Thursday, June 25, 2009

Draft a good place to find good big men to fill big holes


Before the last two seasons, there was a stretch in which either Shaquille O'Neal or Tim Duncan won eight of the nine NBA championships. This year, we saw the Orlando Magic become an elite team with the development of Dwight Howard.

The best formula for winning in the NBA starts with a dominant big man, but the likes of Shaq, Duncan and Dwight don't come around often.

Blake Griffin isn't on that level, but he can be an All-Star and make an impact. And he's much more of a sure thing than anyone else in this Draft. So even though the Clippers already have too many big men, they're set to take Griffin with the first pick.

Here are the lottery teams that could use some help on the frontline the most (first round picks in parentheses).

1. Memphis Grizzlies (2 and 27)

Under contract: Marc Gasol, Darko Milicic, Darrell Arthur

With a solid, young core of Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay and Gasol, the Grizzlies are missing only their power forward of the future. And by getting the second pick in the lottery, they miss him again. With Griffin off the board, the Grizzlies could reach a bit and fill their need with Arizona's Jordan Hill, because Hasheem Thabeet isn't an obvious fit next to Gasol. They also could trade down and get Hill a few picks later.

2. New York Knicks (8)

Under contract: Al Harrington, Eddy Curry, Jared Jeffries

In Mike D'Antoni's system, a traditional big man isn't needed, but the Knicks do need some sort of interior presence, especially on defense, even if they bring back restricted free agent David Lee. Hill might be a good fit, but of greater need is getting someone who can run the offense, and with plenty of point guards to go around, the Knicks may have to find a big man elsewhere.

3. Sacramento Kings (4 and 23)

Under contract: Jason Thompson, Spencer Hawes, Kenny Thomas

The Kings have used their last two lottery picks on Hawes and Thompson, and both have shown promise. But you always need more than two bigs, so the Kings could do worse than bringing another big man into the fold.

4. New Jersey Nets (11)

Under contract: Brook Lopez, Yi Jianlian, Ryan Anderson, Josh Boone, Sean Williams

With Lopez, the Nets should be set at center for years to come. Their other bigs each have various skills, but none is close to being a total package, and none provides the defense and rebounding the Nets need. Five years after he left, this team is still missing the skills of Kenyon Martin.

5. Milwaukee Bucks (10)

Under contract: Andrew Bogut, Amir Johnson, Kurt Thomas, Dan Gadzuric

Before his season was cut short by a back injury, Bogut was starting to look like one of the better centers in the league. Tuesday's trade of Richard Jefferson frees up more money to resign Charlie Villanueva (who is a restricted free agent), but if he goes elsewhere, Milwaukee has a hole at the four.

6. Charlotte Bobcats (12)

Under contract: Boris Diaw, Emeka Okafor, Nazr Mohammed, DeSagana Diop

The Bobcats are solid up front but could use some athleticism to complement Okafor and Diaw. The have a greater need on the perimeter.

Other lottery teams

7. Toronto Raptors (8) -- As they stand, the Raptors need depth beyond Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani, and they may need insurance should Bosh bolt in 2010.

8. Golden State Warriors (7) -- With the way they play, the Warriors don't need a full complement of big men. But should they ever go traditional ...

9. Phoenix Suns (14) -- Shaq's on his way out, but Robin Lopez is waiting in the wings.

10. Oklahoma City Thunder (3 and 25) -- Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic and Nick Collison are a solid trio, but Hasheem Thabeet could make the OKC frontline even stronger.

11. Indiana Pacers (13) -- Roy Hibbert finished his rookie season strong and Troy Murphy had the best season of his career.

12. Los Angeles Clippers (1) -- They don't need another big man, but they're getting one anyway.

13. Minnesota (5 and 6) -- In Kevin Love and Al Jefferson, the Wolves have a terrific young frontline duo.

Non-lottery teams most in need of a big

Detroit (15) -- Rasheed Wallace, Antonio McDyess and Kwame Brown are all unrestricted free agents.

Atlanta (19) -- Zaza Pachulia is a free agent and they've got Al Horford playing center.

Utah (20) -- Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur can opt out of their contracts and Paul Millsap is a restricted free agent.

Cleveland (30) -- Anderson Varejao will likely decline his player option. The rest of the Cavs' frontline is long in the tooth.

