Thursday , Feb , 12 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

NBA All-Star break report

=== NBA All-Star break report ===

By Warren Blatt, Sports Network NBA Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – With the 53rd NBA All-Star game just
days away, it’s a great time to take a look at what is going on in the league.

The NBA regular season is past the midway point, but here’s a team-by-team
evaluation for all 29 NBA franchises. Each club will receive a grade based on
performance, with expectations, injuries and transactions factored into the
final grade as well.

ATLANTA HAWKS – Did anyone think the Hawks were going to contend for a playoff
spot? The Hawks did free up future salary cap space when they dealt Shareef
Abdur-Rahim, Theo Ratliff and Dan Dickau to Portland for Rasheed Wallace, who
is a free agent after this season, and Wesley Person. Don’t forget, the Hawks
have the longest tenured head coach in the Eastern Conference in Terry Stotts.
Is there a light at the end of the tunnel in Atlanta? GRADE: D-

BOSTON CELTICS – Danny Ainge, who is the head of basketball operations, traded
for controversial Ricky Davis, head coach Jim O’Brien resigned and center Raef
LaFrentz, who was the key to the Antoine Walker deal, has played just 17 games
because of a knee injury. Paul Pierce is the saving grace here, as this team
could have been so much better without the trades. GRADE: D+

CHICAGO BULLS – When the season started, this was a young team that was on the
rise and ready to compete for a playoff berth. Tyson Chandler, Jamal Crawford,
Eddy Curry and Jalen Rose were the present and the future. As the season
progressed, though, head coach Bill Cartwright was fired and replaced by Scott
Skiles, while Rose and fellow forwards Donyell Marshall and Lonny Baxter were
traded to Toronto for aging center Antonio Davis, forward Jerome Williams and
guard Chris Jefferies. Locked in last place in the Central Division, the Bulls
are headed towards re-building once again. GRADE: F

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS – Rookie phenom LeBron James has more than lived up to the
hype and second-year power forward Carlos Boozer is having an excellent
season. New head coach Paul Silas has done a solid job and general manager Jim
Paxson was able to trade disgruntled Ricky Davis. This team is fun to watch
and the future looks bright. GRADE: B-

DALLAS MAVERICKS – The Mavs can score, but until they get a big man to compete
with Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal they won’t be able to get over the
playoff hump. Don’t get me wrong, Antoine Walker and Antawn Jamison were nice
pickups, but they are not the players that will get Dallas past the Lakers,
Spurs, Timberwolves and a healthy Sacramento squad. However, the Mavs are
winning and are headed towards the playoffs. GRADE: B

DENVER NUGGETS – I love what general manager Kiki Vandeweghe has done in
Denver. Rookie sensation Carmelo Anthony is having a great year, while free
agent pickup Andre Miller has been solid at point guard. Don’t forget about
Jon Barry, Earl Boykins and Voshon Lenard, who were all signed as free agents
in the offseason. The Nuggets, who won just 17 games last season, could be
headed to the playoffs for the first time since 1995. GRADE: A-

DETROIT PISTONS – The Pistons thought hiring head coach Larry Brown would be
the final piece to put them over the top in East. Detroit is having a nice
season, as Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton and All-Star center Ben Wallace
have been solid. I don’t think they are better then Indiana or New Jersey. The
goal in Detroit, which was swept by the Nets in last year’s Eastern Conference
Finals, is to get to the NBA Finals. GRADE: B

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS – AA promising start to the season has turned into
mediocrity. Nick Van Exel, who was acquired from Dallas in the Jamison
deal, has been battling injuries all season, while promising forward Troy
Murphy has played in just 11 games because of an ankle injury. GRADE: C-

HOUSTON ROCKETS – The Rockets have two All-Stars in center Yao Ming and guard
Steve Francis. New Head coach Jeff Van Gundy was an excellent hiring and has
done a nice job. Houston should make the postseason for the first time since
1999. GRADE: B

