We are fast approaching yet another NBA season and I’m honestly excited. I know the NBA season is nearing when I make the annual trek out to Palm Springs for the NBA Outdoors pre-season game. I did just that recently for the Suns and Mavericks. What did we learn? Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t like playing outdoors because it might mess up his jumpshot. Also there were at least three times where Jason Richardson went up for a layup where I had to think, “three years ago he would have dunked that.” As started last year we go in no particular order with dishes and wishes. The things we know and the things we don’t know, but perhaps we hope for. Am I switching between first and second person? I am. Let’s begin.
1. New York Knicks
Dish: Well the big summer of 2010 came and went and Lebron James did not come. This would have normally led to me mowing down a few bags of Sun Chips while watching The Fugitive and not talking to anybody. However I did not get super depressed and instead took joy in the signings that did happen. I’m legitimately excited for this season and it’s been a while since I can say that. Amare Stoudemire and Raymond Felton are big upgrades. Let’s not sleep on everyone’s rising star Anthony Randolph along with Danilo Gallinari, and they brought back Patrick Ewing Jr! You may recall I lambasted Knicks management for not keeping the son of the legend. I take it back, I take it all back.
Wish: Andy Rautins develops into a legitimate NBA player. With a tip of the cap to my affection for white guys that can drills threes it would be great if this guy could fill a much needed void. The Knicks are going to need a shooter to compliment all their high-flyers and this guy could be the guy. Perhaps a modern day Hubert Davis? That works for me. Oh and Stoudemire continues his solid play as of late. New York sports math tells us that superstar X must struggle at some point when signing in New York. Oh and I wouldn’t be against Carmelo Anthony.
2. New Jersey Nets
Dish: They have a new Russian owner which even my spell check won’t correct but you know who I’m talking about. They flirted with Carmelo Anthony in a deal that may or may not happen but at the moment will be going with what they’ve got. What they’ve gotten is the better of the Lopez twins, Devin Harris, and top draft pick Derrick Favors among others. Joe Smith is on his 74th team, setting a little known NBA record for guys that were once the number one pick and Jordan Farmer will be crying himself to sleep for the next couple of years.
Wish: The Nets stay in New Jersey. I’m torn here, with ties to both Brooklyn and the Garden State I want the best for both areas. Let me offer two examples. The LA Clippers and New York Islanders. These two teams share cities with wildly more popular teams (yes Long Island is not far enough away) and they’d honestly be better in their own sandbox. The Clippers should be in Orange County and the Islanders, off the top of my head, I say Albany. They have a minor league hockey following there, it could work. Anway the arena in Newark is brand new and a great spot to watch a game, they should just stay there. All due to respect to the Roc La Familia aka HOV aka Jay-z.
3. LA Clippers
Dish: A nice segue here to the Clippers who have finally jettisoned most of their bad decision makers of the last couple of years including Elgin Baylor and Mike Dunleavy. Enter Vinny Del Negro as Head Coach or as LA Times beat writers call him VDN. VDN has walked into what could be an excellent situation. Blake Griffin is finally healthy, knock on wood, and as we know from his college days, he is an absolute beast. Add in Baron Davis who will hopefully be motivated, the reclusive Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon (big summer with Team USA) and this could be quite the team.
Wish: Outside of seeing an NBA Cares photo with Jon Scheyer and Eric Bledsoe reading to kids at a library, just this one thing. Go get Taylor Griffin and put him back with his brother. “Brother’s don’t shake hands, brothers gotta hug.” The Clips have Blake Griffin, they have Willie Warren, another Sooner guy, now go get Taylor Griffin from the Suns. I can’t imagine it would cost a lot and those Griffin brothers work well together. They block shots together, slam dunks together, they need to take over the LA scene as well.
4. Phoenix Suns
Dish: As mentioned earlier I saw Phoenix play in the preseason and good news everyone. Josh Childress is back in the NBA and so his afro. Yes it is still awesome. This will be a bit of a different team. Nash is still doing his thing but to state the obvious this team will miss Stoudemire in a big way. They made moves to try and replace him will Hakim Warrick among others but I don’t know if it will fly. Since we mentioned Warrick, it’s worth nothing he still dealt one of the greatest teabag dunks ever over Royal Ivey back in college. Grant Hill and J-Rich are still there. Hill still seems to have plenty of good years left while J-Rich perhaps isn’t flying as high, or maybe it was the outdoors thing, but both of these guys will get their points.