Source From :

TNT's David Aldridge goes one-on-one with NBA bloggers


David Aldridge: I think most of the time people take the best player available, I don't think that changes much year to year. Sometimes, you have the perfect marriage of need and best player available, but I think most times talent wins out in this league. So, even though you may have a talented player at one position, if there's somebody on the board that's just head and shoulders better than anybody else; I think the feeling nowadays is you can always trade contracts. In this environment, especially with the economy the way it is, people are always looking to save money, so even a bad contract can be dealt if it's an expiring one. I think that best player usually wins out.

2. Are there many teams that are looking to deal their draft picks due to the current financial climate? Or are they more likely to stash players overseas? (A Stern Warning)

DA: I think you'll see some teams maybe not even bother to get into the draft for that reason. I think Denver [Nuggets] is an example of a team that did a lot of work to get under the [luxury] tax last year; I don't think that they are all that fired up about getting back into the draft and paying guaranteed money to somebody that's probably not going to play a lot for the them next year. So, that's the kind of example of the economy impacting what teams do. Instead of being aggressive, I think some teams may be passive. Now you know your Portland's and some of your other teams -- Houston is going to buy in at some point in the first round -- they'll find somebody to do business with. But, I do think that you'll see some teams just not doing anything, as opposed to what they would normally do, which is be active at the end of the first round and try to get one of those late first-round picks.

3. Why are prospects seeming to not want to play for Memphis? What is it about Memphis that is different from other small markets? (3 Shades of Blue)

DA: I think that's a bit overblown, you're talking about one guy in [Ricky] Rubio and the reason why Rubio is reluctant is because Pau Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro didn't have great experiences there, so I'm sure that they've talked to him and probably did not give a glowing picture of Memphis, but I don't think that there's a groundswell of discontent for the city of Memphis or with the Grizzlies. I think that's the case of that particular player; because of his background has had a chance to talk to other players. But no, Memphis is still a place where people are going to want to go, and if it's not Rubio somebody else very good is going to wind up going there.

4. Stephen Curry: Impact player (a la Eddie House) or simply the best shooter in the warm-up lines? Or both? (Peter Robert Casey)

DA: I think he will be much like his father, a very good role player for a long time in the NBA. He's smart and knows how to play. I think he's going to be a pretty solid point guard. ... I don't expect spectacular from him, but I think he's going to be a guy that is going to play for a long time in this league. A great demeanor and great character guy, a guy that's willing to take big shots and make big shots. Whether he's starting for you or he's your sixth man, it doesn't really matter; he's going to wind up helping you win basketball games. I think he's going to be an excellent role player. If he winds up on a good team somehow, he could really make a huge impact next year. But if not, more likely he ends up with a struggling team, it might take him a few years to really break in.

5. Patrick Mills was looking like a world-beater a year ago with St. Mary's and then in the Olympics for Australia, but an injury certainly set him back. Do you think that with this draft being so deep with point guards that Mills' stock will be severely set back by his injury-riddled season? (A Stern Warning)

DA: Well he'll get drafted; I was surprised he stayed in though, because this is a great point guard filled draft. It surprised me that Patty stayed in because he was never a guy that was going to be a top-half of the lottery guy and I thought this year would be a good year for point guards to pass if you weren't assured of being a top-half of the lottery guy. I think you saw [Greivis] Vasquez go back for example, and that made a lot of sense. Patty is going to get drafted, it could be late first [round], but there's teams that could look at him. Dallas [Mavericks] certainly could take him with the 22nd pick, and that wouldn't surprise me at all, but it wouldn't surprise if he lasted into the second round either.

6. What are your feelings towards the Kings draft and what they'll do with the No. 4 selection. Do you think Ricky Rubio will fall to Sacramento? (Kings Forum)

DA: If he's there, and I'm not sure he's going to be there, but if he is there I think that's the guy they will take. I know that there are people in the organization that like Tyreke Evans, so I think that they're having a discussion about that right now about which way they would go if those two were available on the board. But, my guess would be that Rubio would take the argument there. I think Ricky has got star potential, I think he could be a superstar in this league in terms of his ability and his personality. Sacramento certainly needs a little bit of a bump; they need some juice back in that organization. So if he's there I think it's Rubio, if not I think it's Evans.

