Thursday, April 16, 2009

NBA A-Z: Revisited.

At the beginning of the NBA season, I did an A through Z preview of some things to look out for this season and what to expect. The regular season ended Wednesday night, and I wanted to take a look at how those expectations panned out. Some are still TBD, and I will revisit those again once the playoffs end in June. Orginal items will be in BOLD, with summaries in REGULAR print.

A is for Artest. Yes, Ron Artest, now with the Houston Rockets. Artest, T-Mac and Yao in the same lineup, that’s impressive. Artest himself said that with those three together, if they don’t win a title, it’s a failure. Let’s see how he adjusts to his new surroundings.
- Artest seems to have adjusted well in Houston. He finished the season with 17.1 ppg, 5.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He stepped it up when T-Mac went down for the year with a knee injury, and helped lead the Rockets to clinch the fifth seed in the ultra-competitive Western conference, and they open their first-round series against Portland this weekend.

B is for Boston. After a year in which the Pats went 16-0 in the regular season, the Red Sox won the World Series and the Celtics won the NBA title, the Patriots lost Tom Brady for the season (maybe longer), and the Sox were ousted from the playoffs by the normally futile Rays. Is this a bit of karma for the city of Boston?
- Karma indeed seems to have struck the city of Boston. What with the whole Brady injury (and Cassel trade), the Red Sox loss to the Rays and weak start to the 2009 season. The Celtics still managed to clinch the 2-seed in the East, but news today is that Kevin Garnett could be out for the playoffs, in which case, I don't like Boston's chances.

C is for CP3. Chris Paul is coming fresh off a breakthrough season. Can he be this year’s MVP, or more importantly, can he navigate his team through the Western Conference and into the NBA Finals after a semifinal loss to the Spurs?
-The Hornets managed to win 49 games this season, which somehow gets them the 7-seed out west, while it would have gotten them the 4-seed if they were still in Charlotte. Anyways, CP3 finished the season with almost 23 points, 11 assists and 3 steals per game, leading the league in the latter two. He will probably finish in the top five of MVP voting.

D is for D-Wade. Dwyane Wade is coming off of a turbulent season where the Heat went 15-67, and he underwent season-ending knee procedures. He looked like the best player on a stacked USA Olympic squad, and wants to prove to the league that he’s still the Flash from the 2006 NBA Finals.
- The Flash is most certainly back and better than ever. He led the league in scoring, at 30.2 points per game, and finished in the top 16 in steals, assists and blocks, something that's never been done before. Without his all-around performances this season, the Heat would likely have another lottery pick come this summer.

E is for Erik Spoelstra. Speaking of the Heat, this season they are being led by Erik Spoelstra, the youngest coach in the league, and the first Filipino-American head coach in the league. He’s got a lot of young talent to work with, with Wade, Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers. Throw in Shawn Marion and Udonis Haslem, and the Heat will definitely improve form last season’s disaster.
- Cross out Shawn Marion from that list of weapons and add Jermaine O'Neal and Jamario Moon to the core of Wade, Haslem and budding stars in Beasley and Chalmers, and you get a 43-win season and the 5-seed in the playoffs. Sounds like a good rookie season coaching for Coach Spo. He is definitely in the running for this season's Coach of the Year award.

F is for First Round, as in, the first round of the playoffs. Mentioning T-Mac again here, but can he make it past the first round now that he has Yao and Artest?
-If the Rockets manage to make it past Portland in the first round this coming week, it won't be because of McGrady, who went down for the season with a knee injury. His team might finally win a first-round series, but he will technically still have that blaring omission on his resume.

G is for Gregg Popovich and his beard, in all of its bushy glory. He’s been letting it grow all through the preseason, recently giving it a trim. I believe Tony Kornheiser has an over/under on how long it will get this season.
-Popp has been rocking the face-warmer all season, and it's still as glorious as it was at the beginning of the season.

