Los Angeles Lakers – Showtime

October 28, 2006

Website: Showtime
Author: Yannis Koutroupis

Last years record: 45-37
Key Losses: Devean George, Jim Jackson, Von Wafer
Key additions: Vladimir Radmanovic, Shammond Williams, Jordan Farmar

1. What significant moves were made during the off season?
After watching the make everyone a threat formula nearly get them into the second round, the Lakers decided to stick with that plan and bring in two guys who are established threats. Vladimir Radmanovic, who nearly everyone involved in the Laker organization made a call to help recruit, was signed to a long term deal. In this offense he’ll get opportunities to shoot threes all day, but the Lakers are really hoping that he’ll be able to establish himself as a threat in the mid range and post as well as the perimeter. Farmar was drafted 26th overall to one day become the starting point guard. His basketball IQ, leadership, and pure point guard abilities made the Lakers really feel like they got a steal at 26. Maurice Evans is one of the first small-but very effective pick ups that Kupchak has ever made. Getting a guy who can contribute right away with his offense and athleticism for a second rounder who won’t be ready for the NBA for at least two or three years was a steal. Evans will battle Sasha Vujacic for minutes as the back up two, while sliding over to the one and three if necessary. It wasn’t a blockbuster move, but it was one of Mitch’s better moves yet.

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
When healthy the depth and size of this team are what stands out. The Lakers have two guys at every position, three at some, who can come in and have an impact on the game. Because of injuries, depth has become a necessity. Before all the injuries the Lakers were planning to have a starting lineup of 6’4 Smush Parker, 6’6 Kobe Bryant, 6’10 Vladimir Radmanovic, 6’10 Lamar Odom, and 7’0 Kwame Brown. That would be one of the bigger starting lineups in the leagues. Medical staff is also a big strength, without Vitti and crew Lakers would be strong candidates for the lottery.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
Obviously, injuries are the biggest weakness right now. Just about every player on the Laker roster has experienced some kind of set back this off season. Kobe’s knee injury is on month four now and is still not fully healed despite the expected recovery time being three months max. Vladimir Radmanovic has a torn ligament in his shooting hand and right now is saying that he’s just going to play through it. However, the hand injury will not get any better and will require surgery at the end of the season, no word yet if they’ll recommend he get surgery now or not. Luke Walton is in a contract year and in the best shape of his career, but he doesn’t open things up for Kobe and Lamar like Vladimir would. Shammond William’s pelvis injury will likely linger throughout the season as well, but with rookie Jordan Farmar playing so well, it’s not much of a set back. Kwame Brown has a hurt rotator cuff, and is expected to miss three weeks. Chris Mihm has an ankle that is similar to the type you see in major car accidents according to Gary Vitti. They say he needs just three more weeks, but it very possibly could be more – much more.

4. What are the goals for this team?
Coming into training camp, the general consensus was to get into the second round of the playoffs, despite Luke Walton saying they can win it all this year. They’re still a very young team that needs a little longer to develop. But now, with training camp nearly over, the goal is to get healthy. Mihm, Bryant, Brown, and Mckie will all likely miss the opener against Phoenix on the 31st, along with time after that. If this team can ever get close to 100%, the goal of advancing in the playoffs comes back. But as of right now, the development of guys like Andrew Bynum and Jordan Farmar and getting healthy are the big issues.

5. How will the young guys develop?
The plan was for Andrew Bynum to sit and learn his first two years, but that plan has been scrapped because of injuries to Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown. Andrew will be the starter on opening night, and by the looks of his last two pre season games he is ready. He’s done things these last two games he’s rarely done before: Run the floor hard, utilize his wide variety of offensive moves, finished strong around the basket, and make his free throws. If Bynum keeps this up, it’s not out of the question that he could keep his starting spot. Moving Kwame to the four along with Andrew at the five would make the Lakers much stronger defensively down low, as Kwame is a good man defender, and Andrew’s a good shot blocker. Ronny Turiaf has shown the hustle and heart that made him such a great player at Gonzaga, and until Chris and Kwame get healthy he’ll be Andrew’s primary back up. Jordan Farmar gives the team ‘inspiration’ when he’s out there according to Phil, and with Shammond struggling to get healthy he could get a chance to play as well. His play early in the pre season was very impressive, but tailed off a little bit in the final games. He’s shooting the ball from three better than expected though, and the rest of his game has never been in question. He’s ready now, as is Andrew.

Predicted Record: If injuries to key players continue: 40-42
If they can manage to get relatively healthy: 49-33


Los Angeles Lakers – Forum Blue & Gold

October 28, 2006

Website: Forum Blue & Gold
Author: Kurt

Los Angeles Lakers
Last Years Record: 45-37

Growing from within: While trades and free agents are what excites the fan base in the offseason, the key to the Lakers’ success this year is growth of guys already in the system. It’s a nice zen-like concept (which is fitting). After a season to get the complex triangle figured out, this is the season we see who can really fit in this system and who should be kindly escorted out.

Questions include: Can Lamar Odom continue to assert himself like he did the last couple months of last season? Can Kwame play, well, if not like the first overall pick at least like he should have been picked? Can Andrew Bynum play older than his 18-years? (He’s going to have to because of injuries at the start of the season.) Can Smush Parker not look baffled any time the opponent runs the pick-and-roll?

Key Additions: There are three guys coming in — the big name, the sleeper and the future favorite.

