Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Off-season? What off-season?

The NBA off-season is always a fun time of the year. Here is a look at a few of the teams that have stocked their rosters up for a championship run, a few that may be on the brink of contention, and a few that made some questionable moves.

The whirlwind of signings and trades have some teams looking like legitimate contenders to go deep next year. The Cavaliers made the first significant move by grabbing Shaquille O'Neal out of Phoenix, while parting with the largely unproductive Ben Wallace and his large contract, and the rarely used Sasha Pavlovic. Cleveland couldn't match up with the Magic in this year’s playoffs, as Dwight Howard had his way inside, while Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu got nothing but nice looks from the perimeter whenever the Cavs were forced to double Howard. With Shaq, the Cavs now have that presence to clear space inside and bang for rebounds. Only problem is, will Shaq take up too much of that space? At 38 years old Shaq isn't getting any faster. He had better be in the gym while he's sending out all those 'tweets' this summer, cause this Cavs team will be running. The additions of former Raptors Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon proved that this team has geared up their bench to be fast and push the ball. In Phoenix the Suns changed from that style to accommodate Shaq and it didn't work. Will it work in Cleveland? The feeling here is that this could be a move that gets Lebron his first title, or just another year of wearing the crown, but not the ring.

From the King's men to the Mamba's team, the world champion Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakeshow made probably the boldest move of the off-season in acquiring one of the toughest defenders in the NBA, when they signed Ron Artest away from Houston. This looks all too familiar. Artest with Kobe Bryant reminds me of Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman. Unlikely opposites, but ones that can produce. This is a checkmate move for the Lakers in their attempt to get to the finals once again. The team had to part ways with the younger Trevor Ariza, but they did give him the option to stay and he balked, making room for Artest. Ariza may have made the biggest mistake of his career by not taking what the Lakers offered him. Time will tell on that. One thing that's for sure is the Artest signing makes the Lakers better, which is scary when you’re already the world champs.

The Eastern Conference champs didn't just stand pat either. The Orlando Magic lured Vince Carter out of New Jersey, a move that makes them just flat out nasty when it comes to scoring options. Howard inside, Lewis on the perimeter and Carter flying through the lane, makes Orlando a legit threat to go deep in next year’s playoffs. They did lose Turkoglu to the Raptors, but they knew they only had a 50/50 chance of re-signing him. Getting Carter was the perfect way to replace the points the big man from Turkey gave the Magic. Will there be another Cavs and Magic Eastern Conference final come next June? Don't be surprised if it does happen.
The teams on the brink of contention have tooled up there arsenals as well. Here are a few teams that have made their squads better.

The Raptors sign-and-trade for Hedo Turkoglu makes them a match up nightmare. The front court of Andrea Bargnani, Chris Bosh and Turkoglu is mind boggling for most teams. Two big men that can shoot the three or take you off the dribble, accompanied by Bosh's power and athleticism in the post, and his range of 15 feet will have coaches scrambling. The signing of point guard Jarret Jack filled a huge hole for the Raps. Toronto struggled last year when Jose Calderon was out with a nagging hamstring injury, and now in Jack they have the perfect back up to Calderon. He's an experienced player who understands his role, as well as a college teammate of Bosh, which should please him, something that Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo needs to do if he wants to re-sign the big man to an extended contract. I see this team returning to the playoffs, possibly winning a round, all the while playing some very exciting basketball.
I like the moves the Mavericks have made. Getting Shawn Marion out of Toronto will benefit them. Marion has some game left in him, and he'll bring energy, rebounding and scoring to this team. He won't be the first, second or third option, but he will be an option. The re-signing of Jason Kidd is also a good move for the club. The Mavs have a good back-up point guard in Jose Barea, who should take over the starting role down the road. Like Marion, Kidd has game left in his old legs, and his knowledge of the game is key to helping Barea along. This team didn't get any younger, but they did get better, and that should help them return to the playoffs in the wild west.

