Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Basketball is back: Hectic schedule awaits teams

We have basketball and we have lots of it.

That's the first thing to take from the new schedule released by the NBA on Tuesday, detailing the schedules for all 30 teams.

There are some very scary stretches for all, and every single player will have their fitness and endurance tested to breaking point and beyond by the vast number of games shoehorned into the next four months.

The once-dreaded back-to-back set of game will become standard fare for teams this year and the nightmarish back-to-back-to-back run of games can be found at least once in every team's calender. Four games in five nights and even nine games in twelve will happen more often than not and there will be almost no nights without some sort of basketball being played somewhere.

Let's take a look at some of the quirks of this incredibly compressed and inevitably chaotic schedule:

Chicago's ridiculous road-trip: Every November, the Bulls play a handful of home games then embark on their "Circus trip" of seven straight games on the road due to the annual Circus held in their home arena. This time around, they will play a staggering nine consecutive road games lasting from Jan. 29 into February.

Boston's tiring March: Boston are a team that will receive a lot of focus this year. How does an old team cope with a packed schedule? Does experience outweigh the negative aspects? Their biggest test without a doubt comes in March where they play 9 of 10 on the road including two stops in Los Angeles, one in New York and another in Miami. With the end of the regular season in sight, this could make or break the Celtics' playoff aspirations.

Lakers' fast start: The Lakers start on Christmas Day with a home game against the Bulls. They hardly get a chance to take a breath as they then have to take on games against Sacramento and Utah on the two days immediately after, making up L.A's only triple-header. This will quite quickly identify those players who failed to stay in shape this summer.

Miami's stay in Cleveland: The Heat will take on the Cleveland Cavaliers and then have a two-day break. What do they do? Their next game is in Indiana, so flying all the way back to Florida and back for that is pretty pointless. Do they really want to have LeBron spending that time walking the streets of Cleveland?

Bulls' run: The Bulls have one of the tougher opening halves of the season. They play seven of their first nine away from Chicago and 20 of their first 30 to boot. To compound the tiredness factor, those first 30 games will take place over just 50 nights. Good job this is a relatively young team. To counter this difficult start, their post-All Star schedule is very favourable to an end of season surge. They have just one trip to the West of more than one game and only a couple of back-to-back games.

This season is going to see some frustrating, sloppy and tired basketball. But it's basketball nonetheless. I for one am happy to be writing about these teams playing silly amounts of games instead of talking about people with lots of money arguing like children trying to get lots more money.

And a note for those who predicted that the Lockout (oops, I said it again...) would hurt the NBA. Doesn't look so true judging by the rampant anticipation of what could be the most frantic NBA season in history.

Play ball!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Basketball is back: The NBA Free Agency headaches of 2011

It's been too long.

December 9th the NBA will allow it's teams to open training camps for the 2011-12 season. It's brilliant to be able to call it a 2011-12 season and not the 2011 NBA Lockout. It's also brilliant to know that'll be the final time I use the dreaded L-word.

No more boardrooms and offices, no more lawyers and ultimatums. Just pure, unadulterated NBA basketball at the best time of the year, the off-season!

That's right, the rumor mill is back and is churning out rumors like they're going out of fashion. The biggest stories have to be the myriad rumors surrounding Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. Orlando Magic's juggernaut center Dwight Howard is due to become a free agent next summer. The Magic ownership will not want to be "Lebron'd" by Howard (leave for nothing) and could look to deal him before the deadline (expected to be in March). Obviously with such a valuable commodity available, many teams in very different situations are throwing their hats into the ring.

The most notable of these teams would be the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks. The trouble is that these two teams, while presenting some of the best players for Howard to play with, have very little ability to land him in in the first place. The Lakers have Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. That's good, but not great. Bynum is a fantastic talent but is highly inconsistent and prone to meltdowns as we saw when he hit a cheap-shot on J.J. Barea in the West Finals last season. Gasol is also a great player, but he's past his best and is absolutely not the player the Magic should look to rebuild around. The Knicks would seemingly be the ideal place for Howard to team up with Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. The problem in New York is that they have $40 million committed to those two players alone from next year and with the cap projected at $58 million, Howard would have to take a sizable pay-cut to create a third "Big 3" in the East. No problem, just trade for Howard instead? No. The Knicks were gutted trading for Anthony and Stoudemire and the only way they could give Orlando similar value for Howard in a trade would be to give up Anthony or Stoudemire.

That leaves Howard looking at two of the biggest markets as impossibilities. The reigning defensive player of the year could land in New Jersey in return for Brook Lopez and draft picks, but is that really a fair deal for the Magic? Lopez is good but again is no franchise centerpiece. Howard would then end up in New Jersey (soon to move to Brooklyn) playing with Deron Williams who says he might leave at the end of the season, thrusting Dwight back into a 'same s**t, different day' situation.