7. Joe Ingles has not been exposed to American audiences much, coming from Australia. Has there been much positive feedback around the league after his workouts with teams? (A Stern Warning)

DA: I think Joe [Ingles] a couple of weeks ago, maybe right around Chicago [workouts] there was a lot of interest and buzz in him. He did ok in Chicago; he didn't do badly in Chicago, but I think as it's gone on and he's done the individual workouts, I believe with Minnesota and New Jersey, it's kind of cooled a little bit. I don't get the sense that Joe is going to be a first round pick. I think he's a possible second round pick, but I'm not sure. Athletically, I don't think people see the explosion and quickness that a player would need at his position to play in the league. That doesn't mean that nobody will take a look at him, but I certainly don't think he's a first round pick at this point.

8. Rumors have suggested that Stephen Curry might no longer fall to the New York Knicks at the 8th spot, what is the latest you are hearing? (Hugging Harold Reynolds)

DA: [It'll come down to] whoever gets to 5 [pick]. Whoever trades with Washington is going to take Curry, I'm convinced of that. I can't tell you right now who it is, you have to read that on or watch NBA TV later today. Whoever gets to that 5th pick is going to take Curry.

9. Have you heard any rumblings at all about a possible Bulls deal that will be happening on Thursday? The Bulls have 2 first round picks which they can use to either move up, or bundle with a couple of nice young players to make a huge move. (Docksquad Sports)

DA: Well they've been trying, I don't know if they're going to be successful. I think that they would love to get a big at that position, but I'm not sure they're going to be able to get it done. I've tried to check with everybody in the top 15, I haven't gotten any sense, other than Washington, that anybody is really gung-ho about trading their pick. I don't think that New York wants to move back, even if it involves getting two picks; I don't get the sense that they would do that. I don't think Minnesota wants to move back, they already have 18 and 25, so they don't have any need to move back. I'm not sure Chicago is going to be able to get this done at this point.

10. With the Suns drafting 14th there's a limited number of guys that are going to available. Which of these draft picks has the greatest potential to be an all star in 5 years? Earl Clark, James Johnson, Austin Daye, Ty Lawson or Terrence Williams. (Bright Side of the Sun)

DA: Terrence Williams won't be there. [James] Johnson has been linked to them for a little while. I could see that or [Earl] Clark. Johnson is a very physical guy, he's not a great athlete but he's got some toughness about him, so I could see that as a possibility. Clark is kind of an up and down guy. He's got a lot of talent, but he's very inconsistent, or at least he was inconsistent at Louisville...that has some people concerned. [Ty] Lawson, I think that may be a pick or two too high for him, especially considering I think they going to resign Steve Nash to an extension of some kind, so I'd be surprised if they took a point there. The more likely scenario is that they take some sort of frontcourt guy there.

Source From :

Getting Draft pick right not as easy as it might look


It goes without saying that the NBA Draft is unpredictable. But the most unpredictable element isn't Draft order or trades. It's the mercurial talent.

Will Michael Olowokandi actually be a franchise cornerstone? Are we getting a steal with this Brandon Roy kid? Those are the unknowns. I thought Michael Beasley was going to take the league by storm and put up a slick 18-8 in his rookie season. I was wrong, along with a slew of other suckers. But I was also in a small minority that suspected Mario Chalmers -- with the right squad -- could step in and be a sufficient starting point guard. Young dude started 81 of 82 games last season, tossing in a neat 10 points and five assists a game.

In recent years there is instance after instance where I've nailed it or been egregiously wrong about how a prospect is going to perform. I was pushing for Emeka Okafor over Dwight Howard in 2004. Wrong. That same year, I scoffed at Jay Bilas claiming Josh Smith was going to be the biggest bust of the Draft and, last I looked, Smith has exceeded most early expectations. Earlier in that Draft, when Dick Vitale pilloried the Sixers for drafting Andre Iguodala over -- wait for this one -- Luke Friggin' Jackson, I immediately started looking into Florida retirement homes with mental health facilities for Dickie V. But the next year, I was convinced that Rashad McCants was the second best player in the 2005 Class. Way off on that one. I was dead on, though, in touting Chris Paul as a future great.