Like the Mavs the Spurs re-tooled their line up with some vets that can get the job done. Acquiring Richard Jefferson out the black hole that is Milwaukee was a fantastic pick up. Between Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Jefferson and Tony Parker, the Spurs have a wealth of dangerous options when it comes to putting points on the board. The addition of Antonio McDyess makes their bench stronger, and will give the younger players like 2009 draft pick DeJuan Blair a mentor to help adjust to the grind that is the NBA regular season. I’m not picking the Spurs to take the west, but they'll be there down the stretch.

From the good decisions on to the questionable, here are a few examples.

Many thought Trevor Ariza would have a break out season this year, after enjoying his best year in the league this past season. He was able to win a championship, and was one of the key reasons the Lakers did. Ariza was one of the many role players on the Lakers that produced in the playoffs. My guess is that Ariza thought he was worth more than the Lakers offered, and his refusal to take what the team offered him opened the door for Artest to walk through. He'll get the minutes in Houston, but will he be the same player? It’s tough to say.

Josh Childress and his European adventure is not about Childress as much as it's about the NBA. Childress is far from a superstar, but he's a very good player who should be playing in the best basketball league in the world. His departure to play in Greece last season is a trend that's likely to happen more and more, especially since he's since chosen to return this year. A role player in the NBA makes half as much as they could by being a star in Europe. Plus you get to live in Europe for a year or so. The NBA needs to figure out some sort of arrangement with the European leagues, before they see more players from the around the NBA heading overseas. What’s stopping them really?

Rookie Brandon Jennings better put up or shut up. First he goes off about fellow rookie Ricky Rubio, and how he's overrated, now he's had a video posted (and deleted) on Youtube of him speaking (more like yelling profanity) to a friend on the phone, about how's he's going to go to Milwaukee and take out Ramon Sessions and Luke Ridnour as the teams staring point guard. Confidence is all well and good, but show some tact, young man. Jennings has many people doubting his abilities, and now he's made it much tougher on himself to prove these doubters wrong.

This season should once again prove to be another exciting year for NBA fans. The rich did get richer, with the Lakers, Cavaliers, Magic, and Celtics all bulking up, but all the off-season movement seems to look as if the league should be much more balanced. The East is tougher and should have close to eight good teams in the conference, while the West is still as crazy as ever. Buckle up fans, ‘cause staring in October, it's going to be one hell of a ride.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

And the winners are....

It’s been sometime now since I wrote about the NBA. Before I get into my thoughts about the draft, I must give some love.

Congrats to the Lakers, you deserved it. I won't gloat about picking them to win, as it was pretty much a given.

Congrats to the Magic in taking out Lebron, and giving it a good run.

Lastly, congrats to the NBA. These playoffs were some of the most exciting in years. The league's star power is stronger then it's ever been, and the quality of play is at its highest level ever.

Last night was the annual NBA Draft, one of most exciting nights for NBA teams. It's a night you can hit a home run, or strikeout swinging for the fences.
Though the lights shine bright on the youngsters on this day, the spotlight was directly on a former number one pick to start the day. News broke early that the Big Aristotle, Shaquille O'Neal would be joining forces with Lebron in Cleveland, as the Cavs and Suns came together on a deal.

If that wasn't enough, right before David Stern called the Clippers on the clock, the Magic countered the Cavs, by dealing for Vince Carter from the Nets. With Shaq back in the east, VC and Howard on the same team, and Garnett back for the Celtics, the east is going to be a battlefield next year. To quote Blahzay Blahzay, "When the east is in the house, oh my god, DANGER!"

Let the festivities begin. Man, I love this day.

This year's draft was one of many questions. The only slam dunk (no pun intended), being Blake Griffin. The rest of the field had the ever-popular "potential" tag, that being the potential to be a hit or a miss.

My opinion of this draft is that it's loaded with NBA role players, and a few (here’s that word again) potential stars.

Here are my winners from this year:


The one given in this draft was that the Clips took Blake Griffin (Oklahoma) with the first pick. He’s got an NBA body, athleticism, smarts, and appears ready to take his game to the next level. Did the Clippers just make their first good move in franchise history? Maybe. What ever happens with Griffin's career in Clipperland, he's going to be a very nice player in the NBA, that is a given.

