Saturday , Jan , 24 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

13th Edition – 01/24/2004

So far, so good…

That’s how I would describe the ’03-’04 NBA season as we approach the midpoint of what has to be one of the most memorable years in the history of professional basketball. I can’t say that I didn’t expect it. I mean with the inordinate amount of transactions (good and bad) that took place during the off-season, I knew something beautiful was upon us. “Beautiful, I just want you to know, you’re my favorite girrrl…”


13th Edition - 01/24/2004Bare with me, I just needed an excuse to sing that song–a friend of mine was talking about Brazil and well…you saw the video.

Anyway, not only has this season turned out to be as great as I thought it would, but it’s also brought a few surprises (pleasant and not so pleasant). So taking a cue from our “fearless leader” G.W. Bush, I’ve decided to come up with my own state of the union. Since I’m an authoritative figure (self-anointed) on the subject of basketball, I figure it’s my duty to speak on the events that transpired during the first half of the season and convey to the public (y’all) that the future is bright and I see “a confident and strong NBA.”

Disclaimer: I’ll save you the headache by only discussing certain squads, players and topics. Everyone or thing doesn’t get the privilege to be praised or ridiculed; these sections will be limited to the worthy.

TEAMS

Minnesota Timberwolves: It looks like the proverbial light (second round of the playoffs) at the end of the tunnel will become a reality for these guys. After a shaky start due to injuries and chemistry (the acclimation of new players), the T-Wolves are slowly but surely becoming one of the elite teams in the league. But the question remains, is getting to the second round their only primary objective? And why does head coach Flip Saunders always look as if his job is on the line? Maybe management answered the former, which would explain the latter, and in essence mean someone is on the hot seat. I’m just putting it out there.

Detroit Pistons: They started out hot, went cold, and got really hot. So now after their adjustment period, a lot of folks believe that under the guidance of Larry “The One” Brown (so-called Neo of NBA coaches), the Pistons are one of the few candidates to represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals. It won’t happen. There’s something about this team I don’t like. With all due respect to Richard Hamilton and Ben Wallace, they don’t have an “it” guy (they passed him up for Darko) to take them to the mountaintop. Besides, I don’t think Larry Brown will ever lead a team to the Glory. And yeah, I said it!

Sacramento Kings: What can I say? They have the best record in the league and their so-called “best player” has yet to play a game. Bygones. Brad Miller is GROSSLY overachieving and now there’s talk that they can win the title without Chris Webber. That’s surdiculous! I don’t think Webber’s their best player (Peja is), but they need him to win the title. But this is a moot point, because NO TEAM FROM SACRAMENTO SHOULD EVER WIN AN NBA TITLE!!! And they won’t.

New Jersey Nets: A lame duck coach, a lame duck general manager, and the organization has just been sold…turn out the lights, the party’s over!

Orlando Magic: They suck. I think that pretty much sums it up.

LA Lakers: Let this be a lesson to all, nothing in life is guaranteed. They went from a sure thing to they sure are in big trouble. Every team deals with injuries, but not of this magnitude. This doesn’t look good. When the calvary arrives, they better right the ship or else we may see (shudder the thought) April 29, 1992 all over again in the City of Angels.

Indiana Pacers: Here’s the deal, this team is right on schedule if you look back at where they were the previous two seasons. Now we’ll find out if their annual swoon was Isiah Thomas’ fault or that of their underachieving, immature players. Stay tuned.

ROOKIES

LeBron James: Remember when Flava Flav said, “Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t believe the hype!?” Well that doesn’t apply to this kid. King James is official. He’s also the living embodiment of the Cleveland Cavaliers. James is averaging 20.4 ppg, 6 rpg, 6 apg and 41 minutes a night. And he’s only 19? So far, he’s the rookie of the year. Period!

Carmelo Anthony: Slightly overrated…slightly. Now don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a talented player who’s only going to get better and has a chance to be one of the greatest. But for some reason he’s getting all the credit for the Denver Nuggets’ dramatic improvement. If you wipe out the acquisitions of Andre Miller, Earl Boykins, Voshon Lenard, and the resurgence of Marcus Camby NO ONE would be talking about Denver. No one.

Dywane Wade: Currently he’s on the shelf due to a bad wrist, but prior to his injury, he’s been the lone bright spot in Miami. After his outstanding play in last year’s run to the Final Four, I never figured him as an impact player in the NBA–much less as a rookie. It’s extremely difficult to convert a shooting guard into a point, but man…he’s doin’ it–with ease.