You get my point, right? You may think you know, but you really don't. I'm through with claiming any prospect as a can't miss. Everyone is saying this year's class is substandard and I want to agree with that estimation. But how do we know? I see a lot of dudes (Jonny Flynn, Tyreke Evans, Ty Lawson, DeJuan Blair) that could end up killin' it in the league. Blake Griffin? He's supposed to be the new Carlos Boozer. But I'm not excited about anyone claimed to be "the new Carlos Boozer." The "next Tim Duncan" gets me amped. The "new Carlos Boozer"? Yawn. And Boozer can knock down an 18-footer with a good amount of regularity -- Blake Griffin can't. I'm not sold on the big man. Plus, personality-wise, he makes the most stoic athlete seem like Jimmy Fallon. But what do I know?

I think Brandon Jennings could end up being in the Chris Paul/Derrick Rose/Rajon Rondo/Deron Williams crew. Or he could be the next Sebastian Telfair. Why is everyone so high on James Harden? I see a smallish, non-explosive 2 guard. But I could be ignoring the next Brandon Roy.

Stephen Curry is the prospect that scares me the most. On Curry's page, there's a YouTube clip of him answering questions at the Draft combine, clearly showing that he's a well-adjusted, articulate, sharp young dude. He also lets on that he wants to be a Knick, given MSG's stage, D'Antoni's system and the Knicks' need for a "point guard that can shoot." Curry must have said "point guard" about 20 times during the four-minute clip. It's like his handlers told him, "Make sure you say 'point guard' as often as possible during this process, so we can dupe folks into thinking that's your natural position." Stephen Curry ain't no NBA point guard. I love his feel for the game, love his IQ, love his clutch-gene, but I see more Jason Terry than Steve Nash.

This could be trouble. For every Ben Gordon and Jason Terry, the league's history is littered with pint-size guards that couldn't hack it as a 2 guard and didn't have the requisite skill set to be a full time team-orchestrator at the point. Think about dudes like Shawn Respert and Juan Dixon and Melvin Booker and Eddie House and all the other tweeners that are relegated to spot duty or just shooed out of the league altogether.

People don't just "like" Curry. Much of the nation is "devoted" to him after he captivated us all when he put David(son) on his scrawny shoulders and slayed a bunch of Goliaths in the 2008 NCAA Tournament. Basketball fans want him to succeed and NBA general managers are enthralled by some of the unique things he can do. His release is lightning quick (which always helps undersized guards get off their shots against bigger opponents; see Jeff Hornacek), his range is practically unlimited and he's a crafty driver. Those natural skills could help him as a 2 guard. Problem is, he's only 6-foot-3, so thin it looks like he's made of spaghetti and he's not explosive like, say, Terry or Gordon. He knew this going into his senior year of college so -- to improve his draft stock (and, admittedly, fill a team hole) -- he played full-time point guard. He did alright. NBA point guard, on the other hand, is wholly different than playing point guard in the ACC, let alone the Southern Conference. For Curry to succeed at the NBA's most challenging position, he's going to have to to rewire the way he thinks the game, reconfigure his basketball DNA. I'm suspicious.

Curry can be a Janero Pargo. No doubt about that. Drafting him in the Top 10, though, means you think he can be a top-flight point guard. I don't even know if I think Curry can be a D.J. Augustin point guard. Then again, I thought Deron Williams was gonna be nothing but a somewhat souped-up John Bagley. So ... time will tell. I'm sure of that.

source from :

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Lessons Live On

Rick Mahorn’s coach once told him he’d make a great coach someday, but the remark hardly registered. Not yet 30, Mahorn was in the prime of his NBA career. He had no interest in worrying about life after basketball. The coach didn’t bring it up again.

But that remark, Mahorn says, is when Chuck Daly “planted the seed” for the career in basketball he enjoys today.

On Wednesday, Mahorn, at 50 a former CBA head coach entering his fifth season on the Detroit Shock coaching staff, will put training camp preparation aside and fly to Florida to pay his final respects to Daly, who passed away Saturday from pancreatic cancer at age 78.

In the days since his passing, Daly has been credited for nothing short of revolutionizing the NBA for his emphasis on physical defense, a strategy that between 1988-91 led the Detroit Pistons to four straight conference finals, three consecutive NBA Finals and back-to-back world championships.

The players who implemented that strategy to a notorious degree– Mahorn and Bill Laimbeer, now head coach of the Shock – are Daly’s most loyal coaching progeny. They demand the same hard-nosed defense, all the while exhibiting trust in their players, an approach that is anything but in their face. In following Daly’s guiding principles, Laimbeer and Mahorn have shook up the WNBA in much the same way their mentor did the NBA two decades prior – by winning. A lot.

