Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Luck Reigns in the Pacific Northwest - Mock Draft
This entry appears on BucketsMagazine.com

A year ago, the Portland Trailblazers were in position to get the top pick in the 2006 NBA Draft, but the lottery didn’t favor them. A year later, luck came back to them in the form (potentially) of a 7-foot franchise center named Greg Oden. A few hours north on I-5, the Seattle Supersonics were also counting their blessings, beating the odds and obtaining the second overall pick that will likely translate into Kevin Durant. In two other cities, Memphis and Boston, who were poised to take the top two picks, morale is low and GM’s are heated. But with all the talk about the Blazers and Sonics sneaking in to grab the top two picks, people have overlooked how lucky the Atlanta Hawks were.

The only way the Hawks were going to keep their top pick was if it was in the top-3, when they were likely to land just outside at 4 (otherwise it would go to Phoenix due to the Joe Johnson deal). They also obtained the top pick of the Pacers because of the Al Harrington trade, but only if it was outside of the top-10. The pick landed at 11. Already with a core nucleus of young, exciting players, Atlanta is poised to make a serious run in the East and have a legitimate shot at rebuilding their team.

This is the deepest draft we have seen in years, and every team has a chance to add an impact player who can step in right away and contribute. That said, this is how I see the first round going down:

1. Portland Trailblazers - Greg Oden, C, Ohio State - Although they may be gun shy passing up an explosive swingman for a center (Sam Bowie vs. Michael Jordan, anyone?), Greg Oden is the real deal. They should immediately contend in the West with a nucleus of Rookie-of-the-Year Brandon Roy and fellow 2006 lottery pick LaMarcus Aldridge.

2. Seattle Supersonics - Kevin Durant, SF, Texas - The Sonics have said they are going to re-sign Rashard Lewis, who plays the same position as Durant. This will be a very exciting team to watch next year, and should institute a game plan similar to the Golden State Warriors this season. A lineup of Luke Ridnour, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, Kevin Durant, and Chris Wilcox would be tough to keep up with.

3. Atlanta Hawks - Mike Conley, Jr., PG, Ohio State - The Hawks most glaring need is at the point, and Conley is going to be great. A no-brainer.

4. Memphis Grizzlies - Al Horford, PF, Florida - Horford would be able to step in and help right away, and could contend for Rookie of the Year honors. A frontcourt of Pau Gasol, Horford, and Rudy Gay is a great way to move forward.

5. Boston Celtics - Yi Jianlian, PF, China - Bill Simmons called this the “worst case scenario” for the Celtics. It’s bad news in Boston, although Yi could shut everyone up if he lives up to his potential.

6. Milwaukee Bucks - Brandan Wright, PF, North Carolina - If the Grizzlies and Celtics pass him up, Milwaukee would be stupid not to select this explosive power forward.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves - Corey Brewer, SF, Florida - Brewer fits the bill as an explosive scorer and defensive stopper, exactly what Minnesota needs to add to their roster. He would compliment Kevin Garnett, Randy Foye, Rashad McCants, and Craig Smith extremely well, giving the Timberwolves a strong nucleus to win now as well as build for the future.

8. Charlotte Bobcats - Joakim Noah, PF, Florida - His stock dropped this season, but should still stick in the lottery. He would help the Bobcats in the frontcourt on both ends, as well as provide intangibles such as leadership and work ethic.

9. Chicago Bulls - Spencer Hawes, C, Washington - The Bulls most glaring need is low-post scoring, and Hawes may be the best low-post scorer in the draft.

10. Sacramento Kings - Julian Wright, SF, Kansas - This draft is stacked at the small forward position, and Wright is one of the best. Wright would fit in well in Sacramento as they are likely to try to move Ron Artest this offseason.

11. Atlanta Hawks - Al Thornton, PF, Florida State - Atlanta, like the draft, is stacked at the small forward position. Thornton would give them some needed help in the frontcourt, as their selection of Sheldon Williams last year continues to haunt them.

12. Philadelphia 76ers - Jeff Green, SF, Georgetown - If Green stays in the draft (70% chance he returns to school, he claims), Philly would be ecstatic if he dropped this far. I personally think that if Green is taken anywhere outside of the top-5, he is a steal. He plays both ends of the floor, his body is NBA-ready, he has range on his shot, and he is a proven winner and leader who can take the big shot.

13. New Orleans Hornets - Thaddeus Young, SF, Georgia Tech - With Desmond Mason likely out in New Orleans, the Hornets will look to reload with the best SF still on the board.

14. Los Angeles Clippers - Acie Law IV, PG, Texas A&M - With Shaun Livingston’s career up in the air after his gruesome injury, the Clippers will look to shore up the position.

15. Detroit Pistons - Sean Williams, PF/C, Boston College - The Pistons need to address the defense in the low post that they lost when Ben Wallace took off for Chicago. Williams, a projected lottery pick before his off-court issues, would be a great fit, but a bit of a stretch.

16. Washington Wizards - Jason Smith, C, Colorado - Even without Brendan Haywood requesting a trade, Washington needed to address the center position. Smith is a talented, athletic big man who would work well with the uptempo style of Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, and Antawn Jameson.

17. New Jersey Nets - Nick Young, SG, USC - Young has a smooth stroke and can rock the rim… sounds like Vince Carter, right? He isn’t quite on that level, but drafting Young will allow the Nets to not worry so much if Carter is gone next year.

18. Golden State Warriors - Tiago Splitter, PF, Brazil - The Warriors don’t have much need except in the front court, and Splitter can run with the guards.

