeff Van Gundy didn’t? Given your druthers, who would you rather have coaching the Rockets?

Grammier: He taught them offense. I have mad man love for JVG but he was not in any way an offensive mastermind. The knock on Adelman was always that his defense was somewhat lacking. So what does Adelman do? Tell them not to change a thing on defense, keep up the intensity. To go along with that he taught them how to efficiently play offense. It wasn’t always pretty, and until 2008 came around, it was pretty ugly, but the defense was there while they worked through the offensive kinks. Once the offense started rolling, the Rockets won 12 in a row. Then disaster struck and Yao went down. I’m still hoping we see a full NBA season without a major injury for the Rockets. If that happens, look out league!

Talking Yao’s health, Rafer’s shooting, and Hakeem Olajuwon memories after the jump…

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5 CommentsPosted by Andrew Thell on Aug. 28, 2008 at 12:59am in Interviews, NBA

ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series – Brian Powell of Awful Announcing

August 21, 2008

Awful Announcing

If something happens in the world of sports media that you absolutely have to know about—ESPN anchors swilling vodka straight from the bottle, play-by-play announcers making incendiary comments on the air, Joe Buck being Joe Buck—you can bet that Awful Announcing will be all over it before most anyone else.

We’re pleased to give you 10 questions with Awful Announcing’s Brian Powell.

Empty the Bench: What initially led you to launch Awful Announcing and what were your main goals of the site? Has that changed over the years?

Brian Powell: Well, the original goal was to just create something that I could use as an outlet to vent some of my frustration regarding the Sports World and various announcers. I never had aspirations of doing it full time or even having readers outside my friends and family.

After gaining a handful of loyal readers early on, the goal changed to just giving people things they hadn’t seen anywhere else. I also wanted the site to be a place where people could go and comment about whatever they wanted to. I know there are some people who like Joe Buck, and while I think they’re all insane, they still had/have a place to express their opinions on the matter.

Even after I started writing it as my full-time job I don’t think that line of thinking has changed. I think most readers respect the honesty and transparency of the site. If someone disputes something that I’ve said they know exactly how to get in touch with me. More often than not I’ll give them a chance to explain themselves.

ETB: You worked for the Washington Wizards in early 2003. Any memorable stories to share?

Powell: I’ve got a few of them, but my favorite was sneaking into the press conference that announced the signing of Gilbert Arenas. The crazy thing about the situation was that I was chided just before it for arguing with a season-ticket holder. A guy was thinking about canceling his package because of the way the team handled the Jordan situation, and I jumped on him for being a fair-weather fan.

I was just fed up with the state of DC fans, and told the guy he was an idiot for wanting a 40-year-old waste of space over someone who “will get us to the playoffs.” My supervisor told me to walk it off and I found myself following a group of people into the media room where Gilbert was speaking.

I walked up to Arenas and quickly gave him a rundown of the story and he smiled and responded, “He’ll be back on board soon. Don’t worry.” I guarantee that someone else got my commission when that guy signed back up a year later.

Other fun times included but we’re not limited to: watching practice in the (then) MCI Center at lunch, riding in an elevator with Ernie Grunfeld and Eddie Jordan, and getting Juan Dixon to sign the MD jersey I wore when they won the [NCAA] championship.

Much more from Awful Announcing’s Brian Powell after the break…

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1 CommentPosted by Brian Spencer on Aug. 21, 2008 at 12:35am in Interviews, NBA

ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series – Kurt of Forum Blue and Gold

August 15, 2008

Kobe Bean Bryant: NBA MVP

Kobe Bean Bryant Photo Credit: Icon SMI

For our next installment in ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series we head out West, to La La Land. After falling to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals Lakers fans were understandably disappointed. However, the season was still a tremendous success for The Lake Show as they vaulted back into the NBA’s elite. Kurt from always solid Forum Blue and Gold was along for the ride, blogging the rollercoaster season from start to finish.

We asked Kurt to answer a few questions about the past and upcoming seasons, and he was nice enough to make time to oblige. Over the course of ten questions we weave our way through Andrew Bynum’s health, that Ron Artest-for-Lamar Odom trade chatter, Kobe’s competitiveness, the future of Jordan Farmar, handicap a potential Kyle Korver vs. Sasha Vujacic catfight and more. Enjoy.

