Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Straight From The Rook #13

Mat MacDonald AKA The Rook The Rook is currently enrolled in Human Kinetics at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. A frequent contributor to all NBA and Raptors debates along with other sports. Witty, quick and never afraid of a challenge, Mat's here to talk hoops with you and dish out his two cents whenever!

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Christmas Joy in the NBA

Who are we kidding, everyone enjoys a present or two for Christmas. Iʼm sure youʼre probably thinking this is your year to get something nice from Santa. Itʼs been too long right?

Tired of the socks and peanuts in the stockings. Itʼs time for a new car, a winning lottery ticket or even the pony youʼve always wished for! Ok, like I said who are we kidding, you arenʼt getting any of those. But everyone wants something.

Since itʼs the season of giving and receiving it only seems fitting to BREAKDOWN every NBA teamʼs needs coming into the New Year. Now, donʼt forget the rule: If youʼre nice you get what you want, if youʼre naughty you get the New Jersey Nets.

That being said, letʼs take a look at what should be on everyoneʼs wish list for December 25th.

Atlanta (18-12, 4th East): Remember in the summer when everyone wondered who was going to sign where and what big name free-agents were going to take off for new teams? It was assumed that Joe Johnson would fly from Atlanta after the Hawks made a few early exits from the playoffs and showed very little effort in actually improving their team.

Instead, the Hawks offered Johnson the max he could make in money and years, literally threw it at him and closed the doors on their summer after the signing.

Are you kidding? For Christmas the Hawks need a lot. They need some flavor. Jamal Crawford doesnʼt know what heʼs playing for anymore, Mike Bibby needs an even bigger headband for that hair line and Joe Johnsonʼs just doing what he does. If history remains true, the Hawks wonʼt be going anywhere deep in the playoffs regardless of coaching changes and more Crawfords added to the team. Itʼs not happening.

What do they need?

The Hawks need one more big name player, someone that can score off the wing and take some of the outside scoring off JJ and Crawford. Until then, Hawks fans - those who actually go to the games - better be content with winning the division.

Boston (22-4, 1st East): If youʼre a green fan and you arenʼt smiling, youʼre the Grinch. The Celtics have brought life back to the city of hope and thereʼs no reason that the good times are anywhere near slowing down. The Green Monster resides at Fenway Park, but the real Green Monster dawns a Celtics jersey. Shaq has been a monster when heʼs played for Boston. The Celtics have that swagger Shaq carries to every team - fun, easy going and straight to business - and it looks like theyʼre the real team to beat in the East, not the group assembled by the Blues Brothers down in Miami.

What do the Celtics need? Health. If the core of the green can stay healthy, thereʼs no doubt that Boston takes top spot in the East and cruises through the playoffs to the finals. Thereʼs no team that can stop the depth of the Celtics right now. If Rajon Rondo continues to dish out assists at the rate heʼs going (13.8 per game) then he will without a doubt be a top vote getter for this yearʼs MVP award.

Charlotte (9-18, 11th East): Last year things looked bright in gloomy Charlotte. Not only was MJ leading a team that was actually winning, but the Bobcats looked like a strong developing team. Gerald Wallace made his campaign worthy of an All-Star appearance and Raymond Felton made his mark as a premier point-guard in the league. Since then times have changed.

Ray Ray moved on to New York and Wallace continues to hold down the fort in Charlotte but with little help. Last season the Bobcats were fierce on the defensive end, making teams struggle from all over the floor to buy a bucket.

This year itʼs like thereʼs a Macyʼs discount and everyone gets a pop at a bucket. Currently they allow 97.5 PPG which puts them 13th in the league while they only manage to score 92 PPG. Tops in the NBA goes to Miami who allows a league low 91.5 PPG. If the Bobcats want to make any push at being who they were last year, they need more of a presence at the point-guard position and in the post. Santa canʼt be too kind with what he gives the boys in orange. At this point, they need anything - even their owner to suit up one more time. Ok, maybe not.

Chicago (16-9, 3rd East): Ok, thereʼs not much to say on the Bulls. Theyʼre actually a really good team despite the record. Itʼs a little deceiving when not one player can be healthy long enough to put together any sort of chemistry. Derrick Rose is having another great campaign (23 PPG, 8 APG, 4 RPG) which is keeping Chicago floating right now atop the Central. With a healthy roster and front court the Bulls can be deadly.

Off-season acquisition Carlos Boozer is averaging 18 points and eight rebounds in his first ten games of the season which is around his career averages, but youʼd have to think with a healthy roster his numbers could rise from all the looks heʼll receive. What does Chicago need? Same as Boston - health.