Oklahoma Thunder & Sacramento Kings

The Thunder made the right move taking James Harden (Arizona State) with the third pick. He's got a Paul Pierce-like game and will fit nicely with Westbrook in the Thunder backcourt. They also grabbed a great value pick in a deal with the Mavs, nabbing 7'1" B.J. Mullens (Ohio State) with the 24th pick. Sacramento got their man in Tyreke Evans (Memphis) with the 4th pick, who should be a very valuable combo guard in the league. I'm not sure about this Omri Casspi out of Israel, who the Kings took with the 23rd pick. He's been playing pro in Europe and has a good NBA body, but I know nothing about him. Regardless of the second pick-ups by each team, the real studs are Harden and Evans.

Toronto Raptors

Love their pick. Of course I’m being biased when it comes to picking them as a winner, but they addressed a need in their line up, and got the man they wanted with the 9th pick, without having to do anything but sit and wait. DeMar DeRozan (USC) is a great kid and should take a bit of time, but will be a leading man in Toronto in the coming years.

Denver Nuggets

North Carolina Tar Heels make for good NBA'ers. That’s a fact. Ty Lawson will be a good NBA'er. That’s an opinion, but could very well be a fact, especially since he will start his career under the wing of one of the best floor leaders in the game, Chauncey Billups. Lawson will flourish as Billups back up in Denver. Great deal by the Nugs, they're one of the most exciting teams in the NBA, and just got deeper with the 18th pick.

I won't pick out the losers of this years draft, as it's really hard to say who didn't make the right move. The verdict is still out on a few names, including Ricky Rubio (Spain), Brandon Jennings (Italy) & Hasheem Thabeet (Connecticut). All three of these kids could be stars, or busts, or just flat out decent league players. Time will tell. It will be very interesting to see what the T-wolves do with point guards Rubio and Jonny Flynn (Syracuse), whom they took with the fifth and sixth pick. Looks to me like they like both players, and will deal one to whomever comes with the right package. Smart move by a not-so-smart franchise.

Free agency is right around the corner, so stay tuned NBA fans, this year will be a roller coaster ride of movement, and with many teams looking to dump salaries the fun’s not over yet!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What to do with these Canucks?

It's been a few days now since my hometown Vancouver Canucks exited the Stanley Cup playoffs and the feeling around the city is still one of disbelief. Many Canucks fans thought this may have just been their year, but alas it was not to be. The Canucks got flat-out beat by a very skilled, fast, young Blackhawks team. Yes, they could have taken a commanding three games to one series lead when they had the Hawks on the ropes up 1-0 with only a couple of minutes left in game four, but they couldn't hold the lead, losing that game and the following two, to end their run.

The bitterness of another year without Lord Stanley has one sportswriter in Vancouver even speculating a conspiracy, stating the NHL may have wanted Chicago to get through Vancouver, setting up a dream conference final between the Wings and the Hawks. His argument was that the refs throughout the series were letting the Hawks crash Luongo and were turning a blind eye to the Hawks wrongdoings. A legless notion, as there were many missed calls going either way, and the "crashing" of Luongo can be considered more like the "tapping" of a pampered primadonna. It’s highly unlikely that there was a fix in this series, but just ask yourself this, if Anaheim loses game seven tonight in Motown, could this be true? Come on. This is playoff hockey. There are missed calls in every series and all the goalies have taken their fare share of bumps. The fact is the Canucks weaknesses got exposed. The biggest weakness being a slow back-end that couldn't keep up with the speedy Hawks. You make a mistake and they make you pay. No conspiracy, just the better team prevailing.

This summer will be very interesting for this Canucks organization.

Do they resign the Sedins?

Has Ohlund played his final game as a Canuck?

Is Sami Salo the right quarterback for their power play?

What is going to happen with Luongo?