Vladimir Radmanovic got most of the ink this summer, moving from Donald Sterling’s condominium to Jerry Buss’ Playboyesque mansion (which one would most men chose?). Vlade’s main skill is no secret and will help him thrive in the triangle — he’s a big who can space the floor. He’s been described as bringing what Steve Kerr brought to those 90s Bulls teams — you know you can’t leave him alone, and that is one less guy to colapse on Kobe driving the lane, or a little farther to go on a rotation that gives someone else a good look. And he will get his looks, too.

Maurice Evans was a little discussed draft day pickup but may have a bigger impact this season than any other change. The reason is the guy he will spell much of the time — Kobe Bryant. Last season the Laker were +4.5 points (per 48 minutes) when Kobe was on the court and -7.9 when he sat. The reason was it’s a very long fall from Kobe to Sasha Vujacic and LaRon Proffit. The end result was Kobe played a lot of minutes, carried a lot of burden. Evans is no All-Star but he is a very solid NBA player — he can hit the corner three (39.1% from his favorite left corner last year), he can defend and he can make smart plays. All of that means a little more rest for Kobe’s knee (especially to start the season), which is huge.

Then there is Jordan Farmar, who was already loved in LA after taking UCLA to the brink of another title. He walked on the floor with a confidence that gives Lakers fans a vision on strength at what for a couple of years has been a weakness. He is already better leading the break than any other Laker, and he is already as good a defensive point guard as we have. What he lacks is a consistent outside shot (something the triangle demands of its PG), some time in the weight room to help defend the stronger points in the NBA, and experence. He won’t start, but by the end of the season he’ll be getting key minutes.

Key Losses: Nothing that will be seriously missed, although Laker fans will always think back fondly on Devean George.

What is the Lakers’ biggest strength? Um, have you seen Kobe play? At points in the preseason Laker fans have been hyped about all impressive and improved side dishes we have this season, but the main course is what will make or break the meal. And the Lakers have one of the best in the game.

We could fill up the rest of this preview talking about what Kobe brings to the table, but instead let’s talk about another strength — creating matchup problems. Let’s say you’re the coach facing the Lakers, it’s clear that your best perimeter defender has to guard Kobe so you can hope to hold him to 40. But what do you do with Odom? But a sloth-like power forward on him and he steps outside and burns you J, or just drives past the pylon and into the lane. Go with someone small and, well, look what he did to Shaun Marrion in the playoffs in the post. Newcomer Radmanovic poses a problem too, although he prefers to be outside he is still 6-10 and if you put someone too small on him he’ll take advantage. Luke Walton has become confident in the offense and his shot, making him a threat from the high post or on the wing. Smush, who is 6-4 and strong, can even post up the Steve Nash’s of the world.

The Lakers are big and long, and that is hard to defend.

What is the team’s biggest weakness? Perimeter defense. Simple to name, hard to fix. Also the key to how well they do this season.

When opponents ran the high pick-and-roll last season, Laker defenders acted like they were carrying the hanta virus. Laker bigs didn’t trap or show well on a consistent basis, Smush Parker fought through the pick as often as the Raiders win football games. But the problems went beyond that: Smush just had trouble staying in front of his man, any big who could step out 15 feet and hit a jumper was given free reign to do so.

This is where the growth part of getting better really comes in – because only one personnel move might have an impact and that is even borderline. When he walked in the door Jordan Farmar was as good a defender at the point as the Lakers had. In a year or two, with experience and some physical strength he’ll be an upgrade, but we’re not previewing 2009. For this season, well, if Radmanovic is improving your perimeter defense then things were really F&*$%& bad.

Returning assistant coach Jim Cleamons is the guy at the forefront of fixing this problem from within. And improvement is possible — the Lakers were dead last in the league in defensive rating two seasons ago (points per 100 possessions), last year they were 15th. If the coaches can get players to understand their roles, make steals and not fear the pick-and-roll, they can improve again. And that would mean improvement in the record.

Little Help Here. The Lakers have for a long time been a franchise hesitant to make mid-season trades, a tendency that has been stronger in the triangle era (it’s a hard system to pick up on the fly, just look at the second half of the 04-05 season under Frank Hamblin).

But this season could be different. For one thing, they have three seven-foot inside centers in Kwame Brown, Andrew Bynum and Chris Mihm. That’s one more than you really need – and Mihm is in the last year of his deal. Also, because the Lakers guaranteed Kwame Brown’s $9 million for next season, they have no real cap flexibility to go get a free agent. So, if they see a weakness, a trade is the only real way to address it. Likely a two-for-one deal, say Mihm with Aaron McKie or Brian Cook for a veteran guard. Still not likely, but more likely than in past years.

What are the goals for this team? The Lakers are one of those few franchises in all sport where fans have come to expect the team to be in contention annually. We all have that at our gut level, even the rational ones among us who know that there won’t be a parade through downtown every year. At the Summer League, GM Mitch Kupchak suggested that the goals should be 50 wins and a second round playoff berth.

This season we’ll see if the team is really moving in the direction of hosting another parade or not – not just on a team level but also with individual players within the system. Mitch’s goals, if met, would suggest they are on the right tack.

Predicted Record: 49-33, followed by a first-round playoff win (likely and upset).

Los Angeles Lakers – Jones on the NBA

October 28, 2006

Website: Jones on the NBA
Author: Nate

Last Years Record: 45-37
Key Loses: Devean George
Key Additions: Jordan Farmar, Shammond Williams, Vladamir Radmonovic, Maurice Evans

Significant Moves:
The most significant moves made during the off season were the acquisitions of Jordan Farmar (through the draft), and Vladamir Radmonovic (via Free Agency). These acquisitions should help the Lakers remedy two of their largest weaknesses from last season in their outside shooting and point guard play. They also addressed another significant weakness by adding defensive stopper and part-time energizer bunny, Maurice Evans.

