2004 NBA Draft lottery team needs

By Chad Ford
NBA Insider
Send an Email to Chad Ford Friday, April 16

# Mock Lottery, Mock Draft: See 1,716 potential lottery scenarios

Too early to start breaking down the NBA draft?

Consider this.

While playoff fever grips NBA fans, half of the league's scouts and GMs are in Mannheim, Germany right now watching 18-and-under Euros do their thing. In two weeks even more executives will be in Tel Aviv, Israel for the Euroleage Final Four.

In three weeks, the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft will have passed and teams (including those still in the playoffs) will begin individual workouts.

For lottery teams, there's a lot to do.

The Magic know they have to strike gold in the lottery to hang onto Tracy McGrady. The Bulls know they need a tested star to teach their high school dropouts how to play. The Wizards need an anti-Kwame to save the season next year.

The season hasn't been over for 48 hours. There is no rest.

Insider made some phone calls, and sorted through depth charts and incentive-laden contracts to give you a first look at what each lottery team will be looking for with its first-round pick. We'll continue to add playoff teams to the list as they are eliminated.

Plus: Latest Draft Rumors | Who's in, who's out? | Top 10 by position

Orlando Magic
Chance to win lottery: 25% Team Needs The Skinny
Emeka Okafor
Toughness in paint
Point guard No one needs Emeka Okafor more than the Magic. That's the funny thing about team needs. Sometimes they have nothing to do with positions or talent. Magic fans need something to cheer about. A hometown hero. A basketball Messiah. We have no idea just how good Okafor can really be. But he's the type of guy the Magic have been looking for ever since Ben Wallace left for Detroit. If Tracy McGrady is going to stay in Orlando, the Magic need a guy like Okafor who can step in and help immediately. Without him, all may be lost.

Assuming the Magic don't get the No. 1 pick, the team will seriously explore trading the pick. If they can't get value, the Magic have several needs to address. They need a real center in the worst way. Unfortunately for the Magic, there won't be one ready to contribute in the top-six picks (the Magic can fall no further than six). Dwight Howard will be an option because of his size and upside, but they'll have to have patience, something running in low supply in Orlando. They also need a real point guard to run the show. The top point guard on our board, Shaun Livingston, isn't ready. The next two, Ben Gordon and Devin Harris, aren't true points . . . but could help.

Chicago Bulls
Chance to win lottery: 20% Team Needs The Skinny
Emeka Okafor
Point forward
Physical two guard
3-point shooting John Paxson has a tough decision to make this summer. Do they move Tyson Chandler and/or Eddy Curry in an attempt to get a tougher, more experienced (even if less talented) core in return. Obviously, Okafor would be a godsend and would give Paxson the courage he needs to at least move one of them.

The team also expects to lose Jamal Crawford this summer and has never really had a great small forward. If Duke's Luol Deng enters the draft, he'd be a great fit in Chicago. So would an athletic, defensive-minded two guard like Arizona's Andre Iguodala. However, if the Bulls don't get the No. 1 pick, look for them to try to package it with Chandler, Crawford and/or Curry for a star.

Washington Wizards
Chance to win lottery: 15.7% Team Needs The Skinny
Center
Depth at the four The Wizards are pretty stacked in the backcourt with Gilbert Arenas, Jerry Stackhouse, Larry Hughes, Juan Dixon and Steve Blake. They've drafted small forwards -- Jared Jeffries and Jarvis Hayes -- in the last two lotteries and their power forward, Kwame Brown, was the first pick in the draft three years ago.

Center continues to be a major problem for them, and the Wizards believe that a combo of Brown and Okafor will work, despite Okafor only being 6-foot-9. After that, things get pretty sketchy for the Wizards. Dwight Howard is another high school project. Everyone else in their range is a guard or an unproven big man. Someone like Pavel Podkolzine may make some sense for them if they had the patience. Expect them to explore trading the pick, along with someone like Jerry Stackhouse or Larry Hughes, for more help in the paint.