H is for Hair. Joakim Noah, Ben Wallace, Anderson Varejao and now Robin Lopez are nominees for craziest hair in the league this year.
-I really have nothing to add to this, except that Anderson "The Chosen 2" Varejao needs to get rid of the Sideshow Bob look, now.

I is for Iguodala. Andre Iguodala and the 76ers reloaded with their new addition of Elton Brand in the front court. Can they be a threat in the East this year?
- Elton Brand went down early, and the other AI still managed to leade the 76ers in points and steals en route to a .500 record and the 6-seed in the Eastern conference.

J is for Jesus Shuttlesworth. Jesus Shuttlesworth, quite possibly the best name in basketball, ever. You may know him as Ray Allen though. So now that he and Kevin Garnett have their rings, do they become complacent? Or do they manage a repeat?
-Allen averaged 18 points per game this season and shot 41 percent from behind the arc. He helped step up when Garnett was out with injuries, and seems to not be too complacent. Though, he did tarnish his image earlier in the week when he tried to elbow Varejao in the groin. That's just a no-no, doing that to another man.

K is for Kapono. Jason Kapono, that is. He’s the two-time defending three-point shootout champion. Can he go for the threepeat at this year’s All Star Game?
- Down goes the champ. He was dethroned this All-Star break by Daequan Cook of the Heat, the team that Kapono was on when he won his first trophy. The third time was not a charm for Kapono.

L is for LeBron. Does this one really need an explanation? The man is the best driver of the basketball the league has ever seen, just ask Skip Bayless. With a solid point guard this year, this might be his year to make another run at a title.
-The King led his team to the best record in the league, and an absurd 40-2 record at home, all while putting up insane numbers that will probably win him the MVP this season. With the addition of Mo Williams, the Cavs improved their record by over 20 games this season. Not to mention, with KG likely out for the playoffs, this could be LeBron's chance to make a serious title run.

M is for Mamba, as in Black Mamba, as in Kobe Bryant. He’s a scoring assassin, and finally made it back to the NBA Finals without Shaq last season. Now he has Andrew Bynum healthy, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom filling out his front court.
-Another MVP-caliber season for Bryant, who led the Lakers to the best record in the west, and second best in the league behind the Cavs. They are the popular pick to make it to the NBA finals against LeBron and company. The ratings would be great for the league, no doubt.

N is for Nets. Sure, they’re impending move to Brooklyn has been pushed back, but this offseason they’ve been working on making cap space, moving Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson in the past year, probably preparing to make a run at the King James sweepstakes in a couple of seasons.
-The Nets finished the season 14 games under .500, but there certainly was a bright spot in breakout point guard Devin Harris, who they aquired for Jason Kidd at the end of last season. If you think LeBron is good with Mo Williams in Cleveland, imagine if the Nets reel James in next offseason and pair him up with Harris.

O is for Oden. Greg Oden, who has yet to play an NBA game since being the first overall draft pick in 2007. Is his presence going to push the youthful Trailblazers over the hump and into contention in the West? Oden can be a force for years to come, a true big man. You can’t teach being seven feet tall.
- The fragile big man missed another 21 games this season, averaging just 9 points and 7 rebounds for the season. Like I said, his team is still in the playoffs, but Oden has yet to emerge like the Blazers expected when they drafted him No. 1 overall in the 2007 draft.

P is for Playoffs, as in Western Conference Playoffs. There are eight playoff spots in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, and ten high quality teams: Lakers, Spurs, Hornets, Jazz, Blazers, Warriors, Rockets, Mavs, Suns and Nuggets. How many wins will it take to clinch a berth this season, and who will be the odd men out?
-The simple answer to that question is: Phoenix and Golden State. Phoenix missed out by just a couple of games, while the Warriors managed only 29 wins, missing out by 19 games. Yikes.

Q is for Question of the Year: Is Pat Riley really done coaching? He handpicked his successor this time around (Spoelstra) just like he did last time he stepped down from the Heat’s head coaching position (Van Gundy). But have we seen the last of the Armani suits and slicked back hair on the sidelines, or will Riley usurp Spoelstra’s position at the first sign of promise, like he did to Van Gundy.
-Another simple answer: No. A pleasant surprise to myself and other Heat fans.