19. Los Angeles Lakers - Rodney Stuckey, PG/SG, Eastern Washington - The Lakers need to give Kobe another scorer, and Stuckey is as explosive as they come. Under the radar at Eastern Washington, he could really turn some heads in the spotlight of the NBA.

20. Miami Heat - Javaris Crittenton, PG, Georgia Tech - Miami needs to address the point, with Payton aging and Williams slowing down each year due to injury.

21. Philadelphia 76ers - Josh McRoberts, PF, Duke - I am not sold on McRoberts as an NBA player, but it may be because he played out of position at Duke. Billy King fits the bill as a GM who could make the mistake of drafting him.

22. Charlotte Bobcats - Daequan Cook, SG, Ohio State - Cook will be the third Buckeye taken in the first round this year, and would give the Bobcats a serious upgrade over Matt Carroll.

23. New York Knicks - Glen Davis, PF, LSU - With the 23rd pick, unless a lottery pick drops to the Knicks, I don’t see Isaiah Thomas doing anything but getting booed.

24. Phoenix Suns - Marco Belinelli, SG, Italy - He can shoot and play some defense, and would be a good pick in case the Suns lose anyone from their core backcourt in the next couple years.

25. Utah Jazz - Derrick Byars, SF, Vanderbilt - The Jazz could use to add another outside shooter. Byars stock soared after a strong senior season and stronger NCAA tournament.

26. Houston Rockets - Brandon Rush, SG, Kansas - If Rush slips this far, it would be a perfect fit for the Rockets, adding a scorer in the backcourt to play alongside Tracey McGrady.

27. Detroit Pistons - Marcus Williams, SF, Arizona - He can play the 2 and the 3, and would be a huge upgrade over Flip Murry in the “scorer off the bench” category.

28. San Antonio Spurs - Rudy Fernandez, SG, Spain - It is no secret the Spurs like foreign players. Fernandez could be another good one.

29. Phoenix Suns - Ante Tomic, C, Croatia - Everyone is searching for the next quality foreign big man. Tomic could be it.

30. Philadelphia 76ers - Gabe Pruitt, PG, USC - With 3 picks in the first round, I would be surprised if they keep them all. If they do, Pruitt would be a strong pick, as they need a young point guard. I don’t see Andre Miller on their roster next season.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Bombed in the Bronx

Just as I did with Madison Square Garden, I made a point to get to Yankee Stadium this season because I live in New York. A weekend series against my Seattle Mariners was a perfect excuse. After the game Friday night (a 15-11 Seattle win that I did not attend) I was thinking there could be 100 runs scored in the 4-game series, with the problems the Yankees had been having with their rotation and the Mariners lack of good pitching in general with Felix Hernandez on the DL. Boy was I wrong.

Saturday started off with a nice little reunion on the roof of a parking garage with a few of my friends, as we enjoyed some beers and sunrays. With Jeff Weaver pitching for Seattle, I made a couple bets that the Yankees would hit a first inning home run. Keep in mind, Weaver was entering the game 0-4 with an ERA over 18. We found our seats and settled in with an $8 beer to enjoy America’s pastime.

Surprisingly, Jeff Weaver didn’t get shelled in the first inning as I had expected. Or the second. Or the third. In fact, it took until the sixth inning for Weaver to let the game get away. You know it’s bad when you go five and two thirds of an inning and give up six runs, and your ERA actually goes down.

On the other side of the ball, it was a completely different game. Chien-Ming Wang had been perfect. No hits, no walks, even aided by a couple great defensive plays by A-Rod. At this point, I became a very annoying person to all the Yankee fans in our section, continually asking out loud, “Is it bad that I’m talking about this being a perfect game? Am I going to jinx it?” Sure enough, in the eighth inning the Mariners finally got to Wang as Ben Broussard pulled a misplaced changeup over the fences in right. Perfect game, huh? Almost made it.

I returned to the Bronx on Sunday, two glorious days in a row to watch a baseball game. It wasn’t quite like watching a perfect game unfold, but it was fun nonetheless. In the fifth, as Yankees first baseman Josh Phelps scored New York’s first run, he went out of his way to railroad Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima, even though Kenji had left home plate wide open for him to slide through because he knew the throw from Ichiro would be late. The following inning, as Phelps came to the plate, Jarrod Washburn plunked him in the back in retaliation. Because it was Yankee Stadium and not Safeco Field, the fans didn’t even realize that Phelps had made a dirty play and this retaliation was inevitable. So when Scott Proctor threw at Yuniesky Betancourt’s head in the seventh inning and got tossed, the benches cleared and the crowd came to life. Comments like “David Justice wouldn’t have let this happen” and “Where’s Paul O’Neill when you need him” poured on much to my amusement. Unfortunately for us, no brawl ensued, but it sure would’ve been fun to watch A-Rod get pummeled by Richie Sexson and Ichiro have a kung-fu battle with Kei Igawa.

Even though I saw the Mariners gather only six hits and one run in the two games I attended, my trips to Yankee Stadium were great. I saw a nearly perfect game, a near brawl, and Roger Clemens announce that he is returning to the Yankees. It truly is a wonderful ballpark, and it’s a shame it is being torn down. I’m sure the new stadium will be great, and I hear they are keeping all the same dimensions, but there’s something about the history of a ballpark that I love, like at Fenway Park, that I never had in Seattle. The Kingdome wasn’t a historical ballpark, and as beautiful as Safeco Field is, it doesn’t have that same feeling as Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium. So I’m glad that I got to see some baseball in one of the game’s historical playgrounds before it is gone forever.

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