Empty the Bench: Talk a little about Phil Jackson’s rotations and substitutions in the Finals. There are a few choices that boggled my mind, but what stood out to you?

Kurt: Phil Jackson was a desperate man, and that led to experiments at a time when your rotation should be pretty set. But he had no real choice, what had worked so well for the last couple months of the season and all through the Western Conference playoffs was now failing. A lot of that was due to matchups — Boston posed some serious matchup issues, starting with stopping Pierce — but part of the problem was that outside of Kobe or Fisher this was the first time Lakers players had seen the Finals, and they were a little taken aback by the Celtics desire. So Phil tried just about anything, even throwing Chris Mihm out there even though he hadn’t played a serious NBA game in nearly two years. Desperate times call for desperate measures. It didn’t work, so people were left scratching their heads, questioning his coaching.

ETB: Who would win the catfight between Sasha Vujacic and Kyle Korver?

Kurt: Does Korver have all those Salt Lake tweens in his corner, ready to jump on that Euro with the bad hair if he hurts their precious pretty boy Korver? If he’s got those girls, you have to lean Korver, never underestimate an angry teenager. Straight up, I’ll take The Machine.

We talk Ron Artest, Jordan Farmar, Kevin Martin and more after the jump…

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5 CommentsPosted by Andrew Thell on Aug. 15, 2008 at 2:20pm in Interviews, NBA

ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series – Dave Deckard of Blazer’s Edge

August 13, 2008

Greg Oden Meets His Fans

Greg Oden Photo Credit: Icon SMI

You’re going to be hearing a lot about the resurgent Portland Trail Blazers in the coming years. There’s no better place to follow up on all that Blazers buzz than at Blazer’s Edge, a fantastic site “by Blazers fans, for Blazers fans.”

The main leader over there is Dave Deckard, who writes almost daily about anything and everything surrounding this resurgent franchise. Wondering what’s up with Greg Oden’s recovery from last year’s microfracture surgery? Looking for in-depth analysis of all these youngsters everyone’s clamoring about? Dave does a wonderful job of breaking it down and framing his thoughts in terms of how it all fits into the bigger Blazers picture.

Without further ado, we give you 10 questions with Dave Deckard as part of ETB’s ongoing Scribes of the NBA Interview Series. Enjoy.

Empty the Bench: The Portland Trail Blazers’ turnaround has been remarkable. The team has bodies stacked in spades at nearly every position. Does they need anything else other than time?

Dave Deckard: Time is the main ingredient, but there may be a few decorations yet to go on the cake. Among the most important could be a veteran presence to fill in the gaps our young leadership can’t. Brandon Roy is an amazing pro and the best kind of locker room presence you can imagine. The talent surrounding him has the potential to be awe-inspiring.

However, only one of the Blazers’ top eight rotation guys has been to the playoffs. There are certain lessons only experience can impart. Granted, the Blazers could go through a couple years of playoff runs learning those lessons but they’ll probably want to shortcut the process a little by adding the voice of someone who’s been there.

With Raef LaFrentz sitting on a $13 million expiring contract this year and the Blazers having the option to make a trade using that contract, or letting it expire along with others to create up to $25 million of cap space next summer, it’s a sure bet Portland will be dabbling in the market. The positions at issue are starting point guard and small forward overall. Look for some veteran acquisitions there.

ETB: Does Greg Oden as a franchise cornerstone make you nervous, or do you have confidence that this kid can stay healthy?

Deckard: The health issue is probably overblown because of past experience with other high-profile Portland centers. Oden has been keeping himself fit and is coming back in better shape than he was in before the surgery. He obviously will need some cardio work, but given a couple months of that and a solid rookie year adjusting to the league there’s no reason to assume he’ll be anything but fine. I’d be far more worried depending on Yao Ming at this point; there’s a track record of health issues.

ETB: What are your expectations for Rudy Fernandez in his first year in the NBA and with the Blazers? How about 3 years from now?