Let’s start with Luongo. The Canucks best player was far from great in the Chicago series. Luo's performance is now being questioned as to whether he's the right guy for the job. There is no question that Luo is one of the best goalies in the NHL, but legends are made in the playoffs and not the regular season. He has to step up when it matters the most, something he knows better then anyone else. He'll be back next season and will be stronger from this. If the Canucks have the chance to re-sign Luo, they will do it. What it shakes down to is what they do this summer. The Canucks have a blue chip prospect in Corey Schneider, this years AHL goalie of the year, playing in their farm system. If the team and Luongo can't come together on a new deal, there are options.

Before the Canucks can even look at re-signing Luongo, they have to figure out if they’re going to make the Sedins an offer. The word is they’re looking for something in the range of 13-14 million. The twins have the stats to back up a top-tier payout. The question is this, can anyone really afford to pay them that much? There have been rumors of Minnesota and Toronto showing some interest. The Leafs have the money and Burkey, after all is the one that brought them to Vancouver in the first place. Free agency starts as of July 1st, leaving the Canucks with little time to figure this out. They sign them and this is their top line over the next five plus seasons. They don't sign them and it frees up a nice chunk of money, money that may be needed to re-sign Luongo and possibly a top calibre free agent. Ultimately it comes down to this, are the twins the right choice to lead this team to the Stanley Cup? That decision is Mike Gillis's to make.

The back end of the Canucks got exposed badly in the Chicago series. That’s the reality of the NHL nowadays. The Hawks were brutal for years and were able to draft high flyers like Kane and Toews amongst others. The speed of this young Hawks team is unbelievable. The Canucks blue line was supposed to be a signature of the team, and arguably can still be considered one of the top Ds in the NHL. It is apparent that they will lose Mattias Ohlund, who seems determined to test the market come July 1st, which may turn out to be a good thing for the Canucks. Ohlund got burned by the speed of the Hawks, and his best years may be behind him. Not saying he won't be a significant pick up for a team needing a solid top six defenseman, just that I think the Canucks blue line can be better without him. What they require is a top flight D man that moves the puck out of the zone with ease and can quarterback a power play. Plus, he needs to stay healthy and log heavy minutes every night. Basically what Sami Salo was supposed to be doing. Yes, Salo's still under contract, but he needs to be moved. The Canucks would benefit from a shake up on their blue line. Ohlund's basically gone. Mitchell and Bieksa are trees that can hurt people. A solid blue line needs those kind of guys. Edler is their stud, who will move up into the top pairing. Moving Salo could score them a good young prospect who can slot into the third pairing, and more importantly, it would help them make a pitch for stud Jay Bouwmeester. Adding Bouwmeester would give them an all-star who makes the first pass effortlessly and has the speed and skill to keep up with the young fast stars of the league. Him paired with Alex Edler would give the Canucks one of the top two young blue line pairings in the league.

This won't be an easy summer for Gillis and his staff. Sportsnet reported yesterday that the Canucks will offer coach Alain Vigneault a two or three year extension, so you know that Gillis has faith in the man who is at the helm, as he should. Really this team is not far off being a legit Cup contender. The likes of Burrows, Kesler, Raymond, Wellwood, Johnson, Rypien and Hordichuk make up the depth of this team, a solid core. The decision has to be what to do with the top end players. Do you tinker or do you disable? Hard to say, but what we do know is come July 1st we'll have an idea of what way Gillis is going to go.

Friday, May 8, 2009

All time "Drug Stars"

As if baseball's image wasn't tarnished enough, yesterday’s news of Manny Ramirez receiving a 50 game suspension for using a banned substance has me thinking about an idea I have thought about for quite sometime now. A juiced league. Back to the nineties the time of steroids being fair game, monster home run numbers, fired up pitchers throwing flames, and more bench clearing brawls due to roid rage. Welcome to the WWE meets baseball.

This applies to more than just baseball. Track and field should open up the medicine cabinets too. Just think, maybe someone can run the 100 metre dash in under 5 seconds!Yes it can shrink your genitals and make them retract (just ask Ken Caminiti), and there is always the matter of being a high risk for a heart attack liver failure, or a stroke, but hey, it's for the good of their careers. Their risk is our (as fans) reward.

