Friday, September 12, 2008

Northwest Division (W) - August 11, 2008

Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets did not unload Marcus Camby's salary in order to acquire Renaldo Balkman; however, the Balkman trade will be helpful for the Nuggets' defense since Carmelo Anthony is as good as a stick on defense and in today's game most teams cannot afford to just give way on defense. As for the Camby trade, the Nuggets are still in no position to make an acquisition considering they are over the cap. The only possible explanations for the situation is that the team either knows some information about Camby that others do not or they believe that Nene will have a season proportional to his salary. Camby's descending contract is actually smaller than Nene's which really should have brought a call for concern: if the Nuggets are unloading a big salary shouldn't the player be the unproven player with recent injury trouble instead of the veteran? Just a puzzling move until the entire plan unravels. With Camby the team would have a solid starting line-up with Iverson, Anthony, Martin and Camby along with Kleiza, Balkman, or Smith; the team could reward the hottest player by allowing him to start which really pushes the player's personal motivation so they could earn a starting spot and be in line for a starting salary in successive seasons. The team will probably start Nene but he isn't a solidified starter in the manner that Camby is. Another direction that the team may take is starting Carter or Atkins a point guard which is nice that they have two veterans that know who to play the point guard role exceptionally well but then the on-the-court ball-handler and play initiate is question: Is it Iverson or one of these guys? The concept may be idle for several possessions but to install it as a team philosophy with two possible point guards on the floor at most times is questionable and will create defensive issues when trying to match up with opposition. The Nuggets, barely made the playoffs last year and now that the Blazers have had another year of experience it will be even tougher to make it into the playoffs, especially after the big man frenzy from last season. The Nuggets should be in the process of making a deal, for if they are not, the team will continue to be heading in the wrong direction and by this time next year the team may not have Iverson anymore since he is in the last year of his contract and he will be looking to join a contender (the initial reason he was traded to the Nuggets several years ago).

Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves have small expectations for this upcoming season, which will allow any success that occurs this season to be overachieving and any failure to be ignored. However, the franchise will be in for delight this season. The roster which includes an array of underrated players maybe able to come together and stir some chaos in the west; possibly create some unexpected obstacles for some teams making runs at the playoffs. Mike Miller is one of the best shooters in the league, which helps to spread the defense. Then to counter him the team now has Al Jefferson, one of the better centers in the league. Jefferson played at an All-Star level last year and should be breaking into super-stardom soon. He has coasted under the radars for most of his NBA career, it is going to be sooner or later before a columnist at ESPN realizes how talented this guy really is and decides to write an article on him. The team also has Kevin Love who is one of the smartest basketball players coming out of the draft. With defenses having to compensate for Al Jefferson’s and Mike Miller’s playing styles, Love will find himself with numerous opportunities to create plays and score easy baskets. Outside of them most of the remainder of the roster is a work in progress. Like the Grizzlies the team has a lot of potential; not the same level as the Grizzlies but still a solid amount; Corey Brewer and Rodney Carney are promising players. Rashard McCants and Randy Foye are sure to be solid players to but none of the names strike as players that a team can build a championship caliber team with at starting guards. Craig Smith came on as a solid 6th man last season and will be considered a fine role player later on in his career.
Minnesota doesn’t have an image right now and it is going to take a few weeks into the season before we see what the T-wolves will be the season. If the team decides to make a big move before the offseason the team can catapult themselves into contention, or they can coze through this season and try to build for the future. Another problem that is consistent with other teams that are building for the future is that the team lacks veterans to lead the youth. A collection of youth is worthless unless there are a few players to guide them and show them the ways of the NBA. Minnesota has three players with eight years of experience which is better than other teams but all three of the players are forwards or centers. Experienced guards who already run the offense are perfect exemplars for players that already look to them for on-the-court advice. Why not make these the same player that are looked to for off-the-court advice?