Chris Bosh: In a few years, and you can quote me on this, he’ll be competing with Jermaine O’Neal as the best big man in the east.

* Honorable Mention: Josh Howard of the Dallas Mavericks.

LOSS OF RANK

Tracy McGrady: I took his “superstar” stripes after he whined about not knowing how to combat the zone, threatened to retire because of it, and allowed his team to endure a NINETEEN game losing streak. He’s JUST a star to me until further notice.
PA-THE-TIC!

SCORING

What happened to the days when EVERY team scored 100 points or more on a regular basis? A week and a half ago, the Raptors beat the Hornets 78-74–in overtime! That’s scary. I understand the importance of defense, but I think it’s gotten out of hand. Teams need to run more sets that involve player and ball movement. Basketball is a sport meant to be played at a fast pace, this walking the ball up and shooting with 4 seconds left on the shot clock is for the birds. Coaches need to be more creative with their offensive plays as they are with their defensive schemes, and players need to learn how to shoot. There’s only one team (Sacramento) shooting above 50% a game. Crazy. The lost art of fundamentals must be relocated.

CONFERENCES

Western >>>>> Eastern

ALL-STAR STARTING LINEUP

Let’s face it, there are few players who can single handedly excite a crowd in the NBA. So why not make sure that they’re all on the floor at the same time? I understand that certain players get snubbed despite their stellar play during the first half of the season, but skill and performance should not be the only determining factors when selecting the starting lineup. Watch-ability is another, and that’s why the fans should continue to be allowed to decide whom they want to see. I like that coaches pick the remaining spots, however to avoid dissin’ anyone, the NBA should expand the all-star rosters. So without further ado, here are my choices:

West
C-Shaquille O’Neal, F-Tim Duncan, F-Kevin Garnett, G-Kobe Bryant, G-Steve Francis (Kudos to Sam Cassell, but…watch-ability.)

East
C-Ben Wallace, F-Jermaine O’Neal, F-Vince Carter, G-Allen Iverson, G-LeBron James

SURPRISE TEAMS

Utah Jazz: I’ve said it before in one of my previous columns, but I don’t know how they’re doing it. They’ve already won more than 20 games, a lot of prognosticators said they’d struggle to reach the 20-win plateau. Jerry Sloan has done a masterful job with this squad. He demands hard work and effort every night and that’s what he gets. Besides Andrei Kirilenko, I don’t think there’s a player on this team that anyone would want. That, in itself is a testament to what they’ve accomplished thus far.

Denver Nuggets: They’ve already surpassed their win total for all of last season. That’s not the surprise. What is, is they’re in position to make the playoffs. Incredible. Management has done an excellent job of assembling talent, and the coaching staff has been just as impressive in meshing this group together and guiding them to a winning record. And when I say winning, I just don’t mean a game or two above .500. Now if they can do something about those terrible shiny uniforms, they’ll really be headed in the right direction.

Memphis Grizzlies: A while ago I told a friend of mine that they would make the playoffs and the Portland Trail Blazers wouldn’t. It looks like my prediction is right on the money. They have a nice collection of players who have a lot of “upside” beginning with Pau Gasol; and task master Hubie Brown is making sure everyone stays in line and plays the right way. Look at Bonzi Wells, no one’s heard a peep outta him since he was shipped outta Rip City. The 8th seed baby…the 8th seed…don’t fail me now!

MVP

When the smoke clears, it’s going to come down to 2 players: Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan. At the present time, KG’s in the lead, but you can’t discount Duncan. Can you imagine if Shaq played with the same intensity as those guys… on both ends of the floor, EVERY NIGHT!? The MVP trophy would be his until he retired. It’s a shame that Shaq only has 1 MVP award; he’s better than that! And in his 12-year career, he’s yet to win a rebounding title. Shameful. Nevertheless he’s still the man (scary huh?), but he won’t win the MVP. My dollar says its going to Garnett. Besides, he was robbed last year.

And finally…

KOBE BRYANT

Well, he’s persevering… Unfortunately for him and the Lakers (and their fans) as he was rounding into form, he injured his shoulder. Still, I don’t know if any other player could do what he’s doing. That day when he flew back from Eagle to play against the Nuggets and hit the game winning shot was surreal. We’ll see how everything plays out in terms of his case, free agency, and image. But you can bet it’ll be interesting, everything always is when it comes to him.

Thank you…and God bless the NBA.