To honour yet another baseball "hero" getting caught cheating, I am pleased to announce my all-time Major League Baseball "Juiced" All Star team.


Roger Clemens - The "Rocket" will deny till he dies, but the fact is he was on the juice and was considered one of the best, if not the best pitcher of all time. Now we know how he did it.


Mike Piazza - Regarded as the best hitting catcher of all time, Piazza holds the MLB record for most home runs by a catcher. Nuff said.

First Base:

Mark McGwire - This was tough as there have been a few really good juiced up first baggers. McGwire was a childhood hero of mine. The man's forearms at the end of his career were as big as his head at the start of his career. The androstenedione made him a freak, one that crushed baseballs!

Second Base:

Bret Boone - The little man who overnight became a slugger. Back in 2001 at the age of 32 Boone had a career year in which he drove in 141 RBI's with 37 home runs. His numbers improved by 22 homers and 67 ribs from the season before, this at the age of 32. Once steroid testing became mandatory a couple of seasons later, not surprisingly Boone's numbers declined, as did his career.


Alex Rodriguez - Maybe the biggest name on this team. His excuse of "being young and stupid" may have justified his actions in his mind, but baseball fans all over America mourned this one. Suspected for years but never proven till now, his amazing career will forever be questioned by his drug use.

Third Base:

Ken Caminiti - One of the few who flat out admitted his steroid use. The 1996 NL MVP once told Sports Illustrated about the effects the steroid use had on him, stating "my testicles shrank and retracted; doctors found my body had virtually stopped producing its own testosterone and that my level of the hormone had fallen to 20% of normal." Sound like a worthy sacrifice to improve your swing? Not bloody likely.

Left Field:

Barry Bonds - Though it has really has yet to be proven if Bonds is a juicer, it is apparent that he didn't just take aspirin. How else do you explain his head growing (I mean literally) in his thirties! Look at pictures of Bonds when he was with the Pirates early in his career compared to later years in San Fran. If that's not an effect of HGH then what has Bonds been eating?

Center Field:

Lenny Dysktra - Charlie Hustle in his playing days. Dyk was the epitome of a baseball player. Apparently he too was also the epitome of a player of the steroid era.
Right Field:
Sammy Sosa - Sammy and Big Mac brought baseball back to life after the '94 strike, with their pursuit of Roger Maris’s home run record. Unfortunately for Sammy, his steroid use will always be remembered over that magical time in baseball.

There you have it. The all-time juiced team. Hard to argue with a line up that stacked, better yet that jacked!

If you think the starters were good, you should see the bench.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Round 2.... Fight! (NBA playoff edition)

The most wonderful time of the year in sports continues. NHL and NBA playoffs are in full swing. I touched on the NHL yesterday, and today it's time to take a look at what’s happening around the NBA.

I normally find the NBA early rounds to be quite predictable and usually don't find the ball to be all that competitive, but this season has been a bit of an exception.

The Celtics got a huge run for their money (again) in the first round from a scrappy Bulls team. The loss of KG for the playoffs had lots to do with that, but the Bulls did prove that their future is bright, especially with rookie of the year Derrick Rose running the team.

The Celts escaped in seven, only to have to face "Superman" Dwight Howard and the Magic next. The loss of Garnett will now be much more pronounced as the Celt s really don't have anyone that can handle Howard. Kendrick Perkins will try, and fail, and with Leon Powe done for the season, this leaves just "Big Baby" Davis to shoulder the load. Not a good look for the reigning champs. Is this the end of the road for these banged up Celtics? Afraid so. Pierce, Rondo & Allen will do their best, but Howard's presence will be the difference for the Magic.

The other series in the east is what I'm talking about when it comes to predictability. Lebron and the Cavs versus the Hawks. Key word here: Lebron.

It's "Bron, Bron's" year and he's on a mission to take the Cavs all the way. Dwyane Wade took the Heat on his own to seven games with the Hawks. If the Hawks barely handled Wade, what do you think they can do to contain James. If this isn't a sweep, then the Cavs will take it in five. ZZZZZZZ…

Now to the west where its things are getting wild!