Cleveland (8-20, 13th East): You didnʼt expect to see them all the way down here? Wait, you thought LeBron was coming back too? Well those times have come and gone and now Clevelandʼs sitting with a lot of gaps to fill.

Letʼs face it, the Cavs have a solid group of role-players who were meant to sit around LeBron and blow out fake birthday candles in pre-game dance routines, but with his exit, the Cavs find themselves at the bottom looking up.

What do they need? Right now the Cavs need a player looking to find himself again the league. The names Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson come to mind right away. Both guys are trying to prove that they can still play the game at a high level, and while one may only be able to play a full game without pain, both are still talented and have a strong hunger inside them to be the best.

A superstar that could come back to Cleveland and revive the lost souls could be something Cavs fans really need. Mind you, a ten game losing streak doesnʼt help either. If weʼre looking for moral victories thereʼs no doubt that Cleveland hosted the loudest season game of the year to

Dallas (22-5, 2nd West): What more can be said about the Mavs? They own the second best record in the Western Conference right now and thereʼs a good chance they could be atop the West by the All-Star break. Once again the Mavs are being lead by Dirk Nowitzki (24 Pts, 7 Rbs) and things look bright in Texas.

Jason Terry has proven to be a killer again averaging 16 points off the bench, and a much needed inside presence of Tyson Chandler - remember him Raptors fans - has helped solidify the paint for the Mavs. The ongoing question in Dallas is how long can this last?

Every year the Mavs seem to make some sort of push as one point in the season and usually come in as pretty strong favorites to go deep into the Western playoff bracket. Yet, every year they fall just short, or blow a two game lead in a fixed NBA Finals. Regardless, if you havenʼt already said it you might as well get it out of the way and say it now.

The Mavs look like this is their year. What do they need? I wouldnʼt say too much. Right now their core is strong, the bench looks good and everything is clicking. The big thing for Dallas is keeping their front-court healthy. Chandler canʼt afford to go down with any sort of injury or else Dallas is in big trouble.

Averaging near career best numbers this season (8.5 PPG, 9.2 RPG) Chandler finds himself on yet another thriving team looking to make a big splash in the playoffs. Maybe it wasnʼt just Chris Paul that made him after all?

Denver (16-10, 6th West): My big question is why? Why would Carmelo want to leave Denver? Thereʼs a great core of players around him right now, a premier guard in Chauncey Billups, and some solid pieces in that puzzle that make the Nuggets a threat all the time. The contemplation of a move wonʼt make it any easier for Melo to win a ring.

The East has developed greatly over the past two seasons, and the West is continuing to get better. At this point itʼs safe to say that if you arenʼt putting together some sort of super-team, then you arenʼt going to find yourself deep in any playoff picture. That being said, one more piece in Denver may make Melo put the pen on the paper and agree to that contract extension.

All of this talk has made it impossible to focus on basketball. The worst thing is, theyʼre actually a good team! What Denver needs for Christmas is everyone to back off their team and stop talking trades. Until something is done and on paper, the media and everyone else around the organization needs to take a few steps back and enjoy the product thatʼs being put out on the floor every night.

You never know how lucky you are until somethingʼs gone.

Detroit (9-19, 12th East): A few years ago this Pistons team wouldʼve looked like a lock for a deep run into the playoffs. The reality of the situation now is that theyʼre just too old. The old Pistons teams were known for their hard-nosed play and defensive efforts. This year the Pistons are allowing just over 100 points per game putting them 17th overall in the league.

Their struggles to score at times come as a shock to some considering names like Gordon, Hamilton, Prince and Villanueva dawn a blue and red jersey. Joe Dumars has to do something to shake up this roster. Unlike the Celtics, the Pistons canʼt keep going back to what made them a solid team back in the early 2000ʼs.

Players like Tracy McGrady are only taking up space at this point, especially with the depth at the wing position. The Pistons donʼt have room for heros at this point and a few names on their bench need to be shipped off to start a new culture in the Motor City.

What they need most for Christmas is an overhaul and perhaps a change in the GM. Thereʼs no doubt that the Pistons have the potential on paper to be a solid team, but at this point Iʼm a lot more nervous reading Charlie Vʼs tweets than I am as an opposing player playing against him on any given night.

Golden State (9-18, 12th West): Itʼs the same story every year for the Warriors. They continue to score 100+ points a night, but they just canʼt do it on the defensive end. Youʼd think the addition of David Lee may provide some sort of punch in the paint and stop opposing teams from abusing their defense but thatʼs far from the truth.