Could Chicago be his destination? He would be joining the league's youngest MVP, Derrick Rose. He wouldn't have to be the leading player on the team with Rose there alongside. He'd fit right in to the system the Bulls are running and, being a defensive specialist, he would gel fantastically with coach Tom Thibodeau. With regards to market size, Chicago is one of the traditional "big market cities", presenting Howard with plenty of marketing opportunities. The Magic could get a fair deal for Howard from the Bulls, the Bulls would send Joakim Noah (a Florida native and only slight step-down in quality at center), Luol Deng, another defensive specialist and just hitting his prime, they could take any other player outside of Boozer and Rose and could call it a fair deal.

That trade would leave the Bulls with Rose and a new shooting guard (Rip Hamilton on the mid-level exception?), Howard, Boozer and perhaps Caron Butler in the front court. There you have a core five that could take on and beat the Miami Heat. A Bulls' fan's dream scenario.


Chris Paul in New Orleans brings around a whole new debate before we even look at his possible destinations. The Hornets are owned by the NBA and thus by every team in the league. Trading Chris Paul, by far the most valuable player, reduces the value of the franchise for any potential new owners, calling into question the credibility of trading Paul before a new owner arrives.

Should CP3 leave, he wants to go to the Knicks. He can't, they haven't enough money to sign him off the bat and can't match his value in a trade without giving up Anthony or Stoudemire (the reasons why CP wants to go to New York in the first place). Aside from New York, there aren't many other teams crying out for an elite level point guard. One outside bet could be the L.A Clippers. They will be well under the salary cap next summer when Paul turns into a free agent and could choose to team him with Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Eric Gordon. That would propel the Clips towards the top of the Western Conference immediately.


Next on the list of free-agent/trade conundrums is the case of Caron Butler. After playing just 32 games for the Dallas Mavericks and none since January, he is expected to be on his way out of Dallas. The San Antonio Spurs, LA Clippers, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls are just a select few of the teams reportedly interested in Butler's services. Where he lands is anyone's guess as there are teams who can only pay him the $5 million MLE battling against teams who can pay him anything he wants to sign Butler. He could hold the key for several teams one step below championship-favorite status such as the Bulls and Spurs.

There his rumor flying about that Denver Nuggets shooting guard Arron Afflalo is sought after in Chicago. It's understandable as he is the perfect fit for the Bulls at shooting guard and a trade would be possible. Sending Noah to Denver in lieu of Nene leaving and in return for Afflalo is the most commonly proposed trade solution. The Bulls would then have the complete lineup for taking on Miami in the East this season.


No matter who ends up where, this season is pitching up to be another packed full of jaw-dropping moments, career-defining performances and most of all more crazy rumors than you can shake a stick at.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

NBA Training Camps, Pre-Season Week One cancelled

This was coming. The NBA today cancelled this seasons' summer Training Camps, due to start on October 3rd.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Top 10 NBA Players: #8, Hakeem Olajuwon

"The Dream" makes his appearance at number eight in the all-time top 10 list. Hakeem Olajuwon led the Houston Rockets to back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995, the teams' only titles to date.

Hakeem was born in Nigeria, and did not pick up a basketball until the age of 15. Since then, he has gone on to become the most well-known player to come from the country.Olajuwon came to America in 1980, arriving as 17 year old keen to prove his talent in a strange new land. He had a tough start to his college career, ineligible to play the first year and rarely used in his second, he eventually led Houston University to consecutive championship games. Both would end in losses to North Carolina in '83 and Patrick Ewing's Georgetown the year after.

Hakeem Olajuwon at the peak of his powers
- An unstoppable force
Olajuwon declared himself for the 1984 draft and was taken first by the Houston Rockets ahead of Michael Jordan (#3) in one of the most talented draft classes of all-time. The Rockets' performance improved massively with Olajuwon teaming up with team leader Ralph Sampson, as the team added an extra 19 wins in Olajuwon's rookie season. Although it would take time and a few changes before Hakeem matured into the star he was, he was a dangerous player from day one.

After a number of disappointing Playoff exits and even missing them altogether in 1992, Hakeem and the Rockets took off in 1994. Olajuwon turned in big performances every other night, marking himself out as one of the games' greatest Centers, he routinely outperformed the other stars of the time such as David Robinson and Patrick Ewing. The 1994 Rockets progressed to a Finals series against the NY Knicks, beating them in a thrilling 7 game series. Hakeem cemented his place in Houston folklore with a championship-winning block on  John Starks' title-winning shot attempt.