Let me start with who I picked to win it all this year, the Lakers, and their series with the Rockets. The Lakers cruised in round one as expected, while the Rockets handled the Blazers, which really surprised me. I've watched the Rockets through the regular season more than a few times and didn't know what to make of them. One thing I knew was certain with these Rockets, Yao is Yao. As long as he's healthy and on the floor, he's basically unstoppable. The loss of McGrady I thought wouldn't hurt too much as Artest can fill that scoring void. What I didn't know about this team was the strength of their role players in Scola, Landry, Brooks, Lowry, Hayes and Wafer. One of the main reasons I took the Lakers was their depth, but the Rockets are just as deep. Game one was a huge win for the Rockets. Taking down the Lakeshow on their home floor at anytime of the year, let alone in the playoffs is tough. I'm gonna sit on the fence on who will win this series as it's a tough call. With what we saw in game one, this will be a battle. What I really would like to see, is the Rockets come through so they can flip the script on these playoffs, and make me once again be proven wrong!

The Mavericks getting to the second round is a little surprising. What surprised me was the way the Mavs handled the Spurs with relative ease in round one. Now they have the feisty Nuggets to handle.

"Disco" Dirk is doing his best to get the Mavs competitive dropping 28 and 35 in games one and two. Not an easy task with Kenyon Martin up in his grill most of the game. The Nug's just seem to be on another level than the Mavs. They run the floor so well in transition and can score in bunches. They have three deadly scorers in Carmelo, Billups & JR Smith, and their bench chips in plenty (39 points in game one, 37 in game two.) I love the energy of this Denver squad and can see them challenging either the Lakers or the Rockets for the west title. The series isn't wrapped just yet, with things shifting to Dallas for games three and four. Don't be surprised if the Mavs take one of the next two, maybe even both. I think the Mavs have fight left in them and can make a run, but once the smoke clears in this series, it will be the Nuggets who prevail.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Round 2... FIGHT! (NHL playoff edition)

The NHL playoffs are into their second round and things are getting very interesting.

This is what we’ve seen so far.

The Ducks are for real.
Crosby vs Ovechkin is heating up.
The Hawks are looking strong.
The Canes can hold their own.

In the west the Ducks apparently surprised nobody but myself, taking the Sharks out in round one. Now they're giving the Wings a run! The Perry, Ryan and Getzlaf line is dangerous every time they’re on the ice, Pronger is mugging people as only Pronger can, and this Hiller kid has been lights out between the pipes.

Is Switzerland the new Finland when it comes goalie hot beds? Doubtful, but this Swiss lad has been stealing the show.

Let's not count out the Wings just yet. They've held their own and basically got outdueled by Hiller in game two. Osgood has been no slouch either. He's been the Wings best player, and once again is silencing his critics. How many years has Ozzy's play been questioned going into the playoffs? To use a Patrick Roy quote, he "can't hear you with all his Stanley cup rings in his ear."
This series is miles ahead of any of the others being played. Fast, hard hitting, end-to-end action. The winner of this series will take the west. That is if they don't kill each other first.

In my city, the hometown Canucks are reeling after a tough loss to the Blackhawks in game two. Knotted at one a piece going into tonight's tilt in Chicago, the feeling around Vancouver is more like they’re down 3-0. It’s tough not to be concerned considering they lost their power play quarterback with defenseman Sami Salo going down with another injury. His cannon from the point is one of the best in the league, and won them game one. He didn't make the trip to Chi-town for game three and his status is up in the air for game four.
The Canucks have controlled play for about 2.5 periods of this series, escaping game one after a late Hawks come back. Outside of that, it’s been all Hawks.The Hawks seem to be stronger and more skilled then the Canucks. Dustin Byfuglien and Ben Eager have been a handful for the Canucks, crashing the net, hitting hard on the forecheck and winning the battles in the corners. The Canucks don't seem to have anyone that can step up to either of them.
The Pattys, Kane and Sharp and Jonathan Toews seem to be able to take the blue line at will and they’re getting their money's worth from the overpaid goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, who was much better in game two.