Charlotte Bobcats
Chance to win lottery: 0% Team Needs The Skinny
Everything
Right now the Bobcats are a blank slate. We'll know more about their draft needs after the expansion draft. Unfortunately, that only happens days before the actual draft. The theory is that you need to build your team around a big man or a point guard. If that's true, Okafor, Howard or a big guard like Shaun Livingston are all possibilities. Don't count out Luol Deng, though. If he declares, he'd be a very nice fit in Charlotte.

Atlanta Hawks
Chance to win lottery: 10.5% Team Needs The Skinny
Center
Point Guard
Power Forward The Hawks aren't that far off from the Bobcats when talking about blank slate. The team has just four players, Jason Terry, Chris Crawford, Boris Diaw and Alan Henderson, with guaranteed contracts next year. And, there's a lot of talk that the team will shop Terry over the summer.

The Hawks are crossing their fingers that they get their hands on high school stud Dwight Howard. If they don't land Howard or Okafor, things get tougher. Guys like Luol Deng and Josh Smith don't fit needs. And players like Livingston, Podkolzine and Brazilian Tiago Splitter are a year or two away at the very least.

Los Angeles Clippers
Chance to win lottery: 10.4% Team Needs The Skinny
Point guard
3-point shooting Pull out the Ouija board, tarot cards, divining rod and dial up the Psychic Friends Hotline. They have about as good of a shot of predicting what owner Donald Sterling will do as we do.

Murphy's law says that the Clippers will defy the odds, get the No. 1 pick and ruin Okafor or Howard. If they fall to their actual slot at six, things get dicey. The team is set at the three and four. If they are able to lure Kobe, or re-sign Quentin Richardson, they're fine at the two. Last year they spent their lottery pick on Chris Kaman and he appears to be coming along. That leaves the point position, where only one guy, Marko Jaric, is holding down the fort. There's been some speculation that the Clippers are in love with Sebastian Telfair. It tough to see how they could justify drafting such a young, under sized point guard this high. Then again, it is the Clippers we're talking about. More likely, they take a flier on a more seasoned, taller prospect like Ben Gordon or Devin Harris.

Phoenix Suns
Chance to win lottery: 6.4% Team Needs The Skinny
Center
Point Guard
Depth The Suns are the most loaded team in the lottery and don't have a huge need for the pick. This summer, they're expected to sign top Euro point guard Milos Vujanic, and they have enough cap room to go after a veteran two or five (everyone from Kobe to Mehmet Okur to Vlade Divac has been mentioned).

That makes the Suns' pick interesting. They're one of the few teams that will have the luxury to draft the best player on the board, regardless of position or experience. Expect the Suns to take that luxury and grab one of the big centers like Podkolzine. Or, they may try to trade the pick along with an expiring contract like Jahidi White for more cap room this summer.

Toronto Raptors
Chance to win lottery: 3.7% Team Needs The Skinny
Big point guard
Center The Raptors have zero centers on their roster, so obviously it's a huge need. The problem is that, with the exception of Okafor (who would pair nicely with big man Chris Bosh) there isn't anyone on the board even remotely ready. There are some young guys who could make some sense down the road for the Raptors (like Podkolzine), but the Raptors probably won't have the patience.

Point guard may make more sense. Alvin Williams isn't cutting it. With players like Ben Gordon and Devin Harris on the board, they could get an immediate upgrade at a position that's bothered them in the past. .

Philadelphia 76ers
Chance to win lottery: 3.6% Team Needs The Skinny
Point forward
Depth in the paint
3-point shooting The Sixers are a mess on the court, but their depth chart is actually pretty impressive. Samuel Dalembert has been great at the five this year. Kenny Thomas has done well at the four. Allen Iverson is a staple at the two, and Eric Snow handles the point pretty well. Guys like Aaron McKie, Greg Buckner, John Salmons and Kyle Korver have been contributors off the bench. The big bust has been Glenn Robinson. The Sixers need a three who doesn't need 15 shots a game.