The Lakers are hoping that Radmanovic could turn into the dead eye shooter that they desperately needed last year. With Kobe Bryant sure to draw plenty of double and triple teams, it is essential for the Lakers to have someone that consistently knock down an open three pointer once KB24 kicks the ball back out. The season hasn’t even started yet and the Radmanovic experiment has already started to head in the wrong direction due to an injury Vlad suffered during training camp. It was announced yesterday that Vlad has torn radial collateral ligament in his right shooting hand. According to reports the injury will not completely heal without surgery, meaning that Vlad will most likely have to play with the injury for the entire season. Your designated shooter with a bad shooting hand is not the best thing in the world. Hopefully he can figure out a way to play through the pain and contribute in other ways to the team. The Lakers coaching staff has already been impressed with his rotations on team defense, so maybe it is possible for him to contribute in another fashion besides scoring.

Jordan Farmar has quickly captivated the hearts and minds of Laker fans everywhere with his play during the pre-season. The pick of the former UCLA point guard was initially thought to be a pick for the future, yet with his pre-season play, Farmar has shown that he probably will be able to contribute some positive minutes to the Lakers this season. Farmar is a knowledgeable, fiery, point guard that is not familiar with sitting on the bench. I personally have known Farmar for years, and know that he is the type of guy that won’t accept anything less than being the best. In his head he probably believes that he should be the starting point guard of the Lakers and is going to do everything in his power to ensure that occurs. He already has shown a solid understanding of the triangle offense and has played much more poised than what you would expect from a 19 year old rookie. The bottom line is that the guy is all heart and basketball knowledge. Combine those things with solid athleticism and a drive to be the best (similar to that of his teammate Kobe Bryant) and you have a kid that is destined for greatness. Right now, he really just needs to work on his three-point shooting. As a point guard in the triangle offense it’s imperative that you be able to knock down a spot up three (see Derek Fisher, BJ Armstrong, and John Paxson). If he can work on that I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s splitting minutes with Smush at the PG position by the end of the year.

Maurice Evans might turn out to be the best move of the off-season. Capturing him for a token 2nd round pick seems to already have paid off big time. He’s basically the Lakers replacement for Devean George. The former Italian League player of the year brings the type of energy level that is perfect for a guy in the role of a 6th man/defensive stopper. Evans brings tremendous athletic ability, slashing, offensive rebounding, and on the ball defense. The Lakers think that he can be the on the ball defender that they so desperatley need. The Lakers already have one of the best perimeter defenders in the league in Kobe Bryant, but with him being called upon to do some many other thing on the floor, he can’t also be expected to shut down the opponents best perimiter player on a nightly basis. Evans seems very up to the task.

Kobe Bryant: Arguably the best player in the league. Just as complete a player as you can possibly be from the shooting guard position. At this point it’s not a question of his actual basketball talent and more of a question of his ability to bring out the best in his teammates. I think this is the year you will see this all come together for Bryant.

Phil Jackson: Hands down the best coach in the NBA. The guy has coached 15 Seasons and made 10 NBA Finals and never missed the playoffs. His ability to motivate his players is second to none. As well, he’s a solid game planner who has stuck to his offensive and defensive schemes throughout his career. Having PJ as the Lakers coach almost guarantees that they will make the playoffs

Depth: This year the Lakers can actually be called a deep team. With their current additions and the maturity of their younger players from last year, the Lakers now have solid depth at pretty much every position. Although they could use a little more veteran experience from the point guard position, they have solidly talented players at almost every position. Now it is more of a question of if they can stay healthy enough to benefit from that depth.

Their main weaknesses are their youth and their lack of shooting and defense from the point guard position. The Lakers are a very young squad. Hopefully the experience they gained from their seven game series with the Suns last season helped them mature a bit. I believe it has, so hopefully they will look a little bit more poised in end of the game situations than they did last year. I can think of at least 10 games they lost in the last minute of the game last year. Most of those loses came as a result of stupid mistakes, so hopefully going through that will serve as a learning experience for this youthful group. Having the experience of Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant should also help negate their rosters overall lack of experience.

I’m still very concerned with the fact that the Lakers do not have a designated shooter from the point guard position. Every successful Phil Jackson team has had a point guard who is solid from behind the three point line (see: Kerr, Paxson, Armstrong, Fisher, etc.). The Lakers are looking for Sasha Vujacic to be the player on their roster that fills that role, but until he shows some sort of consistency in his shooting, I’m still going to consider that a weakness. Although still a concern, on the ball defense from the point guard position is not as large of a weakness as it was in years past. The combination of Farmar, Parker, and Vujacic should be above average at that position. Yet, I still think that the Lakers could make improvements via trade at that position. A guy like Chris Duhon could solve both problems from the point in that he’s a great three-point shooter and a solid on the ball defender.

Team Goals:
The Lakers main goals should be to overcome their early injury bug, make the playoffs and advance out of the first round. I think these are very feasible goals. The theme of the Lakers season should be internal growth. If players such as Andrew Bynum, Smush Parker, Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, and Kwame Brown can continue the growth they showed under Jackson last year they should be able to accomplish the goals I mentioned above.

If Turiaf and Bynum can continue to play the way they have this pre-season, the Lakers will surely be an improved bunch.