The Rockets came back in 1995 and ran the rule over the league. Olajuwon missed 8 games near the end of the season with Anemia, yet still came back to beat Utah in 5 games in the opening round. Hakeem was again instrumental as the Rockets progressed to another Texan duel with the San Antonio Spurs led by a prime David Robinson. Hakeem put him in his pocket, outscoring him by some 6 points in the series and shooting 50% to Robinson's 36%. The Finals were as straightforward as possible, a 4-0 sweep over the Orlando Magic led by an emerging Shaquille O'Neal - the next man to inherit Olajuwon's "best Center" title.

This would be the end of the Rocket's run, as they were eliminated at the second round the next year, a year which saw Michael Jordan return to the sport after two years out.

Olajuwon earns his spot thanks to his dominant displays throughout his career. In the '85-'86 Playoffs, a young Olajuwon scored 75-points over games three and four against the LA Lakers in a series-win that shocked the sports world. The show of strength prompted Lakers' coach Pat Riley to say that "We tried everything. We tried four bodies on him. He's just a great player." Hakeem would have won at least another title, his 1986 Finals series defeat was to arguably the most talented lineup of all time, Larry Bird's Boston Celtics, a group that produced FIVE Hall of Fame players.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

NBA entering uncertain times

On Friday, July 1st, the various owners of the 30 NBA teams will confirm they are going to "lockout" NBA players. This means that no players will be paid, no players can sign contracts, no teams can trade players and no games can be played in any form.

This has all come about because the current Collective Bargaining Agreement - the contract that determines what share of team income the players are paid - expires on July 1st. With players and owners at loggerheads over the details of the new CBA, the owners will proceed to lock the players out with no pay until a new contract is agreed upon.

The contract outlines how basketball income is split between the team owners and the players. The expiring deal sees the players earn 57% of basketball income. The owners have said that this simply cannot continue, and want to reduce the split to 52% for the players. With 22 of 30 NBA teams currently running at a loss, the current agreement must be changed or several teams will face being sold, relocated or even extinction.

The owners contend that at the present, with a $58 million "soft" salary cap, the teams cannot afford to continue. The current soft cap is a very complex system that allows teams to pay their players more than the cap allows in certain circumstances. This is done with the aim of allowing the teams to keep their better/more popular players, so increasing local fan support. In other US Sports, a hard-cap is used which has very few exceptions. The NBA team owners would like a hard-cap to be implemented to prevent players' salaries getting out of control. The players counter that this would prevent them from playing where they wanted to or earning as much money as they should be. This at present is the main obstruction in an agreement being reached.

When a "lockout" occurs, the players are effectively frozen out. They do not get paid, they do not get bought nor sold. This is well and good during the summer off-season (players are not paid normally in summer) but becomes a real issue once the Summer League and pre-season training camps are due to begin. The 2011 Summer League is already cancelled due to the ongoing dispute, next on the chopping block will be the training camps. If the two parties still cannot reach a deal, pre-season games (the single biggest earner for owners) will be cancelled. Just a few weeks after that, the Regular Season begins and if no deal is reached, once again, the games will be cancelled and the league will enter dangerous territory.

The 1998-99 NBA season featured just 50 games instead of the usual 82 due to the first 32 being cancelled due to a previous collective bargaining agreement expiring. In 2004-05 the league came close again to losing games as the 1999 agreement had to be re-negotiated, giving us today's version.

With the league enjoying viewer ratings at near record levels, losing games would be the worst possible scenario. The final game of this season posted an 11-year high in viewer numbers. If the league were forced into missing games, it's popularity would be so badly damaged that it could take another 11 for it to recover. The American hockey league had to cancel the entire 04-05 season and has yet to reach the level of popularity it once did.

All this week, NBA officials, including commissioner David Stern, and the Player's Union have been in negotiations to get a new agreement signed. However, last week, a league spokesman stated that the two sides were "99 miles apart" leading to speculation from some experts that the league could lose anything from a handful of games at the beginning of the year to skipping the entire 2011-12 season if it meant saving some teams from falling out of existence. Owners, players, experts and fans can only hope that they can reach an agreement.

You can find more information on the NBA's salary cap and it's many complex exceptions here.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Top 10 NBA Players: #9, George Mikan

Rarely mentioned in many "Top 10's" of greatest players, George Mikan deserves an entry onto this list for his impact on the sport of basketball in general.

Known as "Mr. Basketball", Mikan revolutionized the sport in the late 1940s and 50s. Before he played, the best players were short guards who could shoot well. When the 6ft 11in Mikan came along his sheer size let him take over games single-handed.

When at DePaul College, George was an awkward, shy and clumsy person. Coaches of the time believed tall players did not have the strength to become great players and Mikan did not do much to change that view at first, playing in thick, round spectacles. His college coach saw potential, and worked with him to turn him into the unstoppable force that went on to win multiple championships at professional level. George developed the hook-shot, a nearly impossible to defend shot that was a result of the now commonly-used Mikan Drill. On the defensive end, Mikan would stand under the basket and jump up to swat any ball out of the hoop. This led to the invention of the "goaltending" rule that states that a ball directly above the basket cannot be touched by any player. This was not illegal in Mikan's era because it was thought to be impossible for anyone to reach that high!