Wish: Hedo Turkoglu reverts back to his clutch form. You remember this guy, was super clutch for the Magic banging step back threes and off balance jumpers that have no business going in. Then he spurned the Trail Blazers for reasons I don’t get, I hear Portland is a great place to live, just ask LaRue Martin. He was dealt a strong dose of karma when he headed to the Toronto Raptors and had absolutely no fun, now he is back with a chance at redemption. To be continued.
5. Dallas Mavericks
Dish: The other team in that battle of Palm Springs which draws very well, the Mavericks. A lot of people make the trek to the desert. Best part of the game was the fan zone before that allowed people to dunk on hoops of varying heights. I did my best Kenyon Martin on the 7.5 foot hoop but it still stayed up. Dirk, J-Kidd, JTerry, Marion, Caron Butler and welcome Tyson Chandler. Not a bad five right there. Chandler, I’m sure much to his dismay went underused for Team USA this summer so he should be fresh. I like Steve Novak because the guy can flat out shoot. Not sure if he’ll get any burn. Last but not least, Bryan Cardinal alert! The bruising play under the basket, large knee pads, could it have been someone else, nope it is Cardinal. Did he not play last year? Kind of, he was on the Timberwolves which is why he wasn’t on my radar. Now he is back with a chance to shine.
Wish: Outside of a massive breakout season by Cardinal, how about Chandler getting back to being an alley-oop catching machine. The right point guard is in play with Kidd and if you remember back to when Chandler was on the Hornets, easily his best years, he was all about catching pick and roll lobs. That would add a new dimension down low that Dallas hasn’t seen since Shawn Bradley. If Cardinal had an apprentice it would be Iowa grad Adam Haluska. We will have to wait and see if Haluska embraces protective gear and elbows.
6. Toronto Raptors
Dish: This is the first roster I’ve looked at that kind of bums me out. You can count on DeMar DeRozan for several quality dunks this year, but what else can we count on. Let’s first tout DeMar for perhaps being the only NBA player to have four capital letters in his name. Also I feel very safe saying this team is not making the playoffs. And that Mr. Tuttle is how you principal, and go out on a limb.
Wish: The mean thing to say would be give this team to Seattle so the Sonics can return but I’m not going to say that because there are definitely some devoted Raptors fans that would be crushed to lose their team. Instead I suggest they do a reverse Buffalo Bills and play a few games in Buffalo. The Bills have been moving to Toronto to play a few games why not repay the favor. Do the people of Buffalo even enjoy the Raptors? Who knows, but let us find out.
7. San Antonio Spurs
Dish: Stop me if you heard this one. Tim Duncan is getting old. We know, we know he can’t do it like he used to do it, yet all the guy does is just continually produce. Outside of the whole Richard Jefferson situation which many people feel doesn’t make sense, as in he doesn’t fit in their system, the Spurs make great personnel decisions. Parker and Ginobili are still part of the foundation and role players like DeJuan Blair, George Hill have made a big difference. Blair is just fun to watch. Keep an eye out for Tiago Splitter, made an impact in the World Championships and if I had to describe him in one word, I’d use “active.” Just a lively guy.
Wish: Matt Bonner gets a show on the Food Network. Enough cake shows please. I’ll have another column about how the minute you put fondant on a cake, it ceases to be cake. In the meantime Bonner does an excellent blog on the Spurts website where he chronicles sandwich shops all over the country in NBA cities. It’s fantastic and as a sandwich lover myself I’d happily watch a show of him bopping around NBA towns sampling great eats. He’s hit some solid spots including everything from Bay Cities in Santa Monica to a regular Subway.
8. Houston Rockets
Dish: Let’s put a wrap on the great state of Texas with the Rockets. Yao Ming is easing his way back into the NBA scene after struggling mightily with foot problems. He is going to be on a limited play schedule, think pitch count in baseball, in an attempt to keep him healthy for the playoffs. That’s the thing, this team should be playoff bound. Kevin Martin is a scorer freed from the Kings now with some experience in the Houston system and Shane Battier is one of the great untangible or intangible guys in the league. Also Patrick Patterson joins the squad as a rookie. Big body that can finish around the hoop but also has some range.