The Warriors sit fourth from the bottom in points allowed (106.82) but what would you expect when Monta Ellis and Steph Curry are your two starting guards? Their best defense is their offense, but in the Western Conference, a conference dominated by strong durable teams, that makes the Warriors chances of landing a playoff spot as small as Gary Coleman on his biggest days.

The Warriors need something, anything, a spark. They have the offensive punch, but they need that desire to play on the defensive end.

Maybe Santa can provide that kick in the pants? I digress...

Houston (13-15, 10th West): Really, this is a great start to the season for the Rockets. Kevin Martin is proving that he can take a team and put them on his shoulders while the Rockets battle injuries, but the question remains: When will Houston finally be a complete team? With Yao out for the season and probably forever, the Rockets need to move on once again.

A team riddle with injury woes, the Rockets have never been on the right end of a situation when itʼs come to medical issues.

Look back a few years when the dynamic duo of McGrady and Yao was supposed to take over the league and win more games than any Rocketsʻ team had ever done in the past. Now we look at the Rockets and think of what could have been.

The Rockets need another big name player that doesnʼt carry around a medical checklist. The free-agent market hasnʼt been kind to Houston, but a possible trade at the deadline to unload some cap room and pick up a player looking to play out a contract may be a good look for the Rockets.

For such poor circumstances, one can only hope that things turn around for Houston.

Indiana (13-14, 7th East): Letʼs face it. If you have a record around .500, youʼre in the playoffs in the East. But the truth is the Pacers actually arenʼt that bad this year. A solid guard duo in Collison and Granger has proven to give teams fits early on. A few big wins including one over Miami put Indiana on the map early and turned more attention on the Pacers since Ron...we wonʼt go there.

The truth is, since the infamous ʻMalice in the Palaceʻ the Pacers franchise has never been the same. While fans still try to forget the dark days, additions like Collison are a bright point in the future of the franchise. What Indiana needs right now is something that takes them over the top. The word is consistency.

With that the sky is literally the limit for the Pacers. Theyʼre young enough that they can build, but the question is right now, how long will it take them? An appearance in the playoffs this season could be a positive step through the door.

Los Angeles (Balancing the West): What? Balancing the West? What the hell is this idiot talking about? Well itʼs true, Los Angeles really is balancing the West. The Lakers currently sit third from the top at 21-7 while the Clippers sit third from the bottom at 8-21. Itʼs such a story of two completely different franchises.

The Lakers have added he pieces theyʼve needed through the years to make them even more competitive without disturbing their core while the Clippers continue to make bonehead moves and moves that seem to disrupt the franchise more than an owner yelling at his own players.

Breaking down the best from both teams, the Lakers look poised to make another Finals appearance while the Clippers look poised to enter the lottery again. Not all is bad in Clipper land though. Blake Griffin is a monster. His stats have been put up over and over.

The only reason we arenʼt posting them here is for fear that he may decide enough is enough and come out of his shell and go for a 50/50 game.

I wouldnʼt put it past him. The kidʼs a straight beast. That being said one player doesnʼt win championships, and in two years time the most compelling story in sports wonʼt be who has the hottest Kardashian sister on the block, but which team Blake Griffin will be looking at playing for. If youʼre a Clippers fan you better start your campaign now.

Memphis (12-16, 11th West): Iʼm tired of the Griz. Honestly, get your stuff straight! O.J. Mayo is a player, he can ball, but donʼt play head games with someone who already has enough mental issues as it is. Xavier Henry is good, but not good enough to be taking time from Mayo. At this point if Memphis wants to make any sort of push at making a run this season to the playoffs, they need to focus on creating some sort of stability in their franchise and avoid these distractions.

Rudy Gay is having another solid campaign, but really the Grizzlies need so much more than just him to have any fighting chance at the eighth spot come May. Zach Randolph is another name that always floats around. Will they sign him, will they let him go? Zeebo puts up numbers for a big man, plus heʼs still agile - he just looks like he plays video games all day.

Honestly, right now the Grizzlies just need to put it all together. They have all the pieces but no picture of their puzzle to build from. Hopefully it happens sooner than later. Santa needs to deliver them a kick in the backside.

Miami (21-9, 2nd East): If you havenʼt realized the Heat arenʼt going to win 72 games by now then realize it. Besides that, theyʼre actually a pretty good team. They rank at the top of the NBA in points allowed (91.4) and things look a lot better than they did in the first 15 games of the season for Miami. The key to the Heatʼs success lies in the hands of LeBron James who is secretly nearing close to averaging a triple-double (24 PPG, 7 APG, 6.5 RPG).

James is the floor general of the team, but his on and off style of aggression this season has raised serious uproar by some saying that James needs to stop playing this good guy and just take over games like the rest of the world knows he can.

