Monday, July 30, 2007

Celtics Nearing Trade For Garnett

The Boston Celtics are close to acquiring Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves according to

Apparent centerpieces of the trade are Garnett, Al Jefferson, and Gerald Green.

Boston and the Minnesota Timberwolves are still haggling over the pieces that will accompany Al Jefferson, Theo Ratliff and Gerald Green to Minnesota, with the Celtics trying to hold onto second-year point guard Rajon Rondo and keep him out of the trade.”

If this trade occurs the Celtics become instant and serious contenders in the Eastern Conference behind the trio of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Garnett.

This could also mean a hit to the Milwaukee Bucks' playoff chances. One must consider the Detroit Pistons, Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, and New Jersey Nets as pretty steady playoff choices right now. If you add the Garnett-Celtics to the list that makes six out of eight possible spots difficult to break into. And that's without mentioning strong contenders like the Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors, and Orlando Magic.

The Bucks have legitimate postseason aspirations, but they'll need to tread what appears to be an increasingly crowded East playoff path.

Friday, July 27, 2007

2007 Team USA: More Than One Right Answer

Team USA will participate in the FIBA Americas Championship, held from August 22 to September 2.

Team USA will play, in order, Venezuela, U.S. Virgin Islands, Canada, and Brazil in group play. A final showdown with Argentina is probable, assuming both powers can escape the single-elimination tournament that follows group play.

Team USA brought 17 players for training from July 20 to July 22.
“Members of the USA Basketball Men’s Senior National Team expected to participate in the July 20-22 training include: Carmelo Anthony (Denver Nuggets); Shane Battier (Houston Rockets); Chauncey Billups (Detroit Pistons); Chris Bosh (Toronto Raptors); Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers); Tyson Chandler (New Orleans Hornets); Kevin Durant (Seattle SuperSonics); Kirk Hinrich (Chicago Bulls); Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic); LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers); Jason Kidd (New Jersey Nets); Mike Miller (Memphis Grizzlies); Tayshaun Prince (Detroit Pistons); Michael Redd (Milwaukee Bucks); J.J. Redick (Orlando Magic); AmarĂ© Stoudemire (Phoenix Suns); and Deron Williams (Utah Jazz).”
The roster must be trimmed to 12 for the actual tournament. With the options available, cuts won’t be easy. This is a very good group, with Redick being the only player that clearly doesn’t belong.

The players squared off in a scrimmage on July 22. Team Blue topped Team White 105-104 after Bryant’s game-winning shot with six seconds remaining.

Bryant’s presence is huge in light of the many recent disappointments of Team USA. Having Kidd, 28-0 all-time for Team USA run the show is also of paramount importance. Not all choices are so obvious though. Here’s one shot at what the 2007 version should look like:

C- Dwight Howard/Tyson Chandler
PF- Chris Bosh/Amare Stoudemire
SF- LeBron James/Tayshaun Prince/Kevin Durant
SG- Kobe Bryant/Michael Redd
PG- Jason Kidd/Chauncey Billups/Deron Williams

Cuts: Carmelo Anthony/Kirk Hinrich/Mike Miller/Shane Battier/J.J. Redick

The important thing to remember here is that there is more than one right answer for Team USA. With recent failures, it may seem like there aren’t any right answers. This is a very different group however, and great options are plentiful.

The glaring omission from the above team is Anthony, who was named 2006 USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year.

I like Anthony, and would be confident about the team’s chances if he played a prominent role. Just like I’d have no huge qualms if Hinrich or Miller made the team. Again, there are multiple roster combinations that should bring the same result: victory.

I know Anthony is going to make the team.’s Chris Sheridan told me as much:
“Alex (Milwaukee, Wisconsin): What are the chances Carmelo Anthony does not make the 12-man team? I know he's talented, and played well last year. But I like LeBron/Kobe/Kidd to start, and he shouldn't be coming off the bench. Plus, looking ahead to 2008 with Wade and company back in the mix, he probably won't be a good fit.

SportsNation Chris Sheridan: (12:10 PM ET ) He was by far, and I mean BY FAR, the best player on the 2006 team. He's a lock for 2008.
And when I make my player rankings here before the regular season, he will be ahead some of the guys on my roster. But the whole idea behind the new Team USA is to put together the best team. And here’s why I believe I did that:

Howard and Chandler are givens at center for now. With Elton Brand, Carlos Boozer and others out of the mix for this competition, they are the only viable options. And good ones they are. Howard shot 9-9 from the field in the recent scrimmage and Chandler gives the team a strong defensive presence and shot-blocking ability.