Enter Stanford's Josh Childress. He seems like the perfect choice for the Sixers. He's long, athletic, can shoot the ball, play multiple positions and uses his huge wingspan to play great defense. He needs to get stronger, but I think this pick would be a slam dunk for the Sixers. If Childress if off the board, more depth in the paint is probably the way to go. A young big Euro like Kosta Perovic or Andris Biedrins could make some sense.

Cleveland Cavaliers
Chance to win lottery: 1.8% Team Needs The Skinny
Point guard
Center
Small Forward It's probably a good thing that the Cavs missed the playoffs. They need more help and would've been forced to send their pick to Phoenix had they qualified. Instead, they're in the perfect position to address one of their needs. If a player like Wisconsin's Devin Harris is on the board, he'd be a great fit. Jeff McInnis won't be around forever, and Harris's steady playmaking skills and ability to score should energize the Cavs' backcourt.

If Harris is gone, there aren't any real centers left who are very different from the team's other big project, DeSagana Diop. However, it's a need that needs to be addressed soon. Zydrunas Ilgauskas is in the last year of his deal. He won't be around forever. Players like Tiago Splitter or Kosta Perovic could make sense. If all else fails, another swingman could help. A kid like Andre Iguodala could end up being a younger version of Eric Williams. His playmaking skills would really complement LeBron's. They are also reportedly high on international big man Andris Biedrins.

Golden State Warriors
Chance to win lottery: 0.9% Team Needs The Skinny
Center
Athletic power forward Everything depends on what Erick Dampier and Adonal Foyle decide to do. The word is that both will bolt the Bay this summer, meaning that the Warriors will have a big, big hole in the middle of their lineup. Big men like Pavel Podkolzine, Kosta Perovic, Tiago Splitter or Peja Samardziski may be available, but neither can help the team right now. BYU's Rafael Araujo may be able to help them, but it's a little early to pick him. They too are said to be coveting Latvia's Andris Biedrins.

Seattle SuperSonics
Chance to win lottery: 0.9% Team Needs The Skinny
A real enter
Athletic, physical four
The Sonics are loaded in the backcourt, even if they lose Brent Barry to free agency this year. Last year they took a power forward, Nick Collison, and a point guard, Luke Ridnour, with their two lottery picks. Collison missed the season with an injury. Ridnour played well in the limited minutes he saw.

What the Sonics really need is a big man who can draw a double in the post. There aren't many guys like that available. Their best bet is to take a flier on an athletic big man like Kosta Perovic or Tiago Splitter, or a young versatile power forward like high school phenom Marvin Williams.

Portland Trail Blazers
Chance to win lottery: 0.6% Team Needs The Skinny
Point Guard
Shooting Guard The Blazers are in the lottery for the first time in forever and they need to make the most of the opportunity. The team made a number of trades during the season to shore up its front line. The Blazers are now two deep at the five (Theo Ratliff, Dale Davis) the four (Zach Randolph, Shareef Abdur-Rahim) and the three (Darius Miles, Ruben Patterson). The backcourt now becomes their Achilles' heel. Point guard Damon Stoudamire is in the last year of his contract and he has no real backup. Two guard Derek Anderson is good when he's healthy . . . but he's rarely healthy. Their one backup, Qyntel Woods, is beginning to look like a bust.

The good news is that there are several players out there who could fit the needs of the Blazers. Start with Arizona's Andre Iguodala who, as a defensive-minded, athletic swingman, could be a perfect fit in their system at the two. The team is also high on CSKA Moscow swingman Sergei Monya and high school phenom J.R. Smith. The team also likes point guard Devin Harris, but it's doubtful he's around here. Ditto for Ben Gordon. Jameer Nelson and Sebastian Telfair should still be on the board, but neither player makes much sense for the Blazers. The team already has a very small point, Stoudamire, and has been trying to upgrade to a bigger one for years. A trade, using Abdur-Rahim as bait, may be the best way to lure another top-notch point guard into the fold.