Deckard: Rudy should be able to hit shots right away. He’ll also be able to run the floor and finish with the best of them. He’ll have to adjust to the physicality of the NBA in several ways, and he’ll be surprised the first time he tries to drive the lane and gets clobbered. Ditto when he tries to run off of screens through the middle.

Most importantly of all he’ll need a lot of work defensively. He hasn’t seen players who can dismantle him like NBA shooting guards will. Those adjustments may put him a little lower in the rotation than some folks expect, but he’s quite quick for his size and you can’t teach that. That will give him a leg up.

Three years from now Rudy should have adjusted to the league and the team should have adjusted to him. He can be a powerful offensive force moving without the ball and the Blazers are an unselfish squad. That should make for a good combination. I would expect him to be one of the primary scorers off of Portland’s bench, averaging in the mid-teens at least.

ETB: Speaking of Fernandez, what does his arrival mean for Sergio Rodriguez, who was largely an afterthought in his sophomore season?

Deckard: Sergio’s future depends more on Sergio than on Rudy. The Blazers should up the offensive tempo now that they have an interior line that can defend and rebound. That would seem to open the door for Sergio to re-emerge. However, Sergio needs to work on the parts of his game which keep him on the pines: shooting and defense. Unless he can stay in front of his man and stick the jumper when he’s open he won’t get many minutes no matter how fancy his passing gets.

Much more from Dave Deckard on the Portland Trail Blazers after the jump…

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No CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Aug. 13, 2008 at 11:36am in Interviews, NBA

ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series – Brett Hainline of Queen City Hoops

August 11, 2008

Crash & J-Rich

“Where are we going?” Photo Credit: Icon SMI

We featured the Charlotte Bobcats toward the end of the regular season in a series about the league’s non-playoff teams. When I started researching the piece I looked around the blogosphere for some opinions from Bobcats fans and came across the excellent Queen City Hoops. I was familiar with the Brett Hainline’s Bobcats blog, and I decided to ask him for some analysis on a few players, rotations, and roster moves I wasn’t well versed about. He was all too happy to respond with several pages of insightful analysis on everything I asked – and he had it for me within just a few hours.

I ended up using several large block quotes from Mr. Hainline in that Bobcats article, and so when we were looking for bloggers who cover individual teams for our Scribes of the NBA Interview Series he was an obvious choice. True to form, Brett was again happy to lend his insight and knowledge about these Bobcats. ETB sent him ten questions, and Brett responded with ten answers covering the villainous Alonzo Mourning, the enigma that is Raymond Felton, the disappointment that is Adam Morrison, the logic of a Gerald Wallace-for-Andrei Kirilenko swap, the future of Jared Dudley, reaction to the Bobcats’ draft, and much more.

Empty the Bench: A lot of people on the outside looking in are confused by the Raymond Felton conundrum. Could he be a point guard? Is he an NBA shooting guard? Is he a potential franchise cornerstone?

Brett Hainline: Raymond Felton – as currently constructed – is a point guard. Or he needs to be anyway. He is never going to be a Jason Kidd, pass-first-second-and-last kind of guy. But he just is not good enough of a scorer to be played at the 2. He is not a great shooter or finisher, but he can get by his man and get to the rim – where he is and should be looking to dish to his teammates.

ETB: As a Bobcats fan you’ve seen your share of poor draft picks and personnel moves. What specific moves or move has hurt this franchise the most?

Hainline: Adam Morrison. And I don’t think it is close. Brandon Roy or Rudy Gay could have been in Charlotte – and either almost certainly would have been enough to push the Cats into the 8th spot this year. Can Morrison contribute at the NBA level? Maybe – but never at the level expected from someone drafted where he was – and he’ll never have a season like the ones already put up by both Gay and Roy.

If the Bobcats lose Emeka for pennies on the dollar (or for nothing at all, if he takes the qualifying offer then walks next year) – well, then Adam would have some competition. [Ed. Okafor signed a a six-year, $72 million contract just after this interview]

ETB: You’re the Bobcats GM. Who is on the block, who is untouchable and who are you targeting in trades?