Dwayne Wade is a scorer (23.5 PPG) and Bosh has proven to be a solid big for the three-headed monster, but will that cut it for the Heat?

What they need for Christmas is a reality check. Itʼs time to start putting in young talent around these three -guys that just want to get out there and work. Itʼs great when youʼre surrounding
LeBron, Wade and Bosh with vets like Haywood and Howard, but the reality is they arenʼt going to be around for much longer. As for the point-guard position, I stand by it today that the starting point-guard right now for the Heat should be Sebastian Telfair.

Thereʼs a player whoʼs career never really got going because he was put on teams where he didnʼt have the assets to use properly. Put him on this Miami squad and I promise heʼs not only on the floor for a while but averages double-digit assist numbers.

Milwaukee (10-16, 9th East): If youʼre a Raptors fan then you love injuries to the Bucks. Sitting out of a playoff spot right now, the Bucks just took another hard hit losing Brandon Jennings for 4-6 weeks with a broken foot. Injuries have cut the Bucks every year.

Last year Andrew Bogut had that horrific arm injury that kept him out during the playoffs, and this year it looks like Milwaukee will be playing catchup for most of the season.

What they need more than anything right now is someone that can score big numbers on a nightly basis. Corey Maggette just doesnʼt cut it anymore - or ever.

Minnesota (6-23, 14th West): Two huge facts for the T-Wolves to date: They have the toughest roster to remember with the hardest last names to pronounce, and Kevin Love has single handedly put the Wolves atop the NBA in rebounding per game as a team (45.3). What more can K-Love do for this team? Heʼs averaging 15.5 rebounds per-game, is by no means the biggest player on the floor most nights, and continues to do so with a smile.

If Iʼm a Wolves fan and Iʼm asking Santa for gifts, it would be for something attractive to pop up in Minnesota that draws big name players because right now the win/loss record isnʼt turn any heads except away from being a member of the Wolves.

New Jersey (8-20, 14th East): You suck. You stink. Why do you keep doing this? Itʼs simple: The Nets have nobody, again. Brook Lopez and Devin Harris canʼt carry a team, havenʼt we seen this movie already? The Nets need to stop sitting on picks and ʻtalkingʼ about deals and just swing one. Maybe itʼs communication problems between owners or maybe thereʼs just nothing on the table, but regardless, something needs to be done to save this franchise.

Whatever they do, they canʼt get rid of Derrick Favors, the kid can play. Santa needs to bring Carmelo a nice picture of New Jersey and hope that he opens up his mind to playing in such a rustic location - oh my, times are tough.

New Orleans (16-12, 7th East): Things were a lot easier when everyone was winning and happy but since the 8-0 start, the Hornets have stung themselves going 8-12. Now, donʼt get too upset. Maybe the fast start was a bit premature, but expectations were certainly being blown out of proportion when people started suggesting that Marco Belinelli was a savior in New Orleans.

To make things worse for true Hornets fans, the NBA owns the franchise and expansion to Seattle, Kansas City and even Las Vegas looks more possible than ever before.

In what could be Chris Paulʼs final year as a Hornet, things have gone up and down. When the team was winning there were rumors that maybe someone would join Paul in New Orleans come 2012, but now no one knows what to expect. From the bottom of my heart, I hope that the new year brings the Hornets some wins to keep the franchise in New Orleans and keep the buzz in the city a positive one. Really, there was no pun intended there.

New York (16-12, 6th East): An identical record to the Hornets, yet a completely different situation. The Knicks are playing some of the best basketball in the NBA right now and thatʼs in large part to their MVP - and possible league MVP - Amarʼe Stoudemire. STATʼs numbers are bigger than Spike Leeʼs ego and things are just so bright right now for the Knicks. The aforementioned Raymond Felton has provided the glue to the group in New York but perhaps the biggest surprise comes from the rookie Landry Fields.

Fields is starting as if heʼs been in the league for ten seasons, averaging 10 points and seven rebounds per game. His solid play at the wing has provided New York with the freedom of playing him bigger minutes and resting players like Wilson Chandler at times which will help the team come playoff time - yes, I said playoffs and Knicks in the same paragraph. Shocking. Santa keep those injuries away.

Oklahoma City (19-9, 5th West): Itʼs simple, keep the core together and thereʼs no stopping this team in the next five years. Thatʼs it, honestly. What do they need? Maybe a solid big man in the future, a free-agent name thatʼs willing to be a part of a team dynamic and not look for the spotlight.

Besides that the Thunder are solid at every position. That was easy.