INDIANA PACERS – Indiana’s president of basketball operations Larry Bird fired
head coach Isiah Thomas and replaced him with former Detroit general Rick
Carlisle, who will coach the Eastern Conference in the All-Star Game. Jermaine
O’Neal and Ron Artest will play for Carlisle on February 15th, and the Pacers
have the most wins in the NBA. GRADE: A+

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS – Its the Clippers, so forget about making the playoffs
once again. But, they did keep Elton Brand and Corey Maggette, who were both
restricted free agents in the offseason. GRADE: C-

LOS ANGELES LAKERS – Injuries have killed this team. Kobe Bryant has been
bothered by off the court problems to go along with various injuries, while
All-Star center Shaquille O’Neal has not been completely healthy all season
and forward Karl Malone was placed on the IL for the first time in his career
with an injured right knee. Malone is expected to be sidelined until at least
mid-March. However, the Lakers have held strong as Gary Payton, who along
with Malone signed with the Lakers as a free agent in the offseason, has been
phenomenal. The Lakers, despite all of their injuries, are still within
striking distance of Sacramento in the Pacific Division. When the Lakers get
healthy, look out! GRADE: B+

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES – The Grizzlies have already won a franchise-record 29 games
this season. Hubie Brown has figured out how to make Memphis a legitimate team
on the court. Forward Pau Gasol has been solid and swingman Bonzi Wells, who
was acquired from Portland for Wesley Person in early December, has fit in.
The Grizzlies should make the playoffs for the first time in the teams
history. GRADE: A

MIAMI HEAT – After an 0-7 start, the Heat are contenders for a playoff spot in
the Eastern Conference. Stan Van Gundy, who took over for Pat Riley days
before the regular season, has done an admirable job. Lamar Odom, a restricted
free agent who was signed away from the Clippers in the offseason, has played
well, while Eddie Jones is having a solid season. Rookie Dwyane Wade has
proved that he has a promising future in the league. Miami seems to be headed
in the right direction. GRADE: C+

MILWAUKEE BUCKS – First year head coach Terry Porter has the Bucks moving
towards the postseason. All-Star guard Michael Redd has raised his game to the
next level, while Porter has been able to get the rest of the roster to jell
in a way that makes Milwaukee a difficult team to play. GRADE: B-

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES – Kevin Garnett, Sam Cassell, who was acquired from
Milwaukee in an offseason trade, and Latrell Sprewell, who came over from New
York via trade, have formed a lethal threesome in Minnesota. Head coach Flip
Saunders has done a fantastic job with his squad. The Timberwolves are having
a great regular season and it should continue. GRADE: A+

NEW ORLEANS HORNETS – The Hornets have a lot of talent. With Jamal Mashburn,
who missed New Orleans’ first 44 games after undergoing arthroscopic surgery
in training camp to remove loose particles in his right knee, and All-Stars
Baron Davis and Jamaal Magloire all healthy, the Hornets should be a tougher
team to play after the All-Star break. Look for New Orleans to make a serious
run heading into the playoffs. GRADE: B-

NEW JERSEY NETS – It took firing head coach Byron Scott to get the two-time
defending Eastern Conference Champions to perform up to expectations. All-
Stars Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin have thrived under new general Lawrence
Frank, while the rest of team is responding to Frank as well. Look out Eastern
Conference, because the Nets have found their game. GRADE: A-

NEW YORK KNICKS – Basketball is back in New York! New team president Isiah
Thomas, who replaced Scott Layden on December 22, brought hometown hero
Stephon Marbury, who was acquired in a blockbuster deal from Phoenix, back to
the Big Apple, and then replaced head coach Don Chaney with Lenny Wilkens.
Everything is working at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks are now a playoff
team that no club in the Eastern Conference is going to want to play in the
first round. GRADE: B+

