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Thread: 2004-02-24

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    Default 2004-02-24

    Can the Blazers or Sonics crack the top eight?
    By Chad Ford
    NBA Insider
    Send an Email to Chad Ford Tuesday, February 24

    Change can be a beautiful thing, especially if you're one of
    thousands of Blazers fans watching Blazers GM John Nash conduct a
    DEA raid on the scourge of the city.

    In a matter of months the Jail Blazers are no more. No Rasheed
    Wallace to scapegoat. No Bonzi Wells and his demonic flying spit
    bombs to dodge. No Jeff McInnis to deliver the daily dose of
    pouting.


    Time is running out for coach Maurice Cheeks and the Blazers.
    Maurice Cheeks is smiling once again. Giggling, in fact, when he
    hears his new star, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, is willing to come off the
    bench in an effort to protect the fragile ego of Zach Randolph.
    Damon Stoudamire and Dale Davis are suddenly on their best behavior.
    Theo Ratliff is swatting shots in ways that haven't been seen in
    Portland in a decade. Darius Miles is flying through the rafters the
    way he once did in with the Clippers.

    Everything is fine now in Portland . . . almost. There is that
    tricky 20-season string of playoff appearances at stake. In the
    midst of the massive clean-up project, has anyone bothered to look
    up at the standings?

    If you have, you need to focus pretty hard off into the distance to
    see the Nuggets, Rockets and Grizzlies racing off with the last
    three playoff spots in the West. All three teams are playing well
    right now. None are showing any signs of slowing down.

    The Blazers may have finally fixed what's wrong in the locker room,
    community and even on the floor -- but is it too late to keep the
    playoff streak intact?

    Blazer fans probably won't like the answer. The good news is that
    they have a plethora of experience dealing with bad news.
    Today, Insider breaks down the playoff hunt in the West. Barring
    some sort of major collapse or injury by a team, chances are things
    will be wrapped up here in the next few weeks.

    1. Sacramento Kings

    Projected Record: 60-22
    Current Record: 40-14 (No. 1)

    Vlade Divac is averaging more assists per game than most of the
    point guards in the league (an amazing 10.2 apg over his last five).
    Brad Miller is right behind him. Peja Stojakvoic has been hearing
    M-V-P chants in the distance. Mike Bibby has a new swagger in his
    step this year. And did we mention in six games Chris Webber is
    coming back from season-long injury exile? The Kings are clicking
    right now, and while their window appears to be closing, this team
    looks poised to go all the way this year.

    2. Minnesota Timberwolves

    Projected Record: 59-23
    Current Record: 40-16 (No. 2)

    When the smoke clears, Kevin Garnett, if he can keep it up, will be
    the league's MVP this year. Not only has he turned in yet another of
    the most complete performances the NBA has ever seen, he's been a
    leader this year, setting a tone for veterans like Sam Cassell and
    Latrell Sprewell that has brought the best out of both of their
    games. Now that Wally Szczerbiak and Michael Olowokandi are finally
    back, Flip Saunders has 26 games to try to meld them into the mix.
    It may produce a few rough spots along the way, but the ultimate
    prize is June and for the first time in his career Garnett seems to
    have a supporting cast that can get him out of the first round.

    3. Los Angeles Lakers

    Projected Record: 53-29
    Current Record:35-19 (No. 4)

    We we're premature to give them the NBA championship before the
    season even started and we're just as premature to write them off
    after things haven't gone as planned. The reality is that when the
    Lakers are healthy, there isn't a more formidable starting five in
    the NBA. But balance that with the other reality facing the Lakers,
    so much turmoil and so little time actually spent playing together,
    will a team emerge or are the Lakers just a nice collection of great
    players each trying to get their own?

    4. San Antonio Spurs

    Projected Record: 52-30
    Current Record: 37-19 (No. 3)

    It seems like the Spurs are step behind this year. They miss Stephen
    Jackson. They miss David Robinson. Rasho Nesterovic, Robert Horry
    and Hedo Turkoglu have been solid replacements, but the magic isn't
    there this year. The Spurs will always be dangerous contenders as
    long as Tim Duncan is breathing, but their shots at repeat don't
    look great right now.

    5. Dallas Mavericks

    Projected Record: 51-31
    Current Record: 35-20 (No. 5)

    Too much of a good thing? That seems to be what plagues the Mavs. We
    said at the start of the season that if they found a way to jel,
    they could end up with the best record in the league. So far they've
    found ways to co-exist . . . but the cohesion still isn't there.
    There's something about this team that just isn't right, and if Don
    Nelson doesn't figure it out soon, he'll be the fall guy. I've got a
    hint for him. Tell Antoine and Antawn to give Nowitzki the ball.
    When he's on fire, no one can stop the Mavs. When he's standing in
    the corner watching Antoine chuck up 3s, the whole team really goes
    to waste.