Utah Jazz
Chance to win lottery: 0.5% Team Needs The Skinny
Center
Power Forward The Jazz are loaded, almost overloaded, at the two and three positions. Matt Harpring, Andrei Kirilenko, Aleksandar Pavlovic, Raja Bell, and Gordan Giricek were all major contributors last season. Of all of those players, Kirilenko moved over to the four at times, but most believe his best position is at the three. Point guard was also solid for the Jazz with the development of Carlos Arroyo, Raul Lopez and Maurice Williams. However, the position could be an issue if Arroyo were to leave via free agency. The frontcourt, however, is barren. Greg Ostertag is a free agent.

Utah, with three first-round picks, knows that at least two of them have to be used on frontcourt players. The Jazz aren't afraid to draft international players and several good ones may be available when they pick. Look for them to have interest in Serbia's Peja Samardziski and Kosta Perovic, Brazil's Tiago Splitter, Latvia's Andris Biedrins and Brazil's (via BYU) Rafael Araujo. All of those big men could turn into special players down the road if a team can have a little patience. Knowing the Jazz the way we do, they'll have it.

Is Harris ready to leave Wisconsin?

By Chad Ford
NBA Insider
Send an Email to Chad Ford Friday, April 16

# Mock Lottery, Mock Draft: See 1,716 potential lottery scenarios

Also see: Team Needs | Who's in, who's out? | Top 10 by position

With the college season over and international tournament play heating up, here's our weekly look at who's in and out of the NBA draft and our weekly stock watch.

Who's In, Who's Out?


Devin Harris is a likely lottery pick if he decides to declare.
# Multiple league sources are claiming that Wisconsin's Devin Harris is now leaning toward declaring for the draft. This comes despite pretty serious pressure from the Wisconsin coaching staff for Harris to return for his senior season. It's going to be a tough call for Harris.

Right now Harris is projected as a late-lottery pick who should slip no further than the mid first round. Given the numerous teams in the lottery that need help at the point (Bobcats, Hawks, Clippers, Raptors, Cavs, Blazers) it's tough to see any scenario in which he slips out of the lottery.

However, Harris also knows that if he returns to Wisconsin next season, his team will be one of the best in the NCAA. He's been wavering back and forth on the decision, but sources say over the past week the draft has become the more realistic option. The fact that Harris started driving a new Mercedes around campus didn't help the speculation that he's gone. Harris claims that the car is his father's, though he has been exclusively driving it. Wasn't his father unemployed recently?

If he announces for the draft, Harris said he would probably not sign with an agent, which would give him the option of returning to college. "If that's what happens (declaring for the draft), that will probably be the route I take," he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "and if I like what I hear, then go ahead and sign with (an agent)."

# There's been a pretty major shake-up at the top of our draft list. We exclusively reported last Thursday that Lithuanian center Martynas Andriuskevicius, despite being projected at a top-five pick, was reluctant to enter the draft believing he wasn't ready to handle the rigors of the NBA.

Word came officially on Thursday to Insider, through Andriuskevicius's agency, Interperformance, that it's now unlikely that Martynas will even put his name in this year's draft. While Andriuskevicius could absolutely use another year of seasoning to add strength (he's still pretty skinny) and experience, it's pretty rare (and kind of refreshing) to see a kid pass up the chance to be a top-five pick so that he can improve his game. The fact that he's being trained by NBA great Arvydas Sabonis at his famous basketball institute in Lithuania means that he's being trained as well as any young rookie in the league.


Tiago Splitter
# Now, here's the good news for bummed out GMs. Interperformance has switched gears on another of its top prospects, Brazilian big man Tiago Splitter. Insider has learned that Splitter, a 6-10, 19-year-old big man playing for Tau Ceramica, will be in this year's draft.