Wish: Chase Budinger is picked for the slam dunk contest. Budinger had one of the great pre-season dunks, see here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1ksYg-LwME and the guy can absolutely fly. One of the top high school volleyball players in his day, he would be a welcome sight at the slam dunk contest. Also while we are at it, add more people to the dunk contest. It needs to be 8 guys like back in the 80s. Also a bigger cash prize and things will get more interesting for sure.
9. New Orleans Hornets
Dish: As it turns out my invite to Carmelo Anthony’s wedding was lost in the mail, but had I been there I likely would have heard about Chris Paul heading to the Knicks. It hasn’t happened thus far and CP3 used back channels to make overtures out of town, but so far nothing. So in the meantime the group will give it a go under new Head Coach Monty Williams. Paul, back off injury joined by David West, Stojackovic, and Okafor. Not a bad four right there, but it’s a brutal road in the west and I’m not quite sure this group has enough to get over the hump.
Wish: More burn for Pops Mensah-Bonsu, I said this last year and well I don’t think much happened. Is it because I’m facebook friends with the former GW star? Perhaps, but actually he was a leaper in the A-10 and I like watching guys that can dunk, do likewise in the pros. Also nothing like seeing a small school guy get some run in the pros. SirValiant Brown, we hardly knew ye. Last pipe dream, if the season goes south, sign former Saints star Willie Roaf. I’ve often thought NFL lineman would make great power forwards in the NFL in limited minutes. Add to that I once saw Roaf dunk on television, it was truly amazing, and it all makes sense.
10. Atlanta Hawks
Dish: The group remains pretty much intact, a group that has been knocking on the door of the Eastern Conference’s upper echelon. We remember the Hawks pushing the Celtics to seven, but things have only gotten harder in the East with the Celtics, Heat, and Magic all solid. The Bulls would be there too prior to Boozer’s injury. There should be something to be said for continuity as the group of Bibby, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Joe Johnson (big free agent re-sign), and Jamal Crawford return. Crawford is the definition of a streak shooter; he gets hot in a series and honestly watch out, because they have some other good pieces. It is just tough to say they are going to be better than the aforementioned teams.
Wish: Horford continues his rise to being one of the top power forwards in the game. His ppg has gone up in three seasons in the league and the guy just appears to be a worker. Our other wish, Jordan Crawford dunks on Lebron James in a real NBA game. I feel like there will need to be a perfect storm of events to have this happen anytime soon, but you never know. Also for the record, the first time around wasn’t a real deal facial, like this is a real facial:
11. Washington Wizards
Dish: Perhaps one of the more interesting teams to see unfold as you have the super new and exciting future Rookie of the Year John Wall, paired with the now sullen Sideshow Bob in Gilbert Arenas. For all the great things Krusty can do, including make it down court in less than four seconds, get to the hoop with ease, fly to the rim, and do the John Wall dance, is it enough to overcome the depression of Arenas. Gil changed to #9 which as the Beatles taught us can be a very boring number. I think Arenas has to snap out of this eventually, there is a happy medium between guns in the locker room antics and unhappy beards, he just needs to find it.
Wish: I’m just looking forward to John Wall. If the preseason was any indication this guy is going to be very good. He always appears not that big, but then he attacks the hoop like a bigger guard. I would also like the Wizards to go back to being the Bullets, I read somewhere they might change their name. If it’s not on the schedule already, they must retire Manue Bol’s jersey. I said this last year but now with the big guy sadly passing away in the offseason, no time like the present. Finally, let’s see what Adam Morrison can do. He is two more jerseys away from official Joe Smith journeyman status, time to see if the guy who was a stud at Gonzaga can do it in the pros.
12. Portland Trailblazers
Dish: Did anyone watch the 30 for 30 about Petrovic and Divac? What a great film. I had forgotten that Petro had started with the Blazers but was buried on the bench behind the likes of Drexler, Porter, Jerome Kersey and a feisty Danny Ainge. An absolute bummer because had they known, he eventually could have helped them over the Bulls. Also who did scouting for the Blazers back in the day? They got Petro and Sabonis, but then also took Sam Bowie, I’m happy and angry at this person at the same time, kind of like when I found out mustard is on all McDonald’s cheeseburgers. Still tastes great, but now I know about the mustard.