Hainline: This team has no untouchables – the only reason MJ called J-Rich untouchable recently is because there is no one who would take on his contract. And I think J-Rich is a good player, though overpaid. Gerald Wallace may actually be underpaid – but he is also a walking infirmary and I would like to see that be someone else’s issue. While most may not agree, I would love to see Utah and the Bobcats swap AK-47 for Crash: Similar players, but we could play AK at the 4, where he fits better, and Crash could actually man the 3 for Utah, instead of Andrei playing out of position.

The undersized David Stern and Muggsy Bogues after the jump…

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No CommentsPosted by Andrew Thell on Aug. 11, 2008 at 1:22am in Interviews, NBA

ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series – Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty and FanHouse

August 6, 2008

ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series: Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty and AOL FanHouse

Next in our summer cavalcade of celebrities we present Mr. Tom Ziller, who was kind enough to be the latest participant in ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series. Tom is the curator of Sactown Royalty, without question the best Sacramento Kings blog on the internet. In fact, Sactown has developed into a full-fledged online Kings community chock full of reader participation and active fan forums. If you’re looking for the latest discussion of all things Kings, SR your destination.

The questions here focus on Mr. Ziller’s beloved Kings as we cover the roster from top to bottom. However, at this point the masses may be more familiar with Tom’s work over at AOL’s FanHouse. He’s a regular contributor to the site and one of our favorite NBA scribes – be sure to check out his work over there as well, you’ll learn something.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Tom Ziller.

Empty the Bench: The big men are almost as muddled with Brad Miller, Kenny Thomas, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Mikki Moore, Sheldon Williams, Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes. Clear up some of this mess, who’s a keeper, who needs to go and what sort of rotation do you want to see this year?

Tom Ziller: Thompson and Hawes are definitely keepers for now. Hawes showed quite a bit late last season. Shelden Williams hasn’t won the hearts and minds of Sacramento’s decision makers – and he skipped out of a summer league game for the ESPYs. Everyone in Sacramento (including Kenny Thomas) prays Kenny Thomas will get traded two weeks ago. Shareef has discussed potentially retiring this summer due to knee issues. Miller is tradeable, but seen as a decent mentor (on the court) for Hawes. Moore is also tradeable, but offers some athleticism in the frontcourt that only Thompson can match.

I’d love to see one of Moore and Miller get traded and watch the remainder mix with Hawes, Thompson, and some Williams in the rotation this year.

ETB: You look at Kevin Martin’s stats and say, “Wow.” Then you watch him play and come away even more impressed. Why doesn’t this guy get national attention? And what is the ceiling for Kevin, can he be a franchise player?

Ziller: His name is Kevin Martin, which is really bland for a superstar two-guard. And he lives in Sacramento. That sums it up, really. It happened to Mitch Richmond, too. Martin is the franchise player right now – he’s only 25, he can drop 40 any given night, and he’s one of the league’s most efficient shooters. He needs a lot of help, but Martin’s a brilliant selection as a cornerstone.

Mr. Ziller talks Ron Artest, Beno Udrih, AOL FanHouse and Christie Brinkley after the jump…

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No CommentsPosted by Andrew Thell on Aug. 6, 2008 at 12:09pm in Interviews, NBA

ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series – Ryne “Odenized” Nelson of SLAMonline

August 5, 2008

ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series: Greg Oden Gets Odenized

Greg Oden Photo Credit: Icon SMI

The latest installment of ETB’s Scribes of the NBA series features one Ryne Nelson, a man you likely know as “Odenized.” Last season the name of his blog became synonymous with the human side NBA video capture. His daily assortment of humor, drama, novelty, interview and fisticuffs clips from the previous evening’s action became a staple of nearly every NBA-related blog on the internet – including ETB.

His YouTube channel has 375 videos, many of them with well over 100,000 views and dozens of links. If you follow the NBA on the blogosphere at all then you’ve seen his work.

Ryne has also recently signed on to be an online editor for SLAMonline, making his love of the NBA a full-time gig. He was gracious enough to sit down and respond to ten questions from ETB, and the responses range from the future of Odenized.com to the future of the NBA’s online video presence, touching on Charles Barkley, Dikembe “Cookie Monster” Mutombo, Kobe Bryant and Julian Wright in between.


Empty the Bench: How do you do it? During the regular season I’m watching the NBA all night almost every night, and you manage to capture just about every piece of drama I see. What’s your technical setup and process like?