R is for Rookie of the Year. So many quality candidates this season: Michael Beasley, Derrick Rose, O.J. Mayo, and let’s not forget that Oden is technically still a rookie, despite being drafted in 2007. Can the 2007 draft class win a second Rookie of the Year award, or will the 2008 class hold off Oden and claim what's rightfully their's?
-The 2007 draft class will not nab another ROY trophy, that's for sure. The award is probably going to end up in the possession of Rose, with Mayo likely finishing a distant second.

S is for Sir Charles. Charles Barkley recently said in an interview that he would consider running for governor of Alabama, here at 4th and Fail, I would vote for him, but then I wouldn’t be able to listen to his priceless rhetoric with EJ and Kenny on TNT all season. The Round Mound of Rebound, what a knucklehead. We look forward to another great year of quotes from you, Chuck.
-Sir Charles was in the news a lot this new year, as he was pulled over for a DUI, suspended from TNT and served a brief jail sentence. The All-Star break was not the same without him, I admit. However, despite all his gaffs and ridiculous one-liners, my favorite "Chuck" moment of the season was when he owned up to what he did and accepted full blame for the situation.

T is for Thunder. Yes, the Oklahoma City Thunder. So long Seattle, we’ll miss all those cuts from the cameramen of the fish markets in town. Will this change of scenery really help Kevin Durant and Co.?
-Year one in OKC: 23-59. Not so great. However, their young core, led by Kevin Durant did show some signs of promise, as Durant is becoming a scoring machine. Another lottery pick can only benefit this young team.

U is for Usurping. We just want to reiterate the fact that we are convinced that Riley will undoubtedly replace Spoelstra as soon as the Heat begin to succeed.
- Again, reiterating my answer from the letter Q: No. To the pleasant surprise of myself and many other Heat fans.

V is for Vinny Del Negro. How does the first year Bulls coach do this season? Can he lead a talented young group, led by Rose and Ben Gordon into the Eastern Conference’s elite?
-Not quite in the conference's elite, however Del Negro did help lead the Bulls to the 7-seed in the east. Unfortunately for them, that means they face the defending champs in the opening round.

W is for Win. Who will walk away this season as champions? Can the aging Spurs pull off another run, for their fifth title since 1999?
-This is one of those things that remains to be seen. Check back with me in June, but my bet is that the Spurs won't pull their fifth in 10 years with Manu Ginobili out with an ankle injury. But that's just my guess.

X is for X-Factor. Yes, we’re talking about James Posey. Everybody seems to be making such a big deal of his move to New Orleans with the Hornets. Yes, he was a key contributor to two of the last three NBA Championship squads. Can he do it again this year with Chris Paul and company?
- Again, this one is to be determined. However, Posey averaged 9 points and 5 rebounds off the bench for the Hornets. Check back again in June to see if he played a role in deciding this season's champion, for the third year in a row.

Y is for Youth Movement. With stars like Shaq, Tim Duncan, Allen Iverson, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen all aging, is it time the league’s youth movement truly takes over with the likes of LeBron, Wade, Oden, Paul, Rose, Beasley, Mayo, Deron Williams, etc.
-The Youth Movement seems to be in full effect, led by the likes of LeBron, Wade and Paul. Of the againg stars mentioned above, Shaq missed the playoffs, Iverson ended his season early with a bad back, Garnett will likely be out for the playoffs and Duncan and Allen are still chugging along.

Z if for Zero, as in Agent Zero: Gilbert Arenas. When he does make his eventual return to the court for the Wizards, will he be the Agent Zero of old, or will he have a tough time recovering from knee surgeries?
-Arenas played in just two games at the end of the season, averaging 13 points and 10 assists. We won't know until next season how well he has come back from those injuries. Even worse news: Arenas has retired from blogging, something that he was very good at. His was one of the most entertaining celebrity blogs on the Web.

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