Wish: Let’s address the current Blazers who appear to be ready to do some things out west. What if Greg Oden can actually stay healthy? He joins forces with the lights out Brandon Roy, Andre Miller, the Camby Man, LaMarcus Aldrige and the new addition Wesley Matthews. I know, I know, Matthews is drastically overpaid. But you know what, so was Magic Johnson when he signed his 25 million dollar deal, and then a few years later it was the team that had gotten one over on him. Am I saying the two guys are comparable talents? Nope, but let’s let the ink dry a little while before we crucify the Blazers on this one. I’d also like to see Patty Mills do well, so that Andrew Bogut isn’t having to carry the Aussie flag all by himself. Cheers. Lastly the Blazers have a guy on their roster named Raymond Sykes, this I’m told is not the person who killed Dr. Richard Kimble’s wife, but we should follow up on his ties to Devlin MacGregor.
13. Golden State Warriors
Dish: The Warriors made some huge moves over the summer, getting a new owner and saying so long to Head Coach Don Nelson who made the fish tie a must buy in Milwaukee department stores. David Lee, Monta Ellis, and Stephen Curry pilot a very young team in the Bay Area under the guidance of new skipper Keith Smart. Yep that baseline jumper Keith Smart. I’m pretty sure I heard first round pick Ekpe Udoh is already injured, which if he were playing for the Knicks would have led to a back page headline of Udoh Uh-Oh. Playoffs? It would take something really special.
Wish: Jeremy Lin has an actual impact on this team. That would be really fun. The Harvard star was huge in the Vegas summer league and with Lin being from Northern California it just makes for an all around good story. Add to that, from what I saw he can play, comes in not afraid of anybody and has a nice mix of shooting and getting to the basket. Granted this was in the summer league against as they said in Major League, “guys that’ll be bagging groceries next week” but still.
14. Indiana Pacers
Dish: I was going to try and put off the Pacers for a little while as I really wasn’t sure what to say about them, but I figured just best to get it out of the way. Let’s say this, if you were assembling a college all star team of the last 5-7 years, you’d have a nasty squad. TJ Ford, Hansbrough, Hibbert, Dunleavy, Granger, Stephenson. Speaking of which Lance Stephenson, super heralded out of Coney Island, leaves college after a year and I’m not sure it was the right choice. I, of course was not consulted. That said this could be a good opportunity as he should get some playing time. It will take something real magical for this group to crack the playoffs, even in the East.
Wish: James Posey went somewhere else. I have to ask, James what are you doing in Indiana? I thought this guy had figured out the role of hired gun, just lurking in the off-season waiting to sign with a heavy hitter that needed a veteran who could stroke the three. Granted he landed in Indiana against his will as part of a large trade, but go malcontent, sitout, make some moves. Here is where I expected Posey to end up. Heat, Celtics, Lakers, Magic, Spurs, Jazz, maybe even the Hawks. Not much else, so I’m a bit bummed for him. I also totally expect him to be moved before the trade deadline to one of said teams. He will use the first part of the season as a very lucrative cardio session.
15. Denver Nuggets
Dish: Another reason I wish I went to Melo’s wedding. Outside of what I bet was an amazing spread of just everything, food, people, drinks, we all could have learned more about his desire to play for the Knicks. We now know it to be a wide open blatant desire but that’s good info to be on the ground floor for. At the moment he remains on the Nuggets which for the foreseeable future will be like driving a car you know has a nail in the tire. This is a tough group because on paper they look good with Melo, Billups, K-Mart, JR Smith, Birdman, Nene, and even Al Harrington who is guaranteed to pick up 5 uncalled for techs this year. All that combined I do they have the feeling they aren’t getting past the Lakers among others in the West. Won’t know much with this group until the Melo deal is resolved.
Wish: Ty Lawson wins gold in the 400 meters in 2012. This guy is fast, some serious end to end speed, and also some hops. I’d be curious to see what he could do in say D’Antoni’s system. What do I of course wish for? Somehow Melo and Lawson head to NY for say Felton, Danilo and a draft pick we could be promised won’t hurt us. Do the salaries add up? Not even close, which is why it is a wish.
Part 2 hits on Friday...