    6. Memphis Grizzlies

    Projected Record: 48-34
    Current Record: 34-22 (No. 6)

    Jerry West has outdone himself here. If the Grizzlies keep up this
    pace, shouldn't we just rename the executive of the year award after
    him? West has quietly and subtly turned the Grizzlies from the most
    hapless franchise in the league into a solid basketball team in a
    little over a year. They play hard (at home, and more importantly on
    the road), have a cool style and have numerous assets to pawn off
    this summer in search of a true superstar. No one wants to play this
    team in the first round of the playoffs. I can't think of a higher
    compliment to West than that.

    7. Denver Nuggets

    Projected Record: 46-36
    Current Record: 32-26 (No. 8)

    Speaking of great front office work, Kiki Vandeweghe's Nuggets are
    right up there with West's Grizzlies. The Nuggets were the worst
    team in the league last year and are now fighting for a sixth seed
    in the West. Unbelievable. They've done it with great play from
    rookie Carmelo Anthony and solid contributions from role players
    like Andre Miller, Voshon Lenard, Marcus Camby and Nene Hilario. The
    future is bright in Denver, and for the first time in a long time,
    that includes an earlier-than-expected visit to the playoffs.

    8. Houston Rockets

    Projected Record: 46-36
    Current Record: 32-23 (No. 7)

    Jeff Van Gundy took the keys out of Steve Francis' hand and put them
    in Yao's. The results were shaky early on but lately, Van Gundy
    looks pretty wise. Yao is starting to explode. In February he's
    averaging 20.8 ppg and 8.1 rpg on 58 percent shooting from the
    field. Francis has really had to tone down his game to make it
    happen, but the results of late have been pretty impressive. I still
    think that the Rockets are actually the weakest team of the lot, but
    with a big seven-game lead over the Blazers, they should be able to
    fight them off for the final playoff spot in the West. It would take
    a 19-8 run by the Blazers to get by the Rockets if they win 46 games
    this year.

    Around the League

    Will Mehmet want to stay? Pistons president Joe Dumars has already
    gone on record claiming that he wants to re-sign Mehmet Okur and
    Rasheed Wallace this summer. To do it Dumars is either going to have
    to clear more cap room or convince one of them to take Detroit's
    mid-level exception.

    If Okur agreed to a starting salary of around $5.5 million a year
    (or whatever the mid-level exception turns out to be), the Pistons
    could exercise their early Bird rights on Okur, giving Okur the
    flexibility to opt out next summer when he had his full Bird rights
    and would be able to sign for a much bigger number.

    But what if he doesn't want to sign at all? With Wallace coming in,
    taking minutes and playing a similar style of game is it possible
    Okur, who's always had a great relationship with the Pistons, wants
    out if Rasheed is in the Pistons' long-term future?

    "It's really too early to know Mehmet's options this summer," Marc
    Fleisher, Okur's agent, told Insider. "I think we'll be looking very
    carefully at the role he plays and the minutes he gets for the rest
    of the season. He's happy in general with his situation in Detroit
    but I think he needs to understand what his role will be in the
    future before he re-signs."

    Fleisher claims that a "number" of teams are interested in Okur at
    contracts that exceed the mid-level exception. Insider talked to two
    GMs who spoke about his prospects this summer on condition of
    anonymity.

    "He'll be in a tough position," one GM said. "Everybody likes him
    and he's a good fit on several teams who really need a mobile big
    man. But at what price? His numbers suggest that a salary right
    around the mid-level is probably too high. Now that everyone knows
    the Pistons can match, I think teams will shy away from making him a
    priority. You don't want to overpay and even if you do, the Pistons
    probably match."

    Probably may be an understatement. Dumars told Insider over the
    weekend that the Pistons will match "any offer" for Okur.
    However another GM still thinks other teams will make a run.

    "Several teams have so much cap room I think they'd be willing to
    risk it," another GM told Insider. "What you'd try to do is force
    the Pistons hand early. If Rasheed has a big year there, there will
    be a lot of pressure on Dumars to re-sign him."

    All of this for a young 7-footer averaging just 10 points and 6.6
    rebounds per game? Absolutely.

    "Okur is going to be a star in the league," one scout told Insider.
    "I really believe that. He's so tough and mobile and he's a good
    rebounder. Teams need size and this guy really has the whole
    package. It's just a matter of time before he breaks out."

    Brown, Arenas feuding: The losses are taking their toll in
    Washington and Kwame Brown, of all people, has had it. Brown put
    together a string of impressive performances while Gilbert Arenas
    sat on the injured list. Since Arenas has returned, Brown's numbers
    have been all over the board.

    After a game against Bucks game on Sunday in which Brown got just
    four shots, he blasted his teammates for not passing the ball.
    "To me, it seems like guys are going out just to get numbers. . . .
    If you look at the little bit of wins we do have, we have 20-plus
    assists," Brown told the Washington Post. "In games where we're
    getting killed, we have one guy with okay numbers, but he's
    shooting. We don't pass the ball, we don't share, we don't play like
    a team. We got guys whining and complaining about offense and that's
    not basketball. It makes me sick."