I prefer the more natural power forwards in Bosh and Stoudemire rather than having Anthony take up a spot here. There are only four real post players in the group, so they all need to be there.

Next is a crowded small forward position. James is the best fit alongside Kidd and Bryant to start. Prince is a defensive stopper and an excellent team player; exactly the attributes necessary for coming off the bench on a team like this. Finally, Durant is a great pick for a few reasons. First, he’s good enough to play. This isn’t the case of bringing along someone that’s not ready at the expense of someone that is. And Durant, as a rookie, won’t expect big minutes, meaning he won’t be a threat to team-cohesiveness. Finally, it would be a great learning experience for a player that is likely to play a integral role for Team USA over the next decade.

Bryant obviously starts at shooting guard. Redd is the pick to back him up over Miller because he is a more dynamic offensive force and superior overall player.

Kidd already has taken a leadership role, putting his undefeated record on the line. Billups is another ultra-steady court general. Williams gets the nod over Hinrich because he is more likely to step up as a serious option for the 2008 Olympics.

There is more than one right answer for Team USA in 2007. But it’s important to examine the options carefully, because it will be a lot easier to slip up once the competition improves so greatly in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Summer League Success Stories

As explained earlier, keeping an eye on star Summer League performers is a wise method to help gauge early favorites for surprise successes in the upcoming regular season.

Jonathan Givony of Draft Express wrote a nice article backing up his first First-Team Summer League picks:

“Jose Juan Barea, Point Guard, Mavericks

Rodney Stuckey, Shooting Guard/Point Guard, Pistons

Marco Belinelli, Shooting Guard, Warriors

Paul Millsap, Power Forward, Jazz

LaMarcus Aldridge, Power Forward/Center, Trail Blazers”

It’s good to see Aldridge made such an impression despite playing just two games. He is a player that isn’t quite getting enough press. Sure, he’s casually mentioned as the other half of the team’s exciting young frontcourt when Greg Oden makes the headlines. Yet Aldridge is the one, with an NBA year under his belt, more likely to step up as an All-Star-level player first.

Also from Givony’s article:

“Aldridge showed a package of offensive skills that was unmatched among any big man in the summer league. He’s added a good deal of weight to his frame over the past year, and is now doing a much better job using his body to carve out space in the post and attack the offensive glass.”

Meanwhile, New York Knicks guard Nate Robinson was honored as Summer League MVP on and won the official Most Outstanding Player trophy. And he led the Draft Express Second-Team.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Mo Williams Inks Deal With Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks have signed Mo Williams to a six-year, $51.5 million deal.
"Basically in my mind, it's my team," Williams said. "Things don't go right, I'm the point guard. I'm the leader on the floor, an extension of the coach."
For some time there was speculation that Williams could be headed to the Miami Heat, who were very seriously courting him. However, most of us have known better for some time now.

Locking up Williams is a strong move. Just 24 years old, he’s shown the kind of dramatic improvement in his first four years in the league that point to a very promising next six.

Hopefully Williams will live up to his above quote and truly be the team’s leader on the floor. His ability to spread the ball around and distribute has been good but not excellent. Too often last year the Bucks played a two-man game that placed too much reliance on Michael Redd and Williams.

Granted, most of that two-man game was out of necessity due to a lack of other options. Andrew Bogut, for one, needs to step up as a more consistent offensive player before one can be overly critical of Williams’ lack of point guard purity. With Bobby Simmons and Desmond Mason on the wings the chance to spread the ball around more should be available.

Summer League, Bucks-Style

Still catching up on summer news...

The Milwaukee Bucks concluded their five-game Summer League campaign with a 79-67 loss to the Washington Wizards on July 15.

The Bucks jumped out to a 20-9 lead before being undone by a second quarter in which they were outscored 30-13. Performances like that remind us of the bad old days of Milwaukee Bucks basketball.... you know, the 2006-07 season. Yes, the one that finished with Jared Reiner starting at center.

The Bucks concluded their brief campaign at 2-3 overall. Thankfully, Summer League isn’t about team results. After all, Summer League teams don’t even resemble regular season, or (gasp) post-season ones. For the sake of verifying the nothingness of team results: the Knicks glittering 5-0 record.

Individual performances are worth noting however. Unfortunately for the Summer League Bucks, there were no real standout performers by most accounts.