Philadelphia (11-16, 8th East): Iʼm getting tired and so are 76ers fans. It may be time to send Iggy somewhere else, but who knows. For now the Sixers find themselves in the playoff hunt which is a good sign for a team thatʼs struggled the past few years.

Still, changes need to be made. Evan Turner is slowly falling into a seat next to Kwame Brown. Itʼs time for change again in Philly.

Phoenix (13-14, 9th West): Speaking of change! Thereʼs no way that the Suns make it into the playoffs. Even with the latest deals that make Steve Nash look more and more like Charles Barkley, the Suns still find themselves near the end of the stick for that 8th spot.

Who knows, maybe Vince will be the Vince of 2000, maybe Gortat will prove that he can actually play consistent on a nightly basis and give Phoenix fans something to cheer about? For now the Suns look like a bigger mess than a teenagerʼs room. With Nash set at the point-guard, the rest of the team looks like players just trying to get a contract.

Who knows what Vinceʼs facial expression will be come opening night in a Phoenix jersey, but New Jersey and Toronto fans sure know about the ups and downs of relying on VC. If youʼre a Suns fan, you hope that a time machine gets put in the locker-room and some of these guys revive their career.

Portland (15-14, 8th West): Another team that continues to get bit by the injury bug. There seems to be a non-stopping cycle of injuries for Portland bigs. Greg Oden is out yet another year in what seems to be a contest between him and Yao to who can miss more games than they play in their career. Things are bad. Not to mention fans are starting to get tired of Brandon Roy, even calling for his trade during games. Once again there are dark times in Portland. But things can brighten up quick. A healthy Oden and Roy could finally see the Blazers hit their potential and...yeah, sorry fans, thatʼs it.

Thereʼs no hope right now in Portland to get back to where they were. The West is too strong for a team thatʼs riddled with nagging injuries. Lottery picks, anyone?

Sacramento (5-20, 15th West): All any Kings fan should want for Christmas is a win streak. Something. The start of the season seemed so promising for the Kings, but as the story with all 30 teams has gone so far, injuries have caused the Kings to take a huge step back from last season. Are they New Jersey bad? No. But things need to change again in Sacramento. Christmas needs to be kind to Tyreke Evans and his foot.

The Kings need their king. Period.

San Antonio (24-3, 1st West): Finally! An old team that isnʼt filled with injury and get this, is winning! The Spurs have been the surprise story of the 2010/11 season losing only three games through their first 27. But wait, youʼre surprised? The Spurs are scoring more than they usually do (106.7 PPG) but besides that theyʼre the same team.

Like a broken record Iʼll say it again, “If it isnʼt broke, donʼt fix it!” The Spurs have been together for years now and easily could be considered the team of the decade in the NBA. Ginobli, Parker and Duncan will go down in history as one of the best trios in NBA history and rightfully so. The Spurs are playing some ball.

For Christmas they may want some young talent on the bench to take in the second half of the season. The younger you get on the bench at times isnʼt always a bad thing.

Eventually these guys are going to have to retire and there needs to be some solid structure behind them for the future of the franchise.

Toronto (10-18, 10th East): The Raptors are in a serious rebuilding phase right now - again. Lead by Andrea Bargnaniʼs 21 points per game, the Raptors seem to have found their new go-to-player on the offensive end, but defense continues to be a focal point for their failures. They sit ninth in the league in scoring, averaging 102.1 points per-game, but they give up 105.4 on the defensive end per game which doesnʼt work if youʼre a team trying to work as a young group to make the playoffs.

What does Toronto need? Maybe another scorer, maybe a trade that brings in a few good pieces to round the team off. But really what they need is some consistency from DeMar DeRozan at
the wing. Against the Lakers Sunday afternoon, the second year wing out of Compton dropped 19 points in the third quarter alone showing glimpses of what he could be. That being said, we live in a world of nows and not, ʻwhat ifsʼ.

Utah (20-9, 4th West): Please, somebody give Jerry Sloan a coach of the year award. Iʼm tired of this. Thatʼs all Utah fans should want for Christmas, New Years and every other holiday.

They have an MVP already in Deron Williams.

Washington (7-19, 15th East): Things arenʼt bright in Washington right now, and with Gilbert Arenas leaving the mix that doesnʼt actually make them a better team. That being said, if management thinks that the right thing to do was move Gilbert and work towards a younger core then Iʼm sure Wizards fans are all for it.

Anything to see their team turn the corner and make their franchise a more appealing city to play in works for them right now. What do they need?

The 2011/12 season.

With all that, I sit back and wish everyone a happy holidays and all the best.

Hopefully all of your wishes will be granted and youʼre happy with what you receive. In the end I leave you with one last comment: At least you arenʼt Nets fans.


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