    The dig appeared to be directed at Arenas, who wasn't happy when he
    heard the quote.

    "Everybody's getting the same amount of touches," Arenas told the
    Post. "If you ain't converting, you ain't converting. Last time I
    checked, I passed [Brown] the ball six, seven times. He passed it to
    somebody else, right under the basket. So, I don't know where he's
    coming from with that. I guess he didn't have 20 tonight."

    Coach Eddie Jordan wasn't happy when he heard the comments, but
    Brown claims that something had to be said and no one else was
    saying it.

    "It can't come from me," Brown said Sunday night. "People don't
    respect me. I'm a third-year guy. It's got to come from a coach.
    We've got guys in here seven-, six-year vets. They've got to step up
    to the plate."

    Arenas agreed, though, with just two-and-half seasons of experience
    himself, he isn't the seven- or six-year vet Brown is referring to.
    "This is our job," Arenas said. "We have to come out and play hard
    every minute we're out there. It has nothing to do with the coaching
    staff. It has nothing to do with anything. Individually you have to
    do what it takes to stay focused for 48 minutes."

    Ainge blames weather, media, style of play for Celtics' woes:
    Celtics vice president Danny Ainge is under fire, and he's grasping
    for an explanation as to why he broke up a playoff team and turned
    it into lottery fodder this year. The fact that the Celtics never
    had a real shot to win a title (which is true) is probably enough of
    an excuse. But Ainge has tried that line of thinking and no one
    seems satisfied. On Monday he came up with a more interesting
    explanation.

    "I got a lot of feedback last year in my conversations with players
    and agents, and they told me some interesting things," Ainge told
    the Boston Herald. "They told me they didn't like the way the
    Celtics play and they didn't like the weather and the media and fan
    pressures in Boston. And guys just didn't like a team that had
    players that didn't share the ball. Those were the sad realities of
    what I discovered when I took over this team last summer.

    "So I figured there's nothing I can do about the weather and nothing
    I can do about the media scrutiny, but we can do something about the
    style of play. We have to create an environment that people want to
    come to."

    Ainge claims he believes that a team can win an NBA title by
    running. He's trying to put a style in place that's attractive to
    players who want to do that.

    "Realistically, we're not going to recruit the best players in free
    agency," Ainge told the Herald. "We're not going to be able to get
    Shaq or Tim Duncan or Kevin Garnett, but there are a lot of players
    you can get in our price range that have four or five or more teams
    wanting them. Then it becomes a matter of the things we've talked
    about, and I was finding the Celtics weren't their first choice.
    They weren't the second choice. They weren't the third choice.

    "The young players of today don't know who Cedric Maxwell and Tommy
    Heinsohn and Bob Cousy were. The 16 championship banners just don't
    mean enough. These guys want to go somewhere where they can play a
    style of basketball that's going to fit them. They also want to be
    on a winning team and a team that plays unselfish and a team that
    plays exciting basketball.

    "There's not a player that you've ever asked what kind of team they
    wanted to play for and had them say, 'I want to play on a defensive
    team that walks the ball up the court.' There's not one player I've
    ever met who says that.''

    Can Ainge get all of that by blowing up the team? The same players
    who like to push the ball are usually the ones who like to hog it
    too. Adding guys like Ricky Davis, who has a big-time selfish
    reputation, doesn't appear to fit the mold.

    Divac gives an assist: Has any center in the NBA racked up more
    assists than Vlade Divac has in a five-game period? Divac is
    averaging 10.2 apg in the last five games and an amazing 8.3 apg for
    the entire month of February. We did some digging and couldn't find
    a center in the last decade who had such a hot streak passing the
    ball.

    Divac may be 36 years old, but the way he's playing someone will
    throw some money his direction this summer when he becomes a free
    agent. That stat is just too good to be true.
    Why do the things that we treasure most, slip away in time
    Till to the music we grow deaf, to God's beauty blind
    Why do the things that connect us slowly pull us apart?
    Till we fall away in our own darkness, a stranger to our own hearts
    And life itself, rushing over me
    Life itself, the wind in black elms,
    Life itself in your heart and in your eyes, I can't make it without you


  2. #2
    Administrator/ The Real Jay ChicagoJ's Avatar
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    Default Re: 2004-02-24

    In progress...
    That's a tough read. Thanks for posting!
    Well, I didn't want us both to be wrestling with the copy/ paste/ format at the same time.
    Why do the things that we treasure most, slip away in time
    Till to the music we grow deaf, to God's beauty blind
    Why do the things that connect us slowly pull us apart?
    Till we fall away in our own darkness, a stranger to our own hearts
    And life itself, rushing over me
    Life itself, the wind in black elms,
    Life itself in your heart and in your eyes, I can't make it without you


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