The lack of an NBA buyout had most scouts believing that Splitter wouldn't be in this year's draft. However, a source at Interperformance told Insider that a buyout agreement with Tau is now in place.

Splitter had his coming out party in the Tournament of the Americas in Puerto Rico last summer. He got nice minutes against Team USA and looked like he belonged. He's also cracked the rotation for Tau, one of the top teams in Europe, which says something.

Splitter's got an NBA body, though he still needs to make it stronger. Most scouts agree that his defense is ahead of his offense right now. He's an excellent rebounder. He does have a nice handle and a good, but not great, jumper. He's very long. Scouts just aren't sure exactly what position he plays. Probably power forward, but he needs to improve his inside scoring if that's the case. He's a good, but not great, athlete. Scouts feel he's probably a little too slow-footed to play the three, which hurts his cause a little. Still, with a buyout in place, Splitter's got a great shot at the lottery.

# Splitter's not the only international big man flirting with the draft. University of Utah forward and Australian native Andrew Bogut is still flirting with declaring for the draft. He's had his advisors talking to several NBA clubs trying to get a read on his draft stock. Bogut dominated last summer at the World Junior Championships but had an up-and-down year for the Utes. Bogut turned down a huge contract overseas to play for the Utes and now appears to be regretting it. Sources claim that, even if he doesn't get a draft guarantee, he may leave Utah this summer, play overseas for a year, and then hit the draft again next year. If he were to declare right now, he's probably no higher than a late-first-round pick.

# North Carolina State guard Julius Hodge is returning to N.C. State for his senior season. Hodge had flirted with the draft, but he couldn't find anyone who could guarantee that he was a first-round pick. Hodge didn't want to informally declare for the draft and test his stock, so he decided to return for his senior season. Insider had him projected as a late-first-round pick. If Hodge gets stronger and has another great season, he could work himself into the mid first round next season. But there are always those ifs with college guys.

# The rumor de jour is that North Carolina recruit J.R. Smith is talking to several agents and appears to be heading to the draft. However, don't put him in just yet. Smith is skipping the Jordan Capital Classic to preserve his freshman eligibility in college. Smith has already played in the Roundball Classic and the McDonald's All-American game and can't play in another high school all-star tournament without risking his college eligibility next season.

# UConn recruit Rudy Gay continues to flirt with declaring for the draft but said on Thursday that it's more likely that he'll go to college in the fall. "Is there a possibility [of turning pro]? I believe there is. But I believe I could be a better player and also [raise] my stock by going to college. I'll think I'll be there [at UConn]," Gay told the Baltimore Sun.

# Thankfully, Michigan State forward Paul Davis announced this week that he will definitely be back for his junior season with the Spartans.

NBA Draft Stock Watch

Several top young international players took part in the in the Under 18 Championships in Croatia, Greece and Poland last week. Several more of them moved on to the Albert Schweitzer games in Mannheim, Germany this week. Who's helping their stock?

# Andris Biedrins of Latvia not only destroyed France's Johan Petro, dropping 21 points and 16 rebounds on the highly ranked star, he also had a 26-point, 20-board outing versus France and a 28-point, 11-rebound game against the Republic of Georgia in the under 18s. He finished third in scoring in the tournament with a 21.8 ppg average. He ranked first in rebounds averaging 14.4 rpg.


Johan Petro
# France's Johan Petro (who is rumored to be mulling a jump to the NBA) wasn't nearly as impressive. He ended up averaging 9.4 ppg and 7.4 rpg in the tournament. His best game came against Italy when he scored 14 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Sources continue to claim that Petro is considering declaring for the draft. Petro already has great athleticism and an NBA body, but is still considered very raw at this point, especially on the offensive end of the court.

# Lithuania's Martynas Andriuskevicius averaged 14.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg and three bpg. Scouts were very impressed with Martynas, but it's apparently not enough to push him into the draft.