The Canucks need to play sixty minutes and beyond if they want to stay in this series. Both teams seem to be able to find the box, making special teams execution very key. If the Canucks can play mistake free and make life relatively easy for Luongo, they can take back the momentum in this series. It should be a good game three tonight. The United Center will be rocking, that’s a given. Keep this in mind. These Blackhawks fans are due. They've had it worse then any fans in the NHL. The Hawks hold the NHL record for years without winning a cup. They last hoisted Lord Stanley, back in 1961!

In the east we're seeing two very different series with some outstanding hockey being played. Gary's wet dream has come true with Ovie facing Sid the Kid for the first time in the playoffs. The play of these two has lived up to the hype, with hat tricks from both of these superstars in game two. The Caps have the edge so far, but this one is far from done. One goal games in both games one and two has the Caps up 2-0.

The series shifts to Pittsburgh tomorrow night and could very well be another one goal game with the Caps either up three or the Pens back in it. Last goal wins in this one. Got to love it.

I would love to see the Pens take the next two and make this one go the distance, just for the pure pleasure of watching the two best young stars in the game battle each other. However, if rookie Simeon Varlamov keeps stealing games for the Caps, this won't go much further then the next two in Pittsburgh.

The last, but not least series to get a mention, has the late season surging Hurricanes versus the eastern conference juggernaut Boston Bruins, and it too is just as intense and exciting as any of the others.

Game one looked as if the Bruins would roll through the Canes like they did against Montreal. They controlled the play and made it look easy, cruising to a 4-1 win.
Game two was a much different story. Cam Ward took over in the third period, stopping 16 shots to notch the series up at ones. Like the Ducks and Wings in the west, this series should determine the winner of the east. I love the style of play between these two gritty, not pretty, teams. This one will likely go seven and should be a treat to watch throughout.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Very little bite in this years Raptors