With Earl Boykins out of the picture, an opportunity arises for Lynn Greer to step up this season. He led the team in scoring in Las Vegas, averaging 15.0 points per game in four games. But his .438 field goal percentage against Summer League competition isn’t exactly awe-inspiring. And his equal number of assists and turnovers, 13, further reduces the remaining optimism that he’s poised to become a consistent contributor off the bench for the Bucks, based on this performance anyway. Granted, the four games are a small sample-size, but his play doesn't exactly scream Most Improved Player.

David Noel, Damir Markota, and Ramon Sessions, three others worth keeping an eye on, had mostly up-and-down performances.

Yi Jianlian actually suited up and played five games for Team China Basketball in this competition. In his first game, an 86-77 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, he notched 23 points on 7-15 shooting from the field in 28 minutes. He also made 9-12 from the free-throw line. He did commit seven fouls had seven turnovers however.

It was mostly downhill from there. In his next game he shot 2-14 from the field. Then 3-11. Then 0-6. And finally 1-5. His overall stat line wasn’t pretty.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Mason Back In Milwaukee

The Milwaukee Bucks have signed Desmond Mason to a two-year contract.

"We're really happy to be back in Milwaukee, and we're looking forward to what the future holds for us," Mason said.

The two-year deal is a good one because it keeps him in Milwaukee for ages 30-32, making it a good bet he’ll maintain his superior athleticism while here. This is important for a couple reasons. First, he’ll continue to thrive in the open court in what’s shaping up to be a fast, up-tempo team. Second, his defensive abilities aren’t likely to fade in the next two seasons. As a player who lacks in some areas, like outside shooting, Mason may struggle more than others when he slows. It’s reassuring that the Bucks locked him up for what should be his prime, still explosive years.

Mason lagged a bit the last two years in New Orleans, which is a little troubling. His free-throw shooting really dipped, all the way to .663 from .802 in his last season in Milwaukee.

Fluctuations like that in free-throw shooting are strange, and difficult to explain. It’s encouraging that his best years came in Milwaukee, where he was most comfortable and wanted to stay. Now back, Mason should again excel.

Voskuhl In, Ilyasova Out

In catching up on some more recent summer news, the Milwaukee Bucks signed center Jake Voskuhl to a one-year, $3 million contract on Thursday, July 19. This came along with the news that Ersan Ilyasova was leaving the club to play for Barcelona in Spain.

Ilyasova played promisingly at times but never was a consistent or smooth fit in the Bucks gameplan and with the team’s recent moves probably figured to get only more lost in the shuffle. It’s worth keeping any eye on Ilyasova’s progress in his new environment. Just 20 years old, he still may find real success in Europe, and perhaps even back with the Bucks.
“Ilyasova agreed to a two-year contract worth approximately $5 million, when bonuses are included, according to agent Max Ergul. The Barcelona contract does not contain a buyout clause, making it easier for Ilyasova to return to the NBA when he is ready.”
You can count on updates here on his progress once his season is underway.

Voskuhl is a decent bench player who will adequately spell Andrew Bogut in the post. His stat lines don’t overwhelm, averaging 4.6 points and 3.5 rebounds on .475 shooting from the field in 14.2 minutes over seven seasons in his career. But he can be counted on for solid rebounding and defense and can hit an open mid-range jumper.

And Jared Reiner won’t be starting late in the season again, right.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Summer League, Vegas-Style

Maybe I’m a little late on this Summer League-promotion thing.

First off, Summer League came and went. The brief competition ran from July 6 to July 15.

Second, Page 2's Bill Simmons already explained the virtues of Las Vegas hosting the competition.
“When the NBA moved its annual Summer League to Vegas, on paper the combination of basketball and gambling was right in my wheelhouse."
And he did it in timely fashion, arguing the beauty of Vegas’ potential juicy relationship pairing basketball and gambling two days before news broke that the FBI was investigating an NBA referee for betting on games.

Simmons’ underlying point was a valuable one though; Summer League is relevant now that it’s in Vegas because big-time young talents come and play. Regardless of motive, they come. Guys like Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Randy Foye offer the competition serious credibility from a player’s perspective. That fact shouldn’t be lost on the media or the critical fan.

The draft and free agency clearly highlight the NBA’s summer offseason. But wise eyes should turn to Summer League action in order to catch a glimpse of bubbling NBA talent.

After last year’s competition, Dennis Rogers did an informative write-up honoring some of the top players. He named Foye his MVP. Other notables on his first team included Amare Stoudemire, Kevin Martin, and Brandon Roy. His notes gushing about Stoudemire’s fitness, Martin’s poise to break out, and the NBA-readiness of Foye and Roy, while not completely unpredictable, do give credence to the revealing nature of often-overlooked Summer League games.