Bynum can be a factor with his shot blocking ability and his package of low post moves. I think the Lakers got a steal when they picked him with the 10th pick in last year’s draft. The Lakers surely have to be happy with his continued improvement during the pre-season. Last night against the Nuggets Bynum tallied 23 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and two blocks. If he could just give the Lakers a solid 15-20 minutes a night this season at that level of play, it would surely help the Lakers improve a bit.

As a second round pick, Turiaf looks like he will also turn out to be a major steal. His energy and willingness to just do the little things is something that can help the Lakers tremendously. At his high end, I could see him turning into a Udonis Haslem type player.

In conclusion:
The main goal for the Lakers should be continued improvement of their core group of players. A lot is always expected of the Lakers because of the team’s past accomplishments, but fans and the media must realize that this is a very young team. Guys like Smush Parker, who had little to no experience playing big minutes in the league, were asked to play significant minutes throughout the year. It was obvious that by the end of the playoffs many of them had hit a wall. With another year under Phil Jackson’s system, I feel like many of those young players will show significant improvement.

Predicted Record: 48-34 (without significant injuries)

Golden St. Warriors – Golden State Of Mind

October 27, 2006

Website: Golden State of Mind 
: Atma Brother #1

Jason Gurney of lowpost.net/blog fame dropped a phenomenal, chart-topping, interactive Golden State Warriors preview for the 2006-07 NBA Blog Previews. Your boys at GSoM thought the best contribution we could make to the legendary NBA Blog Previews would be to drop a little WikiWarriors segment. Think of it as a Wikipedia style preview of the Warriors. If you click and read every link, this preview should take you, oh- 12 hours to read (in honor of the Warriors playoff drought!). Here goes…

Golden State of Mind’s 2006- 07 Golden State Warriors Preview


Last Years Record: 34-48 (one of the Hypeless Losers of 2005-2006)
Key Losses:

Key Additions

What significant moves were made during the offseason?
Let’s see…

Okay, so none of those trades went down. This is virtually the same roster that drove fans crazy last year plus a player who might get sent down to the NBDL (Notorious POB) and a comeback player who’s got a nice little floater. Good thing our Vice President didn’t  romise any changes… oh wait, he did.

In the 2006 NBA Draft Chris Mullin and his crew (there’s no bigger old boy network in the NBA right now than the Warriors’ front office) elected to take not one, but two big man projects in Patrick O’Bryant aka The Chef and Kosta Perovic aka Kosta Coast. Warriors Nation wasn’t that pleased, but you can bet Coach Nelson was even less impressed.

Oh well, at least now we’ve got Nelly– ooops, I mean Nellie.

What are the team’s biggest strengths?

What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

  • Defense: There isn’t one above average defender on this roster aside from maybe Mickael Pietrus who has yet to become a consistent defensive force in this league
  • Free throws aren’t free: There’s some ghastly shooting on display at the charity stripe every night at the Arena
  • Falling in love with the 3pt ball: Baron’s in love with jacking up 3’s when triple teamed and Dunleavy can’t knock them down when he’s completely wide open
  • On court leadership: B Diddy couldn’t handle all the pressure last season, JRich is a quiet leader who leads by example, and Dunleavy likes to talk, but hasn’t walked the walk to talk the talk yet. Maybe it’s time to bring in Charles Oakley.
  • Unathletic front court: The Troy Murphy-Mike Dunleavy 4/5 combo scares nobody… except Warriors Nation.
  • Injuries galore: These Warriors aren’t exactly built Ford tough.
  • A stubborn insistence to forever justify drafting Mike Dunleavy #3 overall in the 2002 NBA Draft and giving him that ridiculous 44 million dollar 5 year extension (see 44 Reasons why giving Mike Dunleavy 44 million wasn’t the brightest idea Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV )
  • Contracts that even Dolan’s Knicks wouldn’t take on:
    • Adonal Foyle: 6 years $42 million
    • Mike Dunleavy: 5 years $44 million
    • Troy Murphy: 6 years $58 million
  • The NBA’s most inept owner in Chris Cohan (SELL THE WARRIORS!)

What are the goals for this team?
There’s this rumor going around in the Bay Area that the NBA season doesn’t stop in early April. That’s basically it: playoff action in the Bay Area. It’s that simple. Nellie’s got one million reasons to take us there too. Plus, the Magic 8 Ball is saying YES!

Got any more links for us?
Just one more: www.goldenstateofmind.com

Predicted Record:

  • 41-41 as presently constituted with an injury free season
  • 34-48 as presently constituted with significant injuries
  • 45-37 with a few trades for some shooters and an athletic 4 or 5 near the
    February trade deadline

Los Angeles Clippers – ClipsNation

October 27, 2006

Website: ClipsNation
Author: ClipperSteve

Last Year’s Record:  47-35
Key Losses: Vladimir Radmanovic
Key Additions: Tim Thomas, Aaron Williams

It is difficult to describe the feeling in ClipperNation, when we watched our team win a playoff series for the first time… the first time… that’s it, the first time.  There may be a few Buffalo Braves holdovers out here (I remember Ernie D), but by and large, we are Los Angeles Clippers fans – eager for an alternative to the bandwagon Lakers, and sporting a massive inferiority complex.  So watching the team finish with a California record 47 wins, and then actually WIN a playoff series (and not just win but dominate), watching them play games in May while Kobe was sitting at home… well, obviously it was unprecedented.  It was also pretty cool.