Laimbeer on Daly

Advised by Daly "not to be fake," Laimbeer is a “straight shooter” with his players, said Katie Smith (icing her knee).
Garrett Ellwood (NBAE/Getty)
No member of the Bad Boys played for Daly more than Laimbeer, who was a second-year center when he was traded from Cleveland to Detroit during the 1981-82 season. The Cavs coach when the deal went down? Daly, winding down a forgettable 9-32 stretch in his first pro head coaching stint.

They were reunited when Daly took over the Pistons before the 1983-84 campaign. In nine seasons Daly spent 851 games on the Pistons bench. Laimbeer played in 848 of them. He remembers the future Hall of Famer and leader of the Dream Team as a work in progress at the beginning.

“He went from a person who was trying to find his way to somebody who was confident [that] he had the right formula,” said Laimbeer, who also will attend Wednesday’s services near Palm Beach, Fla.

In 2002, Laimbeer also was a first-time pro head coach thrown into a messy midseason situation. In 2003, he orchestrated a historic turnaround as the Shock won their first WNBA championship. Detroit upset two-time defending champion Los Angeles in a manner reminiscent of the Bad Boys’ ascendance to the 1989 NBA crown.

“I take a little bit of pride in the fact I think our ’03 team changed the way the WNBA was played,” Laimbeer said during the 2008 Finals. “It became more of a physical, up-tempo, highly competitive basketball game.”

This season offers Laimbeer a third opportunity to win back-to-back championships after title defenses in 2004 and 2007 fell short. Laimbeer has taken some cues about handling a defending champion from Daly, who led the Pistons right back to the title in 1990.

“As you get better and better you’re able to release the team a little bit more, you’re able to trust them more,” Laimbeer said. “You don’t work them as hard physically because they’re already so mentally attuned. So that’s kind of how we did it as a player (under Daly) and how I do it as a coach.”

You don’t have to take the coach’s word on that account. “He prepares well but he also likes to have a good time. You get in, you do your work and you go (home),” said Shock guard Katie Smith last fall. “As a professional it’s not about grinding you for a couple hours. It’s about working hard when you get in there.”

Mahorn on Daly

Even after Mahorn joined the coaching fraternity, Daly wanted to “talk about his grandkids and my kids growing up.”
Domenic Centofanti (NBAE/Getty)
Mahorn went straight into coaching after his playing career, taking over the CBA’s Rockford Lightning for the 1999-2000 season. The novice head coach followed the best example he knew.

“I let the players be accountable for themselves, and basically the players played the game. The only thing I could do is put them in position to be successful,” Mahorn said. “He [Daly] did a lot of that for us.”

Daly made his players and staff responsible for the game plan by opening it to review. If you thought you had a better strategy, anything could be brought to the table for discussion. But once a decision was made, you had better see it through. Mahorn said open dialogue is encouraged in the Shock locker room.

“Chuck never had an ego. If he did, I never knew about it,” he said. “He had some diligent assistant coaches with Brendan Suhr, Brendan Malone, Ronnie Rothstein and Dick Versace, so he wanted input from his coaches but he also wanted input from his players. He’ll ask the players, ‘How do you all feel about this?’ If we committed [to the plan] as players, then we had to do it.”

Mahorn, who switched teams five times (playing for Detroit twice) during his 18-year career, never again captured the kind of rapport he shared with Daly from 1985 to 1989.

“I was more confident and comfortable playing for Chuck Daly as my career progressed,” he said. “That’s when you look back and say, Chuck Daly was a major influence, not only as a coach but as a person.”

A Time To Reflect

Daly’s playoff winning percentage with the Pistons was .628. That’s also Laimbeer’s postseason success rate with the Shock (27-16).
Andrew D. Bernstein (NBAE/Getty)
The Bad Boys’ glory years have been reminisced a lot lately, 2009 being the 20th anniversary of the 1989 championship, the first in Pistons history. Last spring the franchise also celebrated its 50th season in Detroit, including a pregame ceremony honoring the All-Time Team that brought Daly and many Bad Boys together again under The Palace roof.