Ryne Nelson: First off, thanks for having me.

I watch every minute of every game… all at once.

People who don’t know me think Odenized is run by multiple authors (they also think I’m Greg Oden, and they’re wrong on that as well).

Also, people who do know me think I don’t know the NBA when I say things like Monta Ellis is a Top 25 player… but I’ve watched every game since the middle of January 2008 until Game 6 of the Playoffs – I’ve seen plenty of Monta Ellis and plenty of everyone else.

Also know I didn’t buy anything but cable internet to run Odenized. So… anyone with the time, passion and eye for key moments can do what I did. Basically, you need to find a live stream (this is the hardest part) and capture the parts you deem most important. For me, getting the goods was easy.

You have to be careful whenever you find a live stream because they’re often in a foreign language (more on this in another question) and/or the quality sucks. I always scour the net until I find the best available stream.

Overall, it’s a true NBA fan’s dream – I watch every game and interact with other NBA fans from around the globe!

The origin of “Odenized” and the future of SLAMonline and NBA video after the jump…

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3 CommentsPosted by Andrew Thell on Aug. 5, 2008 at 11:30am in Interviews, NBA

ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series – Ron Hitley of Hornets 24/7

August 4, 2008

ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series

As ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series rolls on, we’re thrilled to next feature Mr. Ron Hitley, one of the brainchilds behind the most accomplished New Orleans Hornets blog out there today. Ron can be found dishing on anything and everything Hornets at Hornets 24/7… and this isn’t the first time he’s lent his expert Hornets analysis to Empty the Bench. Back in January he also shouldered part of the load in breaking down then-rookie Julian Wright for Untapped Potential: Ten NBA Players We Want to See on the Court More Often.

Clearly, we’re fast becoming in debt to this gentleman.

Ron’s bio of sorts pretty much confirms that he lives and breathes his Hornets: “The three essentials of happiness: Something to love, something to do, and something to hope for. I love the Hornets, I blog the Hornets, and I hope to hell they at least get past the second round of the playoffs before I die.”

Something tells us there’s a good chance of that happening, Ron–and soon. Without further ado, we give you 10 questions with Ron Hitley of Hornets 24/7.

ETB: What’s the timetable for New Orleans? Are they ready to legitimately compete for a title next season?

Ron Hitley: Absolutely. I think all the pieces are there for the Hornets, especially since they signed James Posey last week. The fact that the Hornets overpaid a little for Posey and sold their draft pick last month–Byron didn’t want to spend time nursing young talent–shows that the team is focused on making a serious run sooner rather than later.

Chris Paul has led the Hornets' resurgence

Chris Paul, David West and Tyson Chandler are the young nucleus that should keep the Hornets competitive for a long time, but with guys like Posey, Morris Peterson and Peja Stojakovic all in their 30′s, there’s no better time than the present for the Hornets to win it all.

ETB: You only got 13 games out of Peja Stojakovic in 2006-07, and then last year he disappeared in the decisive series with the Spurs. Does this guy need to go or can he be part of the winning formula?

Hitley: I think he’s a vital piece of the puzzle. He did indeed pull a Houdini against the Spurs, but that’s just how it goes sometimes when you’re facing a lockdown defender in Bruce Bowen and the opposing coach is a diabolical mastermind. We all saw Kobe Bryant struggle against the Celtics in the Finals, but nobody is questioning his value to the Lakers.

My biggest concern with Peja is definitely his durability, but he bounced back from that back injury to play 77 games last season (plus all 12 in the playoffs), so my faith in his health has been restored somewhat. As long as he isn’t counted on to carry the offense every single night, he should be fine for another few years.

Chris Paul Photo Credit: Icon SMI

And here’s the thing about Peja: He can go 2-of-14 through the first 47 minutes of a ballgame, but if you’re in it to win it in that final minute, you want him pulling the trigger. He won numerous close games for us last season with dagger threes and clutch free throws, and there’s only a handful of guys in the NBA as deadly as he is down the stretch.

ETB: James Posey was one of the most in-demand unrestricted free agents available until signing a somewhat lucrative four-year deal with the Hornets. He could open the season as the team’s starting shooting guard. What are your thoughts on both his contract and his possible starting status?