To then outplay the Suns, but lose in seven games, it was a difficult situation.  There were mixed feelings.  On the one hand, the team had its best year ever, and was young and (mostly) locked up for several years.  So there was every reason to be optimistic in ClipperNation.  But at the same time, these are the Clippers.  There’s a certain fatalism in Clipper fans, borne of the years watching Donald Sterling care more about debits and credits than wins and losses.  “It sure looks like this team is going to be good next year and for a long time to come.  I wonder how they’ll eff it up this time?”

But you can’t really overstate the changes that have occurred in the Clipper organization since Mike Dunleavy became the head coach.  Prior to 2003, a grand total of two players had EVER re-signed with the Clippers (Loy Vaught and Eric Piatkowski).  That’s two players in 25 years.  In June 2003, the Clippers matched offer sheets to re-sign Elton Brand and Corey Maggette to the biggest contracts in franchise history.  Prior to 2003, the Clippers had never made an offer to a significant free agent.  In 2003, they offered more money to Gilbert Arenas than the Wizards, and in 2004 they offered Kobe Bryant a maximum deal.  Finally, in 2005, a free agent actually took their money, when Cuttino Mobley signed a 5 year, $42M deal.  

So while the work of this off-season (re-signing Sam Cassell and signing free agent Tim Thomas) may seem like business-as-usual for most NBA franchises, for the Clippers these are BIG DEALS.  It indicates that Donald Sterling kind of likes watching playoff games (I mean ones the Clippers are playing in), and is willing to spend some money to see some more.  For over three seasons now, since Dunleavy became head coach, the Clippers have behaved like a first class NBA franchise (and perennial punch line Elgin Baylor was rewarded for it with the GM of the Year award).  So entering the fourth year of the Dunleavy era, the optimism is drowning out the fatalism.  

What Significant Moves Were Made in the Off-season?

In the NBA, teams get better through one of four methods.  

  • The easiest way is to add talent, via free agency or the draft.  
  • The second way to improve is for the players you have to get better
  • The third way to improve is to get healthy.  Every team suffers injuries (except the Pistons) – limiting the number of key losses can be a huge bonus to the same team.
  • The final source of improvement is from the consistency of playing together as a team, in a system, with a particular coach.
  • The Clippers lost Vladimir Radmanovic and replaced him with Tim Thomas.  They are essentially the same player.  Radmanovic is younger and arguably less of a problem child.  Thomas is a better low post scorer.  Call it a wash.  The Clippers did not have a first round draft pick, and of their two second rounders, only Paul Davis will be on the roster this season, adding some front court depth.  They also added free agent Aaron Williams.  No one can argue that the Clippers added significant talent this off-season.

    In all of the other areas, the Clippers figure to be significantly improved.  

    With the exception of Sam Cassell, this is a young team.  Cassell is 37, and will be the 5th oldest active player in the NBA this season.  However, Cassell’s game was never really predicated on speed and quickness.  He lives in the sliver of daylight he creates as he moves inexorably to his left.  Will there be a drop off in Cassell’s production from the age of 36 to the age of 37?  Not a significant one.  

    Cat Mobley is 31, but his numbers in his first season as a Clipper were actually worse than his career numbers, partly because of a series of nagging injuries.  Don’t get me wrong, Cat did everything well.  In particular, he was one of the best defenders on the team.  But he will be better this season, particularly shooting the 3 ball.

    People will say that there’s no way Elton Brand can improve upon his 2005-2006 season.  But I think there’s a corollary – there’s no way Elton Brand can be less than the stud he is.  He simply does what he does.  He has for years.  Will he average 24.7 points per game?     Maybe not… but he’ll average more than 20, he’ll shoot better than 50%, he’ll get more than 10 rebounds and he’ll block shots, because that’s who he is.

    Up and down the Clippers lineup, with the exception of Brand and Cassell, I expect more from this cast of characters than they provided last year.  But two players in particular stand out.

    Chris Kaman has improved each of his three seasons in the NBA.  He averaged 11.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks last season while shooting 52%.  In the Clippers final 71 games of the season, he averaged a double-double.  He uses either hand effectively around the basket, and actually prefers to finish with his left, despite being ostensibly right-handed.  He needs to improve in recognizing and passing out of double teams, and extend the range on his shot some.  He’s already one of the top 5 centers in the league, and if he continues his current trajectory of improvement, an all star appearance is entirely possible this season.

    Shaun Livingston turned 21 last month.  He is entering his third NBA season, and for the first time, he spent the entire off-season working on his game.  All day every day, he was hitting the weights and shooting jump shots.  The guy already does all the things you can’t teach – he’s a 6’7″ pass-first point guard, with a 7 foot wing span, an unbelievable handle, who plays great defense.  If he can consistently make the 17 footer, he will be unstoppable.  He can get his shot whenever he wants.  If you guard him with a small point guard, he’ll post up.  If you double him, he’ll find someone for a layup.  As good as Elton Brand is, the Clippers will certainly not win an NBA title while he is their best player.  Within the next two seasons, Shaun Livingston will be the face of the franchise.  He’s that good.

    As for health, the Clippers certainly weren’t the hardest hit team last season, but they had more than their share of injuries.  Second leading scorer Corey Maggette missed 50 games, while Livingston missed 21 and defensive stopper Quinton Ross missed 15.  Most observers seemed genuinely surprised by the ease with which the Clippers dispatched the Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs, and then by the closeness of the series with Phoenix, a series the Clippers probably should have won.  However, it is worth noting that it was the first time ALL SEASON that the Clippers’ top eight players were all healthy at the same time.  That team that destroyed Denver and outplayed Phoenix?  That’s the team Clipper Nation expects to see every night this season.