Then longtime Pistons and Shock owner William Davidson passed away in March, and the memories flooded back as the basketball world mourned its loss. This week, the nostalgia and tears flow anew. As the years pass, the Pistons’ accomplishments under Davidson and Daly seem to grow in stature. Both men were enshrined to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, first and foremost for their transformation of the Pistons.

“I said when we won the championships to anybody who’d listen that it would mean more in 10 years from now than it did then,” Laimbeer said. “Because while you’re doing it, yeah, it’s great, you’re elated, you’re excited about it, but there’s no time to reflect upon it because you’re still playing. There’s still more tasks to be done.”

Laimbeer and Mahorn will take time to reflect Wednesday, and then it’s back to work. WNBA training camps open Sunday, and the Shock are the defending champions. They need to indoctrinate the newcomers, finalize the roster and find a way to pull off that elusive back-to-back. The highly anticipated opener at Los Angeles is three weeks away. There is a lot of work ahead.

And heaven’s watching.

Source From :


Season Outlook

Diana Taurasi, left, and Cappie Pondexter will look to get Phoenix back in the playoffs in 2009.
Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images

After winning their first title in 2007, the Phoenix Mercury had the unfortunate fate of becoming the first defending WNBA champion to miss the playoffs in 2008, finishing the season with a 16-18 record.

To be fair, the Mercury did not return the same squad that it had in 2007 when they finished the regular season with a 23-11 mark and defeated Detroit in the WNBA Finals.

Penny Taylor, a two-time All-Star forward who averaged 17.8 points in 2007, chose not to play in the WNBA in 2008 in order to concentrate on training for the Olympics with the Australian National Team. Meanwhile, Paul Westhead, the team’s head coach, left the Mercury to take an assistant coaching job with the Seattle Sonics/Oklahoma City Thunder.

Taking over the head coaching duties was Corey Gaines, an assistant under Westhead for two seasons and a proponent of the same run-and-gun style the Mercury used during their championship run. However, he was unable to find the same success in his first year at the helm.

While the Mercury still had superstars Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter – who finished the season as the top two scorers in the league – they did not have that important third wheel that teams need in this league to achieve elite status. Tangela Smith, who played an important role in pushing the Mercury over the top in 2007, was limited by a knee injury last season that eventually required surgery and forced her to miss the final seven games of the season.

The status of Taylor, the third member of the Phoenix Big Three in 2007, remains unclear for the 2009 season. She just finished playing alongside Pondexter with UMMC Ekaterinburg and helped lead the team past Taurasi’s Spartak Moscow for the Russian Superleague title. However, it is reported that her right ankle requires surgery and that she would have the procedure done once the Russian season ended.

If Taylor is able to return to Phoenix at some point this season, she would give the team a tremendous boost. As Taurasi recently said, "Penny makes us an elite team. If there is a possibility of her coming back, the doors will be open and we'll be ready to rock."

With Taylor being such a big question mark, the Mercury aggressively pursued another elite Australian power forward – unrestricted free agent and two-time WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson. Jackson narrowed her choice to Phoenix or Seattle during the winter, but ultimately chose to return to the Storm, the only team she has played for during her eight-year career.

While the Mercury were not able to land a superstar in free agency, they did make a number of moves that should keep them in playoff contention in the competitive Western Conference.

Phoenix brought in power forward Nicole Ohlde in a trade with Minnesota that saw Kelly Miller and LaToya Pringle join the Lynx. The Mercury also acquired point guard Temeka Johnson from Los Angeles in exchange for their first-round draft pick in 2010. In the draft, the Mercury selected Auburn G/F DeWanna Bonner, whose height, athleticism and skill set should make her a great fit in the Mercury’s up-tempo system.

On the downside, the first week of training camp has been tough on the Mercury. Ohlde arrived to camp with a fracture in her left foot that will require her to miss 3-5 weeks and Murriel Page, who signed with the team on Monday, tore her left Achilles’ tendon on the same day and required season-ending surgery, which was performed on Tuesday.

With Ohlde out, incumbent Le'Coe Willingham will likely retain her starting spot in the post and join Johnson, Pondexter, Taurasi and Smith on the first unit. Gaines will bring Bonner – who can play any position on the floor other than the point – off of the bench, along with sharpshooter Kelly Mazzante and 6-7 center Alison Bales.