Hitley: His contract is a bit heavy, but that’s the price you have to pay if you want to challenge for that ‘ship. The general consensus among Hornets fans seems to be this: If Posey contributes well these next two seasons, the deal will have been worth it. Beyond that his game may be worthless but his expiring contract should be useful.

As regards to his place in the rotation, I don’t think he should start and I don’t think he will start. Morris Peterson was the weak link in the Hornets starting unit last season, but that probably says more about the quality of the other four starters than it does about Mo Pete. He usually guarded the best opposing swingman and held his own, while also managing to keep the floor nicely spaced on the other end and drop in the odd corner three.

Posey can do pretty much the same thing, but he has the ability to guard bigger guys and he’s more reliable in the clutch. I can see Byron Scott starting Peterson but limiting him to the same 20 minutes a night he was getting last season. Posey will probably get the bulk of his PT in the second half, and he’ll be expected to give the Hornets defensive-minded reserves a much needed scoring punch.

More on the Hornets from Ron Hitley of Hornets 24/7 after the jump…

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2 CommentsPosted by Brian Spencer on Aug. 4, 2008 at 9:09am in Interviews, NBA

ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series – David Friedman of 20 Second Timeout

July 30, 2008

ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series

For our next installment in the Scribes of the NBA Interview Series ETB is proud to present freelance hoops writer David Friedman. David’s work can be seen regularly on his blog 20 Second Timeout, a favorite here at Empty the Bench. It’s one of the most consistently well-written and researched blogs on the net that breaks down all of today’s NBA action while also taking time to break down the great players of yesteryear. Be sure to check it out.

As a freelance writer, David’s work has been featured in a number of publications and websites including Hoop, Lindy’s Pro Basketball, Basketball Times, Basketball Digest, NBCSports.com, HoopsHype.com, ProBasketballNews.com, Legends of Basketball (the official website of the NBRPA), The Biz of Basketball, 411Mania.com and The United States Chess Federation website.

He’s a prolific scribe to say the least, and we couldn’t be more pleased to have him on board.

Without further delay, ten questions from ETB and ten answers from Mr. Friedman ranging from the 2008 NBA Finals, the great Dr. J, the new basketball metrics, living the mustachioed life and more.

ETB: Did Kobe Bryant’s underwhelming performance in the NBA Finals change your opinion of him in any way?

David Friedman: That is an interesting question. Let’s begin by looking at the final numbers for two players from that series.

One player averaged 43.0 mpg, 25.7 ppg, 5.0 apg, 4.7 rpg, 2.67 spg and 3.83 tpg. He shot .405 from the field, .321 from three point range and .796 from the free throw line.

The other player averaged 38.8 mpg, 21.8 ppg, 6.3 apg, 4.5 rpg, 1.17 spg and 3.67 tpg. He shot .432 from the field, .393 from three point range and .830 from the free throw line.

Kobe Bryant PhotoWithout analyzing matchups and examining other contextual factors, which of these players had the better series statistically? The first player scored more, got slightly more rebounds and had a lot more steals. The second player shot somewhat better from the field–particularly on three pointers–and the free throw line. Turnovers were a wash. Of course, the second player’s team won the series and Paul Pierce was rightly selected as the Finals MVP; the first player in this example is Kobe Bryant.

The reason that I bring up these numbers is that I don’t think that most people really bothered to take the time to look at them. There is a perception that Kobe played terribly and that Pierce reached a new level. I covered the first Celtics-Pacers game of the year and this is what I wrote about Pierce:

“…he had an impact on what happened in the third quarter just by being on the court; the threat that he poses offensively means that in future games he can also have that kind of an impact even if he does not have a second quarter scoring outburst because if teams trap him from the start of the game to prevent a Pierce scoring run then Allen or someone else will be open. The only way to fully understand this kind of dynamic is to actually watch a team play and to really pay attention to what they are trying to do and how the other team is countering those things. Plus/minus can hint at some of these things, but Pierce’s impact–and the impact of any other player who must be double-teamed–is no less real even on occasions when his teammates do not make the open shots that his presence creates. Only a handful of players have that kind of effect on a game, guys like Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, and a few others; sometimes their teammates take advantage of playing four on three and sometimes they don’t but a player who commands that kind of coverage is more valuable than players who don’t, regardless of what their respective statistics might indicate.”