    Finally, the stability of this team represents uncharted waters for Clipper’s fans.  By re-signing Sam Cassell for 2 years, $13M, the Clippers are returning 11 players from last season’s team, including 9 of their top 10 scorers.  The only difference is Thomas for Radmanovic.  In three seasons under coach Mike Dunleavy, the Clippers have gone from 28 wins, to 37 wins, to 47 wins.  Another 10 win improvement (leaping into the top four or five records in the NBA) is probably unrealistic, but not out of the question.  I assure you, Dunleavy expects to win more than 47.  In particular, the Clippers have become a solid defensive team under Dunleavy, and one more year in his system of complex help rotations will only make this team stronger.  

    What are the Team’s Biggest Strengths?

    This team has several strengths.  First and foremost is their low post presence.  Chris Kaman and Elton Brand represent the best Center/Power forward combination in the NBA.  This size manifested itself statistically in rebounding and blocked shots last season.  The Clippers led the league in shots blocked, led the league in defensive rebounds, and were in the top 3 statistically in most rebounding categories (total rebounds, rebounding percentage, etc.)  

    On the offensive end, Kaman and Brand represent a powerful one-two punch on the low post.  Brand has been one of the best players in the NBA his entire career, and no one ever seemed to notice.  Last season, he stepped up his offensive game, the Clippers got a few more W’s, and suddenly he’s second team all-pro.  Guess what?  He should have been second team all-pro for 3 seasons before that, and he should have been first team last season.  Much has been made of Elton’s new mid-range jump shot.  I gotta say – I’ve watched Elton day-in and day-out for 5 seasons now, and I always knew he could make that shot.  The big difference is that last year, he took it.  Elton is such an unselfish guy – the main reason he bumped his scoring average from 20 to almost 25 is because he took more shots.  And he still managed to make 53%, above his career average, despite the additional jumpers.

    Kaman gives the Clippers another monster on the other block.  Basically, the Clippers can decide which opposing big they want to abuse on any given night, and feed Brand or Kaman accordingly.  Big, surprisingly athletic and ambidextrous, Kaman is a load around the basket.  Plus, he’s got that crazy thing going on, so defenders are bound to be a little freaked out.  Which is probably why Reggie Evans went downtown in the playoffs.

    In addition to Kaman and Brand, the Clippers have several other low-post scoring options.  Sam Cassell likes nothing more than to post up a small point guard.  Cat Mobley is likewise excellent with his back to the basket.  And Shaun Livingston, at 6’7″, can take small points into the low post.  Basically, whoever the Suns put Nash on, that guy is going to post up.

    This segues nicely into the Clippers other major strengths, which are depth and versatility.  The top eight players could all be starters for many NBA teams.  As it is, second leading scorer Maggette (a slasher who is one of the most effective players in the league at getting to the foul line and who actually led the team in scoring in 04-05 and 03-04), will likely begin the season coming off the bench, along with starter-in-waiting Livingston and Tim Thomas.  This 8 man rotation also affords the Clippers the luxury of playing several different styles of basketball.  With Kaman and Brand, they’re already big.  They can put Tim Thomas at the 3, and Shaun Livingston at the 1, and go HUGE.  Or they can put Brand at the 5, Thomas at the 4, and spread the floor.  The choices at the point and on the wings are almost limitless.  Cassell, Livingston, Mobley, Maggette and Ross can all play at least two positions, and Dunleavy can choose to play them in almost any combination.  The importance of Ross in particular needs to be stressed.  Dunleavy has described his defense as `perfect.’  For the most part last year, the Clippers avoided bad losses (losses to teams with losing records, particularly at home).  The bad losses they had were while Ross was injured.  

    Second year players James Singleton and Daniel Ewing provide additional depth beyond the top 8.  Singleton is an athletic forward, who was a terrific rebounder and pretty good scorer in limited minutes last season.  Ewing provided quality minutes backing up the point guard position while Livingston was hurt.  19 year old Russian Yaroslav Korolev, last year’s first round draft pick, may see some spot duty this season.  

    Free agent veteran Aaron Williams figures to be the first big off the bench until Zeljko Rebraca’s back heals.  Second round pick Paul Davis will provide additional depth.  

    What are the Team’s Biggest Weaknesses?

    This team has one glaring weakness, and it is outside shooting.  Last season, they were last in the NBA in three-point field goals made, 29th in attempts, and shot only 34% from beyond the arc.  On the whole, the team should be better, as Radmanovic only played 30 games after he was acquired, and Thomas will fill the Radmanovic role.  But look for defenses to crowd around Brand and Kaman and dare the Clippers to beat them from outside.  

    Interestingly, it seems that this lack of three point shooting is by design.  When you look at a team like Houston, there are three point threats up and down the roster.  The Rockets drafted Steve Novak in the second round with the 32nd pick – two picks later, the Clippers took Paul Davis.  The Rockets signed Casey Jacobsen to a minimum deal this summer.  The Clippers signed Aaron Williams.  

    Dunleavy doesn’t like the 3 ball.  Cat Mobley made 44% of his 342 threes in 04-05.  In 05-06, he only took 245, and made only 34%.  And for much of the season, Mobley was the ONLY deep threat for the Clippers, so he figured to take a lot of threes.  But Dunleavy runs very few sets that are designed to free up long range shots.  Even the kick outs from the post tend to be for mid-range jumpers.  It’s hard not to feel that the Clippers are leaving points on the table by taking so few threes.