ORLANDO MAGIC – What a disappointment! Just look at their record. GRADE: F

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS – Things are falling apart in Philly. Head coach Randy
Ayers was fired just 52 games into his tenure, and was replaced by assistant
Chris Ford. All-Star Allen Iverson has missed 14 games because of injuries,
while forward Glenn Robinson, who is playing his first season for the Sixers
after being acquired in a four-team deal from Atlanta, is not happy in his new
home. Centers Marc Jackson and Derrick Coleman have missed significant time
with injuries and guards Eric Snow and Aaron McKie are just getting older.
Some tough years lie ahead for Sixers’ fans. It is time to start over in
Philadelphia. GRADE: D-

PHOENIX SUNS – The Suns have decided to start to rebuild. They fired head
coach Frank Johnson and replaced him with Mike D’Antoni, and also traded star
point guard Stephon Marbury and Anfernee Hardaway to the Knicks in a major
deal that will help them free up salary cap space and also got them a pair of
first-round picks. Phoenix still has some pieces to build around, as forwards
Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire are still in the fold. Also, 22-year-old
guard Joe Johnson has shown a lot of promise. The Suns have a plan and it
might just work. The future will tell. Grade: C

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS – General manager John Nash has traded, in separate
deals, Jeff McInnis, Bonzi Wells and Rasheed Wallace. He has acquired Darius
Miles, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Theo Ratliff and Dan Dickau. Nash is turning over
Portland’s roster, and with power forward Zach Randolph having a monster
season, he may be starting to put together a strong team with good citizens on
it. I like head coach Maurice Cheeks and think Nash has figured out a way to
rebuild without completely tearing everything apart. I think Portland can make
a strong run at a postseason berth with its new squad. GRADE: B-

SACRAMENTO KINGS – All-Star forward/center Brad Miller, who was acquired in a
three-team deal from Indiana in the offseason, has been a great addition for
Sacramento. Peja Stojakovic, who is an All-Star reserve, is having another
excellent season. The Kings are still one of the NBA’s elite, even without
Chris Webber, who has not played a game this season because of a knee injury.
Sacramento is in first place in the Pacific Division and will be a very tough
squad to beat, even without Webber, in a seven-game series. GRADE: A+

SAN ANTONIO SPURS – The defending champions have arguably the best player in
the league in Tim Duncan. The Spurs rebounded from a tough start and are
playing back to form. Make no mistake about it, San Antonio misses the
leadership and skills of former starting center David Robinson, who retired at
the end of last season. Center Radoslav Nesterovic, who left Minnesota in the
summer to sign with the Spurs as a free agent, is no Robinson. San Antonio
will have a tough time defending its title. GRADE: B+

SEATTLE SUPERSONICS – The Sonics are just not in the class of the Kings,
Lakers, Spurs and Timberwolves. Seattle did get back All-star guard Ray Allen,
who missed the first 25 games of the season with an ankle injury. Allen and
Rashard Lewis form a formidable one-two scoring punch. But what this team
needs is a presence down low. Until then, mediocre is all that the Sonics will
be and this season has been no different. GRADE: C

TORONTO RAPTORS – The Raptors pulled of a blockbuster deal with the Bulls
earlier in the season when they dealt Davis, Williams and Jefferies to Chicago
for Rose, Marshall and Baxter. All-Star Vince Carter is still a dangerous
player, but the Raptors are just a .500 team even after the trade. Toronto
should make the playoffs because it plays in a weak Eastern Conference. GRADE:

UTAH JAZZ – Head coach Jerry Sloan has done an incredible job. The Jazz lost
their two franchise players, as John Stockton retired after last season and
Malone signed with the Lakers as a free agent in the offseason. Even
though Utah lost forward Matt Harpring, who played just 31 games, to a knee
injury, the team has remained respectable, hovering around the .500 mark all
season. Forward Andrei Kirilenko is having a great season and is headed to
his first All-star Game as a reserve on the Western Conference squad. Prior to
the season, who didn’t think it was going to be a brutal season for the fans
in Utah. What a surprise! GRADE: B

WASHINGTON WIZARDS – Gilbert Arenas is a good player. Let’s not talk about the
rest of the team or first year head coach Eddie Jordan. Just take a look at
the standings in the Atlantic Division, only Orlando is worse. GRADE: F