George signed for the Chicago American Gears for the 1946-47 National Basketball League season. The NBL was one of the early predecessors of the modern NBA. Mikan led the team to win the World Basketball Tournament, where he scored a total of 100 points over 5 games. The team owner withdrew the Gears to compete in a new 24-team league, the Pro Basketball League of America, which collapsed after jsut one month. Due to the collapse, all the players from these PBLA teams were given to the 11 NBL teams remaining. George Mikan ended up on the Minneapolis Lakers (now the Los Angeles Lakers)

Mikan playing for the Lakers

In 1949-50, the NBA began it's first season. Mikan dominated the league, averaging 27.4 points per game. Only one other player broke the 20-point barrier (22.5) that year. The team finished the first NBA season with a 51-17 record. The Lakers blitzed the Playoffs to reach the first Finals, against the Syracuse Nationals. The Lakers won the first game on their own court, before the next four games were split 2-2. The Lakers became the first-ever NBA Champions when they won Game 6 110-95. George Mikan averaged some 31 points per Playoff game.

In the next season, Mikan continued his domination on offense, averaging 28 points a game. This season would contain the game that led to the creation of the 24-second Shot Clock. Mikan's Lakers were losing 19-18 to the Fort Wayne Pistons early in the game. The Pistons got the ball, and never lost it again. Never trying to shoot. This led to the NBA introducing the shot-clock to force teams to attack. Mikan totalled 83% of his team's points, scoring 15 of 18. He fractured his leg before the '50 Playoffs, leading to the Lakers being eliminated a round before the Finals, this would prove to be the only blip as the Lakers established the first NBA dynasty.

In 51-52, the NBA introduced another new rule to attempt to stop Mikan's dominance. They made the painted "lane" under the basket 12 feet wide rather than 6. This doubled the distance George had to work from. The tall star took it in his stride, still averaging 23 points per game (although down from the previous year). Mikan led the team to another title, earning $7,500 to be split between the whole team.

The Lakers won 2 more titles to be the first team to win three-in-a-row. Mikan became the first superstar of basketball, opening the gates for giants such as Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal. Without him, the league would not have the 24-second clock, goal-tending rules or the lane size (Known as "The Mikan Rule") it has today. He truly changed the sport, making it popular across America. After his death,

O'Neal said "Without #99 (Mikan's number), there is no me."

Top 10 NBA Players: #10, Oscar Robertson

In at #10 on my NBA Top 10 Players countdown is "The Big O", Oscar Robertson.

6 ft 5, Robertson played as a guard for the Cincinnati Royals (now in Sacramento) and most famously led the Milwaukee Bucks their only NBA Championship. Oscar was one of the leading figures in the early NBA alongside Wilt Chamberlain. He holds the distinct honor of being the only NBA player to ever average more than 10 points, assists and rebounds for an entire season.

Robertson played at the University of Cincinnati, entering himself into the 1960 NBA Draft. The Cincinnati Royals picked him as a 'territorial' pick to generate more local fan support for the promising young star. Robertson repaid their faith, returning with season averages of 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 9.7 assists per game, just 0.3 off a triple-double average for the year.

In 1961-62, Oscar made it over that small hump and into the history books when he averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists per game. An incredible feat that had many heralding him as the game's best-ever talent. The Royals never did win an NBA Championship, mostly thanks to the Boston Celtics team led by Bill Russell which simply dominated the entire decade.

Robertson during his time with the Bucks

After a decade with his hometown Royals, Oscar was unceremoniously dumped off to the Milwaukee Bucks before the 1970-71 season as head coach Bob Cousy was apparently jealous of Robertson's status in Cincinnati. This turned out to be the turning point in Roberston's NBA career. After being stuck with an under-performing team, he was paired with Lew Alcindor, who would soon change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and score the most points in league history. The pair blew the league away, coming up with a 66-16 record in their first season together which included a 20-win streak. They continued their incredible domination into the Playoffs: they progressed to the Finals and routed the Baltimore Bullets 4-0 to capture the team's first (and only) Championship.

The Bucks returned to the Finals in 1974, where ultimately, Robertson and Kareem were beaten in an epic 7-game series with the Boston Celtics. Robertson retired after the season ended as his story was complete, while the years of Abdul-Jabbar's stardom were just beginning.

As a mark of his all-round greatness, Oscar Robertson recorded 181 triple-double games in his career. To put that alongside the totals of other all-time greats, Magic Johnson is a distant second with 138.Wilt Chamberlain had just 78 and Michael Jordan, 28 .