    The team has one other weakness at playoff time: the absence of a first-tier mega-star on offense.  Right, wrong or indifferent, the NBA remains a league that is built around superstars.  Elton Brand is a great player, who shows up every night.  But he is not a guy who can get a crucial bucket with 30 seconds to go in a close game.  (He got closer to being that guy last year, but he’s still not there.)  Sam Cassell was actually the guy with the ball in his hands at the end of close games last year, and he absolutely relishes that role (who can forget the testicle dance?)  But Cassell is 37, and won’t be able to carry that load much longer.  Livingston may need to be the guy with the ball in his hands in this year’s playoffs, but he may not be ready for that role yet.

    What are the Goals for this Team?

    The goal for this team is to improve on last season, as it is for every team.  Coming off a California best 47 wins, and within one game of the Conference finals, it won’t be easy.  In particular, it won’t be easy in the West, where Phoenix, Dallas and San Antonio were the other semi-finalists, and all figure to be about as good as ever.  Add in Houston, which figures to be a top-tier team with TMac and Yao healthy, and even a top 4 finish is going to be tough.

    The team that destroyed Denver and outplayed Phoenix is certainly capable of  a 50 win regular season (improving on the franchise record of 49 set by the 74-75 Buffalo Braves).  I would also add that they need to have a winning record on the road, bettering last season’s 20-21 franchise best mark.  The good news for the Clippers is that they believe, and they expect to win regular season games.  The bad news is that they are no longer going to be underestimated.  Teams will get up to play the Clippers.

    Beating Sacramento at least once would be a nice goal.  The Clippers haven’t beaten the Kings since January 18, 2003.  Dunleavy has NEVER beaten the Kings as coach of the Clippers.  I actually think this is significant – the Kings were very good for a long time, while the Clippers were very bad.  Even now, in the last few years as the Clippers have improved and the Kings have dropped off, the Kings simply expect to beat the Clippers, and therefore they do.  The Clippers have got to perfect a winning attitude, and it starts by beating the Kings.

    A first round playoff win is also a must, as anything less would be a step backwards.  

    But improvement means advancing to the Western Conference Finals.  A year of growth, another year in the system, the experience of just missing out last season: it could all add up to a trip to the Conference Finals.  Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to happen.  Unless Livingston arrives with a vengeance, the Clippers will come up short against the likes of the Suns, Mavericks and Spurs.  

    (But seriously, the only real goal that matters to Clipper fans is that the Clippers finish ahead of the Lakers again.  Everything else is just gravy.)

    So What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

    These are the Clippers we’re talking about.  For years (strike that) decades (strike that) a really, really long time, they’ve been bad.  When good things happened (i.e. number one pick in the lottery), bad things followed (Danny Manning tears an ACL or Michael Olowokandi, um,  exists).  A mere four years ago, the Clippers were coming off a 39 win season, with a boatload of young talent, poised to make the playoffs for the first time in years.  They proceeded to implode under the weight of contract years for their five best players, and ended up 27-55.  

    So what could go wrong?  Well, injuries of course.  But that’s a little too easy.  A much more `Clipper-y’ demise would go something like this:  Kaman spends the season stewing about the `insult’ of a mere 5/$50M contract extension offer, and looks to pad his offensive stats to secure a big deal in free agency.  Livingston sees what is happening with Kaman, and begins to worry about his own extension next summer, starts free-lancing, and leads the league in turnovers.  Meanwhile, Maggette mopes about the demotion to sixth man, and comes into every game trying to score 20 points in 4 minutes.  The entire team sees Dunleavy without a contract extension, and stops listening to him, believing he is a lame duck.  The team falls 10 games below .500 before the trade deadline, and Donald Sterling starts reminiscing for the good ole days, when his teams lost but his wallet won.  He trades Elton Brand to the Bulls for PJ Brown and two future second rounders.  

    But that’s not going to happen.  My optimism drowns out my fatalism, my optimism drowns out my fatalism, my optimism drowns out my fatalism….

    Predicted Record: 52-30

    Golden St. Warriors – lowpost.net

    October 26, 2006

    lowpost.net is way smarter than I am with web gadgetry, so check out his preview at lowpost.net/blog

    Washington Wizards – Bullets Fever

    October 25, 2006

    Website: Bullets Fever
    Author: Mike Prada

    The psyche of a Washington basketball supporter is one that is unlike any other in the NBA. Let’s consider the history. One playoff series win from the end of the Bullets Fever era of 78-79 to 2005. No seasons with more than 45 wins since 1979. 10 different head coaches in the last 10 years. One ridiculous name change. These are just a few of the things that drive a Washington fan crazy.

    But it’s not just that the Washington franchise has been in a constant state of mediocrity for the better part of the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. Unlike their mediocre brethren in the Clippers, the Wizards have always had some sort of a novelty among the league. Consider that former stars like Spencer Haywood, Gus Williams, Moses Malone, Bernard King, Rod Strickland, Mitch Richmond, Charles Oakley, and, of course, Michael Jordan all teased the Bullets/Wizards with their star power at the end of their careers. On top of that, whenever the Wizards got it right with a promising young player, they either got hurt (Chris Webber, Gheorghe Muresan), were traded too early (Manute Bol, Muggsy Bogues, Rasheed Wallace, Webber, Richard Hamilton), or underperformed (Juwan Howard, Calbert Cheaney, Kwame Brown). For years, Washington D.C. was essentially the league’s one-stop shop for aging veterans and underachieving youngsters.