With Taurasi and Pondexter, Phoenix has two players that can get hot and carry the team to a win on any given night. Can they do it on enough nights to lift the Mercury back into the playoffs in 2009? Or will the additions of Johnson, Ohlde and Bonner provide enough help to take some of the load off of the dynamic duo?

Player on the Spot

The Mercury have a new floor general with the acquisition of Temeka Johnson from the Los Angeles Sparks. The 5-foot-3 speedster appears to be a perfect fit for Phoenix’s up-tempo system.

After winning Rookie of the Year honors in 2005 as a member of the Washington Mystics, Johnson was traded to the Los Angeles Sparks prior to the 2006 season. In three years with the Sparks, Johnson’s numbers steadily dipped as she was hampered by injuries in each of the past two years.

Now healthy, Johnson spent the offseason in Israel and performed admirably, averaging 16.0 points and 6.4 assists while leading her team (Bnot Raanana Hasharon) to the semifinals of the Israeli league playoffs.

A key to the Mercury’s success in 2009 will be how fast Johnson is able to learn Phoenix’s system and get comfortable with her teammates. Johnson will be surrounded with plenty of talented scorers, and it will be her job to get each of them their touches in the best position for them succeed.

Source From :

Second day of combine proves more valuable to teams, players


The NBA Combine came and went, and teams undoubtedly learned more from the information they were able to compile off the court than they did on it.

This week represented an excellent opportunity for general managers and executives to sit down with front-office members from across the NBA and learn how they may able to help each other out on the trade front, as well as gossip about what may be going on with other teams. Plenty of teams also took advantage of the time spent with their own staff to conduct numerous meetings and really get down to the nitty-gritty of how each talent evaluator feels about the players that may be on the board where they are drafting.

Getting accurate medical info, measurements and athletic testing results on most of the draft prospects also gives teams a good starting point to build off of as they sit down in their war rooms and begin the long process of ranking and eliminating players off their draft board.

While the first day of the combine allowed us to see the prospects stacked up against each other from a positional stand point, the second day saw them integrated into groups and asked to show more in terms of their ability to operate within a group setting.

We saw three-on-zero and four-on-zero transition drills, three-on-zero pick-and-roll sets, and a great deal of work in the half-court. The trainers put in simple offensive plays, basic ball-screen action, pass-cut-replace, cross-screens, pick-the-picker and so forth allowing us to see which players can take instructions and internalize new things on the fly.

This was somewhat of a showcase for the point guards to show their leadership skills, basketball IQ and basic passing skills. The big men were able to finally play where they are often most comfortable (the post) and remind us of their athleticism along the way.

As is often the case when you put every NBA general manager, head coach, director of player personnel and scout together in a small gym, the conversations in the bleachers are often far more interesting than on-court action.

Many grizzled, veteran scouts -- fresh off a long year of being on the road for weeks at a time seeing every prospect in this draft dozens of times -- expressed their concerns about this pre-draft camp influencing their front office more than it should.

"The general managers and coaches see certain things here that might not match up with everything we saw during the college season," one regional scout grumbled. "But these are just drills. This doesn't tell us anything about how these guys will perform once the lights come on."

Almost on cue, Ohio State freshman 7-footer B.J. Mullens soars from a foot inside the free throw line to tomahawk jam home an uncontested offensive rebound. An NBA head coach sitting nearby shakes his head in disbelief and scribbles notes down furiously, clearly astonished by the amazing display of athleticism.

The regional scout rolls his eyes, clearly annoyed. "Where was that during the season?"

Regardless, there are players here helping themselves just by being out on the court. Syracuse's Jonny Flynn is like a sponge, absorbing coaches' instructions and then showing his teammates exactly where they need to be on the floor. His swagger is unmistakable.

North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough is clearly a man on a mission. Every time he touches the ball, the entire gym knows, as he takes out all of his frustrations on the rim. He's in great shape, jumping better than many of his counterparts, and also measuring out taller than most people expect him to. He has almost identical figures to that of Blake Griffin. Executives in the gym are starting to warm up to him more and more.

Pittsburgh's DeJuan Blair has about as much buzz as any player in the draft right now, and he obviously is enjoying showing off his new chiseled physique. "I lost 38 pounds," he tells us afterwards with a huge grin on his face. He's relishing the chance to make his presence felt in this setting, no longer asked to lead fast breaks or shoot NBA 3-pointers like he was in the first day.