# Another guy to watch is Puerto Rico's Peter John Ramos. Ramos has been on fire lately down in the professional league in Puerto Rico. On Wednesday night, in front of a nice contingent of scouts, Ramos dropped 30 points and had 20 boards against former NBA big man Stanley Roberts. Roberts was held to two points and four boards playing against Ramos.

Ramos, a 7-foot-3, 280-pound big man, is starting to draw significant interest from scouts. Insider watched several tapes of Ramos in recent games and he looks pretty impressive. He's huge, can run the floor and, at this point, is a little more polished than Pavel Podkolzine.

# Croatia's Damir Omerhodzic has worked out a buyout with his team (Cibona) and flew to the Cleveland last week to begin working out with trainer Eric Lichter. Lichter is the trainer who prepared LeBron James, Nene and Leandrino Barbosa for the draft. Omerhodzic (19) is a skilled, athletic big man with great range on his jumper and the ability to play both the four and the three.

However, scouts have major concerns about his body. He's very thin ("Ethiopian thin" according to one scout) and needs some major work on his body. Coming to Lichter may do wonders for his draft stock. Lichter will put him through rigorous strength training for the next few months in an effort to add some real muscle to his body.

The Future

# Several top international prospects not in this year's draft firmly established their stock for next season at the Under 18 Championships. Serbian forward Nemanja Alexsandrov continued to wow scouts, averaging 17.4 ppg and 10.6 rpg despite being just turning 17 on Saturday. Italian guard Marco Belinelli (6-foot-6) is being called the best Italian prospect ever. He averaged 26.2 ppg and was named along with Benetton's Manuchar Markoishvili as the top player of the tournament. Markoishvili (6-6) averaged 18.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg and 3.6 apg for the Republic of Georgia. Both players are just 18 years old. Georgian point guard George Tsintsadze (16 ppg, 4.2 apg), Greece's small forward Dusan Sakota (19.6 ppg), Turkey's forward Ersan Ilyasova (17.4 ppg, 9 rpg) and Serbia's combo guard Uros Tripkovic (15.2 ppg, 4.4 apg) all impressed scouts as well.

# In the Schweitzer games, China's Yi Jian Lian has redeemed himself after a so-so performance at the Hoop Summit. Yi is averaging 18.8 ppg, 10.3 rpg and 2.5 bpg in the tournament. Other top players include Ersan Ilyasova of Turkey (18 ppg), Serbia's Uros Tripkovic (17 ppg) and Nemanja Alexsandrov (16.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 2 bpg).

Dominant players rule NBA playoffs

By Terry Brown
NBA Insider
Friday, April 16
Updated: April 16
1:03 PM ET

With the 2004 NBA playoffs just one day away and the eventual champion being crowned in about two months, we have one question that begs to be asked before anyone makes their bold prediction on who will and won't win the title.

What came first . . . the MVP or the ring?

On June 15, 2003, Tim Duncan scored 21 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in an 88-77 victory to give the San Antonio Spurs the NBA title and himself the Finals MVP award after winning the regular-season MVP award.

The Nets had no one who averaged more than 20 in the series.

On June 12, 2002, Shaquille O'Neal scored 34 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as the Lakers defeated the Nets, 113-107, to win their third title in a row. O'Neal was named Finals MVP all three times.

The Nets had no one who averaged more than 22 in the series.

So . . . did the Spurs win the 2003 title, allowing Duncan to be named MVP, or did Duncan win the MVP and, as a result, the Spurs won the crown? I'll ask it one more time. Did the Lakers win the 2002 title before or after Shaq became the MVP?

This is more important than you think when we add in one more important statistic.


The playoffs are made for dominant players such as the Spurs' Tim Duncan.
Over the past 13 years in the NBA, the eventual Finals MVP has, on average, scored 28.3 points per game before ever beginning his playoff push. And each one is as easy to name as his team.

Michael Jordan. Hakeem Olajuwon. Tim Duncan. Shaquille O'Neal.