So, I was saying in November that Pierce can have an impact on a game rivaling that of Kobe, Duncan and LeBron. It does not surprise me that Pierce could have the kind of series that he did in the Finals, particularly when being guarded mostly by Vlad Rad, Luke Walton and Vujacic. Many of Pierce’s three pointers came in transition after bad Lakers’ offensive possessions and that was the aspect of the Finals that surprised me. I picked the Lakers to win because I thought that Boston would have trouble containing the Kobe Bryant-Pau Gasol screen/roll action. When the Lakers execute that action effectively it results in a dunk for Gasol, a wide open three on the weak side or an open shot for Kobe. The Lakers simply murdered San Antonio and Utah (last year’s champion and Western Conference finalist respectively) with that action so I thought that they could run it effectively against Boston as well.

What happened in the Finals is that Gasol played a lot more tentatively than he did in the previous series. He did not set his screens aggressively, he did not roll to the hoop with purpose and when he caught the ball in the post he often made soft moves that resulted in missed shots or steals. How many times did Rondo just drop down and take the ball from Gasol? There was one particular play when Gasol set a screen and halfheartedly rolled to the hoop while Kobe’s pass to where Gasol should have been sailed out of bounds (that’s a turnover for Kobe, by the way, even though Gasol made a bad play). Kobe made a gesture indicating “cut harder” and Gasol pointed to his chest acknowledging that this is exactly what he should have done. Of course, some people watching that interaction who don’t understand basketball think that it reflects Kobe being a bad teammate when in reality he was being a coach on the floor. You may recall Magic doing similar things with a young Vlade Divac, which is not to compare Kobe to Magic or Gasol to Divac from a skills standpoint but just a reminder of how a team’s best player must provide guidance to his teammates to help them perform the way that they should.

In the Finals, Kobe led the Lakers in minutes, scoring, assists and steals. Kobe received little help from his teammates, other than Vujacic in one game, Gasol sporadically and Odom even more sporadically. Also, much like the 2004 Finals, the Lakers had serious issues with guarding the one, two and three positions. Basically, whoever Kobe did not guard went off. The Lakers had some success putting Kobe on Rondo and having Kobe roam to help the players who were guarding Pierce and Allen but the Celtics adjusted well to that by game six. Kobe guarded Pierce better than any other Laker did and most of Pierce’s points when Kobe was assigned to him came in transition.

Kobe Bryant Photo Credit: Icon SMI

I consider LeBron James to be the second best player in the NBA. He averaged 26.7 ppg on .355 field goal shooting (including .231 from three point range) and committed 5.3 turnovers per game versus Boston in the 2008 playoffs. So why did the Cavs push Boston to seven games while the Lakers lost in six? The Cavs are a much better defensive team than the Lakers and the Lakers did not take advantage of the excellent offensive execution that helped them to defeat the Spurs, Jazz and Nuggets. By the way, Kobe averaged 29.2 ppg on .533 field goal shooting and committed just 2.4 turnovers per game when the Lakers beat the Spurs, a team that completely throttled James in the 2007 Finals (22.0 ppg, .356 field goal shooting, .200 three point shooting, 5.8 turnovers per game). The difference between Kobe and LeBron is that Kobe can consistently make midrange jumpers and three point shots. I said during last year’s Finals that the Spurs would not be able to guard Kobe the way that they guarded LeBron (i.e., sagging off of him, daring him to shoot jumpers while sealing off passing lanes) and this year’s playoffs proved that I was correct about that.

For the reasons listed above, the Finals did not change my opinion that Kobe Bryant–based on his skill set and work ethic–is the best all-around player in the NBA, nor did LeBron’s performance against Boston change my opinion that he is the second best all-around player in the NBA.

More Q & A with David ranging from Artis Gilmore to Jim Barnett after the jump…

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4 CommentsPosted by Andrew Thell on Jul. 30, 2008 at 2:32pm in Interviews, NBA

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