Portland Trailblazers

The Trailblazers understand the importance of combining experience and youth. Everyone knows about all the great young players that the Trailblazers have in Greg Oden, Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Jerryd Bayless, and Martell Webster. We have heard the rumors about European, Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez, and Sergio Rodriguez. But what should strike is that the team has complemented that talent with the experience of Raef LaFrentz and Joel Przybilla along with the leadership and clutch play of Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw. Last season the team came out as an enormous surprise as they contended for a playoff spot through most of the season, but this year the Trailblazer are not going to surprise anyone especially with the addition of a healthy Greg Oden and another ball handler in Bayless providing a successive set of talent. It would not be surprising to see the Blazers battling it out with the Grizzlies in the Western Conference finals in a few years.
The Trailblazers should be able to run a balanced offense that is able to look to penetration and post play for easy baskets. Jerryd Bayless is one of the best attackers coming out of the draft; this helps to collapse defenses as players go for blocks and stripes allowing Bayless to kick it out to Martell Webster for a shot or allowing him to dime it off to Oden or Alridge to go up for an uncontested dunk. Then to complement this tactic the Blazers have Brandon Roy who is one of the better playmakers in the league. When all else fails the team can give the ball to Steve Blake and run a traditional set play offense to try to get a basket that way. The Blazers shouldn’t have that much trouble scoring. The big challenge is if the team will be able to give it their all on defense. Everyone knows that Oden was a superb shot blocker in college, but how fast will that translate to the NBA and Bayless’ defense was questioned so is he reliable. The team does have several Europeans which in recent games have shown solid fundamentals and defense but will it be enough so that it compensates for the core of the team. Most of the Blazers are also young and it is unclear if they will be able to take care of business at the end of the season; we saw a collapse last season, will the same repeat this upcoming one?

Seattle Supersonics (Oklahoma City)

Oklahoma City is basically in the same position that the Minnesota Timberwolves are in. You team has one of the most promising players in the NBA in Kevin Durant. You have another two studs in Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook, but will it all come together and lead to success. Nick Collison nor Luke Ridnour have turned out to be as good as the team had hoped and now they are laying their marbles out on a new set of youngsters. The franchise is entering anew city with a promising tomorrow; however, the team has the pieces to be successful today. The team is one big trade away from another great player; Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook are both pieces of great trade bait and can be traded for a stud on a losing team looking to enter a rebuilding process. The team should redirect their trade talks away from Milwakee (for Mo Williams) unless the team has absolutely no confidence in Earl Watson or is getting a serious bargain. A couple of options are to New York for Randolph or Crawford (if their season starts based on their performance last year), to New Jersey for Vince Carter, and to Sacremento for Kevin Martin (little chance of this since they are in the same Conference). All of a sudden you have Earl Watson who was proved to be a worthy point guard as he has played under the radar in Seattle, Chris Wilcox who is one of the better PF-C’s in the league when he is on, and Damien Wilkins who has great genes and has show great improvement over the last two seasons. This is in combination with Kevin Durant and one of the players munched above. The Thunder or Wind or Bisons or Barons or Energy or Marshalls, can be in contention for one of the final playoff spots with a big trade. The team is currently under the salary cap and could also be in position to sign one of the remaining free agents such as Ben Gordon or J.R. Smith (could also attempt to purse Andre Iguodala be it would be hard to see the sixers let go of him). The Oklahoma City can cruise where they are now or can take the next step and become a serious team in the Western Conference.

Utah Jazz

The Jazz have returned to glory days since Stockton and Malone and this time they may win a championship. The team has simply one of the best starting rosters with Deron Williams, Ronnie Brewer (who came on as a hard worker last season earning him a starting spot), Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, and Mehmet Okur. The team also has great depth in Brevin Knight, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap, and Morris Almond. What is important to notice about the team is that it is a collection for the best role players in the league and each of the role players are known for defense. Williams is one of the best playmaking guards in the league, Brewer is an explosive player with tons of energy, Kirilenko too is full of energy and is one of the most versatile defenders in the league, Boozer is deadly on the block and Okur helps to spread the offense since he is a threat anywhere on the court. Then on the bench the team has two of the best shooters in Morris almond and Kyle Korver. Brevin Knight brings experience and leadership off the bench (he will play a similar role that Derek Fisher played on the squad). Paul Millsap is another high energy guy that can come off the bench and make a couple of sequential game changing plays. In addition, to current success the team drafted several European players, of which, Kosta Koufas may be the most promising. Utah finished last season with the 6th best record, this year they should be capable of finishing as a top 3 team in the Western Conference and capable of making a run at the NBA Championship.

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