Count them again. There have been four different NBA champions in the last 13 years and only four different Finals MVPs. From 1991 until last year, there has always been one unmistakable, dominating force on the final day of NBA action.

This is no coincidence.

In this era, scoring is down for whatever reason, one-on-one play still dominates despite rule changes, and in a playoff series where opponents face one another night after night, the game more often than not grinds down to a shoving match between the two biggest bullies on the block.

You take away Shaq's drop step, he goes to the jump hook. You take away the jump hook, he goes to the turnaround jumper in paint. You take that away, then Derek Fisher or Steve Kerr or Sean Elliott or Mario Ellie are open for the 3-pointer and we can all pretend it's still a team game.

But this isn't synchronized swimming. We aren't making a quilt.

This is man stuff. This is ugly, smelly, four-letter-word kind of work. This is lugging a grand piano up a flight of stairs, and if you don't have someone at the bottom bearing the brunt of this load, then you're going to have splinters of enameled wood and ivory all over the place.

Of course, everyone deserves pizza at the top, but the guy with one hand on a leg holding the door open knows to get out of the way for the first and last slice.

Back in that 2002 championship run by the Lakers, O'Neal averaged 27.5 points per game during the regular season of the team's 110.4. During the playoffs, he averaged 28.5 points per game of the team's 97.8. And during the NBA Finals, he averaged 36.3 of the team's 106.

As the games got tougher, the MVP got better.

In the 2003 championship run of the Spurs, Duncan averaged 23.3 points per game during the regular season of the team's 95.8. During the playoffs, he averaged 24.7 of the team's 94.7. And during the Finals, Duncan averaged 24.1 points per game of the team's 87.8.

Check the math.

Duncan was 24.3 percent of the teams points during the regular season, 26 percent of it during the playoffs and 27.4 percent of it during the Finals.

Similarly, Shaq was 27.3 percent of his team's points during the regular season, 29.1 percent of it during the playoffs and 34.2 percent of it during the Finals.

You can almost see Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves nodding his head. Jermaine O'Neal and Baron Davis, too. Chris Webber, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce all know that their teams will only go as far as they take them. Heck, even Carmelo Anthony has already learned this after one season in the NBA.

MVPs claim NBA titles. Not the other way around.

Look it up. Despite posting huge numbers throughout their careers, Jordan, Olajuwon, Duncan and O'Neal all have higher scoring averages during the playoffs than they do during the regular season.

We say this because there are four teams in the NBA playoffs that do not have a scorer on their roster who averages even 20 points a game.

In descending order, they are Richard Jefferson (18.5 ppg) of the New Jersey Nets, Pau Gasol (17.7 ppg) of the Memphis Grizzlies, Richard Hamilton (17.6 ppg) of the Detroit Pistons and Yao Ming (17.5 ppg) of the Houston Rockets.

History says that for their teams to win the 2004 title, they are going to have to perform better during the playoffs than they have been able to during the regular season.

You can blame it on team make-up, chemistry, offensive schemes and game philosophy.

But the fact remains, the NBA title has been won by the best player on the floor and the best player on the floor is the MVP.

Peep Show

NBA Insider
Friday, April 16
Updated: April 16
11:22 AM ET


James
Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James isn't going to let the hype stop yet. "We can be great," he said in the Medina Gazette. "We surprised a lot of teams this year. I know there's a lot of teams that are happy we're not in the playoffs." And Zydrunas Ilgauskas isn't arguing one bit. "This team is making real progress and I obviously want to be a part of it," Ilgauskas said. "I've been here eight years and there have been a lot of hard times. It's rewarding to see what's happening now." Head coach Paul Silas seems to want him around, too. "His attitude has changed, he's a much more aggressive player now," said Silas. "He's blocking shots, getting offensive rebounds, staying in there battling. That's the biggest thing, he's learned how to battle. He'll never be a leaper or anything like that, but he'll be fine."