"I felt much more comfortable out there today," he explains. "I wanted to dunk the ball hard. Give them something to remember me by."

Blair particularly shines in the interviews with teams and the media day sessions, showing off his gregarious personality that some go as far as to compare to Shaquille O'Neal. "That's just me," Blair tells us with a smile. "I love being around people."

In addition to the on-court drills, the players also conduct a series of NFL combine-style tests, intended to measure their strength, on-court floor speed, lateral quickness and leaping. The results should be released in the next few days, although it's debatable how much stock NBA teams actually put into them.

Players will be on the road constantly from this point on, conducting a slew of individual workouts in teams' facilities. Three group workouts, in Golden State on June 1-3, New Jersey June 12-14, and Minnesota June 2-3, will help shape the landscape many of participating prospects. They are open to all NBA teams, and will feature far more of the competitive action that was missing here in Chicago.

Stay tuned for our next entry later this week, coming from Treviso, Italy, where we'll be joining representatives of all 30 NBA teams at the Reebok Eurocamp, starting on Thursday.

Source From :


Anosike and Miller will be playing side-by-side in 2009.
David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images
Season Outlook
The bottom of the Western Conference is familiar territory for the Minnesota Lynx; it’s where they’ve finished the past three seasons. But, thanks to a core of returning players and a strong draft, the Lynx look ready to move out of the basement and into contention.

With the way Minnesota came out of the gate in 2008, you would have thought they’d be the ones facing off against Detroit in the WNBA Finals. Five consecutive wins, including a strong performance over the Shock on opening night, left many fans in the North Star State energized that this could be their year. Then, things shifted south, and Minnesota was unable to muster anything more than a two-game win streak, ending the year at 16-18.

Twenty-plus wins is possible this season, due in part to the return of two-time All-Star Seimone Augustus and center Nicky Anosike. Augustus, the team’s leading scorer (19.1 ppg), has MVP potential should the Lynx improve their record. Anosike (9.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg), meanwhile, led the team in several offensive and defensive categories during her freshman campaign.

They could be joined in the starting lineup by guard Candice Wiggins, who took home Sixth Woman of the Year honors last season. Wiggins, Kelly Miller, Anna DeForge and first-round draft pick Renee Montgomery (4th overall) provide the Lynx one of the deepest guard rotations in the league.

Minnesota ranked among the top teams in scoring and accuracy in ‘08. It was their defense that took them out of games and left head coach Don Zierden scratching his head. So, the third-year coach swung a pair of deals to bring in some new forwards. First, sending center Vanessa Hayden-Johnson in a sign-and-trade swap to the Los Angeles Sparks for Christi Thomas. Then, Zierden shipped center Nicole Ohlde to the Phoenix Mercury for LaToya Pringle and Miller, a Minnesota native who brings championship experience to the club. Thomas and Pringle will be matched with Charde Houston, who last season served as Zierden’s top forward choice off the bench.

The Lynx were also busy in this year’s draft after dealing last season’s assist leader, Lindsey Harding, to the Washington Mystics for first and second round selections. That left them with four picks, including three in the top 15, which Minnesota used on Montgomery (University of Connecticut), center Quanitra Hollingsworth (Virginia Commonwealth), forward Rashanda McCants (North Carolina) and guard Emily Fox (Minnesota).

It’s this youth that gives Minnesota promise for the future, and these women are poised to make waves in the West. The talent is there, at least on paper. Now, it’s up to Zierden to translate that talent into wins.

Player on the Spot

The Staten Island, N.Y. native has all the tools to become one of the top centers in the WNBA. Now, in her sophomore season, Anosike has a feel for the league and her competition, which could render into some much improved numbers in 2009.

Anosike led the Lynx per game in steals (2.21), blocks (1.26), rebounds (6.80) and finished third in points (9.2). The former Tennessee Volunteer was also just one of three players – Ohlde and DeForge being the others – to start every game last season.

The 23-year-old’s defense is also key to keeping Minnesota in each game. A strong inside presence will mean more opponents shooting from outside the paint and even beyond the arc, a spot on the floor the Lynx were among the best teams in defending.

Finishing in last place is unfamiliar territory for Anosike, who won back-to-back titles with the University of Tennessee the two years before the start of her WNBA career. During that tenure, her star was in the shadow of Candace Parker. Now, it’s Anosike’s time to become one of the faces of a franchise.

Source From :