    If you ever wonder why the guys at Wizznutzz act like they do, try being a fan of Les Bullez for your entire life.

    Why do I bring this all up? Because for the first time in ages, the Wizards actually have a real team that should be taken seriously. Sure, Gilbert Arenas is a strange dude, but the guy can play, and he has a ton of help on the court and in the front office. There’s reason for the hometown faithful to be excited about this team, so while I may not be as crazily optimistic as some of the previews so far, I’ll certainly struggle at times to contain my excitement.

    Last Year/Offseason

    When we last left the Wizards, they came out on the short end of a compelling six-game series against the Cleveland LeBrons…I mean Cavaliers. This loss followed a season where the Wizards were like the yo-yo in Gilbert Arenas’ head; up again, down again, up again, down again, and back up again. Early-season wins against San Antonio and Detroit were the bookends for a five-game losing streak. After falling to 12-18, the Wiz picked it up and put themselves in a prime position to match their 45 wins from the year before until a late 5 game losing streak pushed them down to 42 wins. You never knew which team was going to show up last year, but you knew they would be fun to watch

    In the offseason, the Wizards said goodbye to Jared “The Enigma” Jeffries, letting him go to New York, where he will baffle Isaiah Thomas when healthy. In his place, the Wizards signed Darius Songalia from the Bulls and stole DeShawn Stevenson from the Magic for the league minimum. In the draft, the Wizards took two random guys from Europe who both won’t contribute this season.

    The Strength of the Offense

    It’s obvious that the Wizards’ strength is on the offensive end of the floor. When you have the highest scoring trio in the league for the second consecutive season, your offense is doing something right. What makes Washington particularly consistent offensively is their ability to get to the free throw line. Arenas, Caron Butler, and Antonio Daniels in particular do such a great job of getting to the charity stripe off the dribble without turning the ball over. This allowed the Wizards to finish sixth in the league in scoring ability despite finish 21st in true shooting percentage.

    The great thing about this ability is that it doesn’t go away from night to night. Teams will have games where their jump shots aren’t falling. However, because the Wizards attack the basket so well off the dribble, they will rarely be subjected to off nights offensively.

    Making this offense even scarier is the potential return of Jarvis Hayes from knee surgery. Without Hayes, the Wizards had trouble kicking the offense into full throttle unless each of the Big Three had monster games. Hayes adds a new dimension to the attack with his instant offense off the bench. He gives the Wizards a spot-up shooter on the wing that will benefit from Arenas’ penetration. Now, if only he could stay healthy…

    The Weakness of the Defense

    It’s no secret that the Wizards were poor defensively last year. They ranked 23rd in defensive efficiency last year, a ranking they need to raise about 8-10 spots in order to be a real contender.

    It’s very easy to judge based on the Cleveland series that the Wizards need a physical, defensive big man to ever get to the next level. While that certainly was a problem in the playoffs, the reality is that there are bigger problems than that with this defense. Getting a big man like Joel Pryzbilla in free agency would not have been the best way to fix the problem.

    The biggest problem was that the Wizards allowed far too many open looks at the basket in games. Had the Cavaliers’ shooters been playing at the top of their games, the result of the series could have been worse. For all of Arenas’ strengths offensively, he tends to drift off his man when he’s defending off the ball, allowing them open shot after open shot. Butler struggled with this problem as well, although he’s a much better on the ball defender than Agent Zero. While they both have been extremely dedicated to improving this in training camp, we have yet to see it translate to actual game play, although Arenas’ insistent to guard LeBron in the teams’ preseason game against Cleveland is certainly a good sign.

    The other major weakness was on-the-ball defense. Jeffries was hyped as a great perimeter defender, but his sole value was his versatility rather than his man-to-man defense. Butler is a tough defender, but he lapses a lot of the time. DeShawn Stevenson should help, but on the ball defense remains a significant worry.

    The Verdict

    Many people have the Wizards pegged for a similar season, with a possible drop out of the playoffs. Naturally, I disagree with those predictions. There are those who wonder aloud whether the defense can ever be decent, and while those are legitimate claims, we need not look further than Dallas last season and Seattle the season before to illustrate that teams can improve their defense without making significant changes to the team’s core. In addition, the Wizards had the point differential of a 46-47 win team last year, and I don’t expect them to be as unlucky again. They’ll win more of those close games this season.

    I don’t think the Wizards can contend for the title, but I think they will improve on last season. Stevenson gives the Wizards much-needed toughness on the wing, and Hayes’ return will make the offense even better. If Darius Songaila can come back healthy, the Wizards’ frontcourt will also be deeper than before. Throw in anything from Andray Blatche and a healthy return of Etan Thomas, and the frontcourt suddenly isn’t so shallow anymore.

    Finally, I expect Caron Butler to have a monster year this season. It took the Wizards half a year to figure out how to use him effectively, and it was no accident that the Wizards’ 5 game losing streak at the end of the season occurred without Butler in the lineup. If he can stay healthy, he should approach 20 points a game and provide strong perimeter defense. It feels like we’ve been waiting on Butler for ages, but with a starting spot ensured and increased familiarity with Eddie Jordan’s offense, I see Butler finally showing his full potential.

    There are certainly concerns, yes. The Wizards still aren’t particularly deep and I am concerned about the frontcourt depth, the defense, and the lack of a pure point guard. In addition, Orlando and their young players scare the crap out of me, and Miami is always the Wizards’ kryptonite. However, in the end I think this team will make the city go crazy with basketball fever for the first time in over a quarter of a century.

    Predicted Record: 50-32, fourth seed in the East