Dallas Mavericks: Steve Nash is making it very clear. "The playoffs," he said in the Dallas Morning News, "are about redemption for us." And Michael Finley is looking forward to it. "It's going to be a tough series, and it should be a fun one to watch," Finley said. "We would have liked a higher seed, but that's neither here nor there. So we move on and use the playoffs as a new season. For us, to get over the hump against Sacramento would [help] put a sub-par regular season behind us." But not too far behind. "I don't think they underachieved," head coach Don Nelson said. "I think everybody tried as hard as they could. We weren't as good as we had hoped."

Detroit Pistons: Paging Dr. Larry Brown. "I'm a little concerned about Rasheed [Wallace] and Mike [James]," head coach Larry Brown said in the Detroit News. "Chauncey [Billups] looked good. But Lindsey [Hunter] is struggling a little bit. Mike couldn't practice and Rasheed couldn't practice. We're lucky we're playing on Sunday." At least Billups agreed. "It felt pretty good, (although) I still can't really cut like I'd want to and push off," Billups said. "I'm happy with where it's at. At least I know I can play."


Szczerbiak
Minnesota Timberwolves: Forget the division title. Forget the Conference title. Wally Szczerbiak is just happy he can play again. "I play my best when I have a smile on my face on the court," Szczerbiak said in the Star Tribune. "You know, when you go through injuries, it is no fun. When you can't play the game you've loved all your life, it's no fun. But this? This is the most fun I've had in a Timberwolves uniform." And it shows. "I'm starting to play at a peak level," Szczerbiak said. "My legs feel really good, I feel really fresh. I want to carry this into the playoffs."

New York Knicks: That chip on Stephon Marbury's shoulder is getting heavier and heavier. "Being the competitor that he is, he wants that very badly," teammate Penny Hardaway said in the New York Daily News. "Seeing guys that got drafted with him - Kobe (Bryant) getting three championships, Allen Iverson taking the Sixers to the Finals that one year. And now being traded for Jason and Jason taking the Nets to the Finals the last couple years, maybe that bothers him because he wants that same thing. It should bother him. The only way to erase any of that (negative perception) is winning."

Utah Jazz: Compliments don't come easy from head coach Jerry Sloan, so the Jazz will take this one as it comes. "That's the most important thing for young players -- to believe that they can compete. Once you have that in the back of your mind, that you can do it, that gives you a bit of an upper hand to start off with," Sloan said in the Salt Lake Tribune. "I think sometimes this season we weren't quite sure we believed we belonged and weren't quite sure that we could win. When there's that little bit of doubt, it will cost you a game or two that might have been there to get you over the hump. At least they kept trying to get better." And he's already riding them for next year. "People think, 'Well, next year should be easier because it should be a better team.' I'm not sure of that because I don't know who we'll have here. "We kind of had a free ride this year," Sloan said. "We caught teams that weren't ready to play us and were looking for an easy time. I think for the most part our team played hard."

New Jersey Nets: Pistons, who? Pacers, when? "Everybody is talking about Indiana and Detroit," Jason Kidd said in the Newark Star Ledger. "But when it comes down to it, we think we're going to be one of those teams at the end." Even if they do have a brand new coach. "It's going to be new ground for me," Lawrence Frank said. "I don't want to be presumptuous to say what it's going to be like. At the same time, I don't think you can fear any circumstance. You have to look to embrace it and look forward to the opportunity."

* James: 'We can be great'
Rick Noland / Medina Gazette
* Redemption is buzzword for Mavs
Eddie Sefko / Dallas Morning News
* Pistons wary of injuries
Joanne C. Gerstner / Detroit News
* Szczerbiak, healthy and happy, entering playoffs
Kent Youngblood / Minneapolis Star Tribune
* 'Z' wants to stay with Cavs
Brian Dulik / Medina Gazette
* Steph has point to prove
Christian Red / New York Daily News
* Sloan enjoyed season, wants to return
Linda Hamilton / Deseret Morning News
* Frank making sure first time's a charm
Brad Parks / Newark Star-Ledger