The 2008 - 09 Toronto Raptors’ season can be wrapped up in one word. Pathetic.
How things went from 47 wins three seasons ago, to 33 wins this year with relatively the same core group is puzzling. What happened here?
Didn't Brian Colangelo fill the big physical hole the Raps needed the most when he acquired Jermaine O'Neal?
J.O. was supposed to bring the rebounding presence that, outside of Chris Bosh, was lacking from the rest of the line up. He did a rather lifeless job of it. Took his usual amount of bad shots, plus he did what J.O. is more commonly known for. Getting injured.The fact that they were able to get Shawn Marion and his expiring contract for O'Neal and Jamario Moon was a steal for the Raps. More importantly it may have saved Colangelo's ass.
The Sam Mitchell firing was in my opinion half a season too late.
I love Sam and his tell it like it is attitude. He was a decent "player’s" coach that will make for a better TV analyst. Colangelo and the Raps should have fired him last summer and brought in an experienced coach that could lead this new-look squad. Sam was slipping with the players at the end of last season and lost them this year early. It's not 100% Sam's fault that the Raps had such a lousy season, but it did set the tone early, ultimately being their demise.
All the players are saying the "right" things about interim coach Jay Triano, but he's not the answer. Good ol' Canadian boy, so I don't want to knock him, but I think he should slide back to being an assistant. The Raps don't need another "nice" player’s coach. They need a tough "proven" coach.
The question is who?
The coaching can't shoulder all the blame. The players certainly weren't any better.
The starting unit never was in sync while O'Neal was on the team. His strength in the post isn't nearly what it used to be, which resulted in him taking too many shots that either bricked or got blocked. He had the odd good night, but as a whole was a large bust.
Anthony Parker had his worst season as a Raptor. His points per game, three point and field goal percentage were the worst he's had as a member of the Raps. Not good signs from your "shooting" guard. AP is an unrestricted free agent this summer and my feeling is that this was his final year in Hogtown.
A glance at the bench and its a who's who of who? What I mean by that is, who are half these guys. Marcus Banks. Jake Voskuhl. Nathan Jawai. Come on. Who? Depth is key in the NBA and outside of the Raps starting five, there isn't a whole lot.
When is Joey Graham going to do something?He's been trying out for the team since they drafted him 15th over all in the '05 draft. He's up for a new contract this summer and think he'd be better off elsewhere.
What’s up with the Raps’ coaching and Jason Kapono?
The guy can't seem to get a single set drawn up for him to utilize his three point strength. This drives me nuts.Why do you have a guy averaging 24 minutes a night while not drawing up a single play for him!He doesn't defend well. Can't rebound. Won't drive.... all he can do is shoot.Get the man free so he can unleash.His three point percentage dropped to its lowest since he joined the Raps. Just three seasons ago he was shooting over .500 from three, and now he's barely over .430. Weak.
J Kap will never be considered an all-around player but he is one hell of a deadly shooter, especially when he gets wide open looks.
The loss of Kris Humphries to injury really hurt the Raps’ depth. That may seem laughable to some as he's not the prettiest basketball player, but Hump brings energy and toughness when he's on the floor, and that is contagious. The addition of Pops Mensah-Bonsu late in the season brought back some of that energy. He looks like he just may be a good pro. Don't be surprised if he's back next season. A lone bright spot from a very spotty bench core.
Not all was bad with the Raps line up.
Chris Bosh had his usual 22 & 10, carrying this team as he's been doing for a few years now.Bosh's frustration was shown throughout this season. One can tell he desperately wanted help, especially when Calderon was injured. The big question with Bosh is whether or not they can resign him before he becomes a free agent in 2010, or do they look to trade him this summer. There is a lot of good young talent in this summer’s draft and Bosh is a huge bargaining chip. The problem with trading "CB4" is, it’s not that simple. He would have to get traded to a team that could also sign him. No team is going to take a chance in trading for him and then losing him after one season.
Another factor is that you are trading your best player. The corner stone of your franchise. Is it in the Raps best interest to even consider this? Only Colangelo knows the answer.
The emergence of Andrea Bargnani this year finally silenced some doubters. "Il Mago" had his best year as a pro, setting career highs in points, rebounds, blocks, field goal and three point percentage. Bargs took over the starting five spot when O'Neal went down with a knee injury, and he ran with it. He cleaned up his bad habits. Drove hard without hesitation. Took better shots. His defense needs work, but he did show that he can use his length to get swats. The Dirk Nowitski comparisons are finally starting to show. Not saying he'll be a league MVP anytime soon, but he did prove that he can be a force in the L.
Jose Calerdon's season was one of ups and downs. A nagging hamstring injury held him back and hurt the Raps desperately as their depth at the point guard position is brutal. Roko Ukic just wasn't ready to run an NBA team night in and night out, which resulted in the team using
Anthony Parker at the point when Calderon was down. Outside of the fact that Jose missed 14 games this year he had a brilliant year in terms of numbers, setting career highs in points per game, assists per game, steals per game, rebounds per game and set an NBA record shooting an incredible .981 from the stripe, missing only three free throws all year! Amazing.
When the Raps acquired Shawn Marion at the trade deadline I was just glad they were able to get rid of O'Neal. I was a Marion fan, but was skeptical of his game. His numbers had dropped significantly once he got traded from Phoenix to Miami. His expiring contract was a sigh of relief because if he, like O'Neal, didn't work out the Raps wouldn't be stuck. He started off a little slow but once they got to running and pushing the ball in transition more, that's when Marion started to flourish. The Raps can benefit from playing an up tempo Marion style of ball. When you have an active center and an athletic power forward, you can run. I would love to see Marion return. Problem is he may follow the dollars, something the Raps will be tight on when looking to resign.
This off season will be very interesting for the Raptors. Many scenarios could happen.
Will they pull off a blockbuster trade?
Are they going to look at acquiring a new coach?
Can they go out and sign new faces of all-star caliber?
It will be a new Raps team no matter how Colangelo shakes it. The good thing. The team can only get better, cause they sure as hell can't get much worse.