Friday, October 31, 2014

Cavaliers Free Agent Targets

This isn't meant to be an overreaction post about the Cavaliers loss to the Knicks last night. It was just opening night and the overall emotion of LeBron's return outweighed the importance of anything that happened on the floor. It was also the new Big Three's first real game together, David Blatt's first real game to coach (several mistakes), and we've learned over time that these sorts of things take time to mesh. The Cavs have too much talent to not be considered a near favorite to come out of the East and contend for an NBA Championship.

However, if there is one serious takeaway from last night's game, it was that the Cavs absolutely have to get better at defense. The Knicks got defensively dominated by the team who's expected to be the Cavs biggest competitor in the East, the Chicago Bulls, in a 104-80 blow out. Last night, the Cavs allowed the Knicks to shoot 53.6% including 50% from three point range. Again, it's just opening night, but outside of LeBron James and Shawn Marion, nobody on this roster carries a reputation for a commitment to the defensive end of the floor. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are LeBron's new running mates, but both of their biggest flaws come on the defensive end, let alone playoff experience. To be a serious contender, the Cavs have a few options, either start to show a real commitment to defense, execute a trade, or sign a veteran on the cheap to help solidify their interior defense.

This post will suggest a few options that the Cavs could target in free agency, but it's important to note that at this stage, there's a reason players are still free agents - but it's still fun to go over though, right?!

1. Jermaine O'Neal

O'Neal is one of the last members of the 1996 draft class who is still hanging around the league, seeking that last chance to get a championship before he retires. (If you look at O'Neal's career stats, one could make a serious argument that a ring could put him in Hall of Fame consideration). The 6' 11" center has proved he can still contribute in limited minutes the past few seasons while playing for  the Suns and Warriors. Just last year, he averaged 7.9 ppg and 5.5 rpg in about 20 minutes a
night. He still serves as a decent rim protector, plays physical, and admirably still takes several charges. If healthy, he'd be a very serviceable big the Cavs could bring off the bench. O'Neal has yet to rule out retirement, and if the Cavs come calling he'd almost definitely join their quest.

2. Kenyon Martin

The 6' 9" power forward has surprisingly shown he has some athleticism left and is still one of the toughest players in the NBA. With the likes of Varejao and Love, toughness and physicality could be exactly what they're looking for. He proved to be a productive addition for the New York Knicks and was pretty helpful in their brief playoff run. There have been talks about Martin being a player-coach in Houston (yep, it's true), but with the Cavs being possibly the sexiest destination in basketball, he'd most likely put off his coaching career for at least one more season.

NBA Unplugged - Oct. 30th with Snottie Drippen

Jacob Noble and Snottie Drippen break down the shocking Knicks victory over the new and improved Cleveland Cavaliers.  They also discussed Anthony Davis' dominance and what they expect from the Celtics this season based on their first game of the season, a blow out of the Nets.

Check Out Sports Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with ProBasketballTalk on BlogTalkRadio
Thursday, October 30, 2014

Smart Shines in Celtics Debut

Several scouts were proved correct last night as Marcus Smart made his NBA debut for the Boston Celtics. If there was one takeaway from Smart's performance during the 121-105 route of the Brooklyn Nets, it would be that the kid is 100% NBA ready. Sure, he'll have his rookie growing pains, such as game flow, referee adjustments, and assignments, but judging by his play last night, Marcus Smart not only proved he belongs, he proved he has a chance to excel.

It's only opening night so this should all be taken with a grain of salt, but in 27 minutes of action, Smart posted an impressive stat line. He finished with 10 pts, 2 rebs, 2asts, 4 stls, and perhaps the most important, 0 turnovers. It should also be noted that he was a whopping +20 while on the floor, the highest on a team that crushed the opposition (Joe Johnson was -30 by the way). It was an encouraging sign for an organization who has a lot invested in him.

He lived up to his expectations on the defensive end of the floor, frustrating former All-Star Deron Williams for most of the game. Williams showed his frustration by attempting to draw fouls on Smart while taking ridiculous shot attempts - no fouls called, no shots were made. The peak of his effectiveness on Williams came when he stripped him at the top of the key and raced down for an easy lay-up, which left the Boston crowd buzzing for a few plays after.

Smart said of the steal, "It was special just because it was against a great basketball player in Deron Williams. I thank God that I was able to go out and perform the way I did."

Brad Stevens has to be grinning and opponents grimacing at the thought of the Rondo, Bradley, and Smart defensive trio.

Offensively, Smart is definitely still pretty raw. He's shown great effectiveness in getting into the paint, nice court vision, and that he will be a force in the transition game. His shot can still use some tweaking, but probably not as much as most suggest. His second highlight last night was burying a contested three-pointer while drawing a foul and falling out of bounds. It will most likely be the first of many four-point plays for Smart, as he made that a common occurrence during his time spent at Oklahoma State. It's important to note that defense and intangibles are what Smart is more likely to make a career on at this point, his offense will definitely come, but at this stage anything on that end is just gravy.

Again, it was just opening night in a complete blow out victory, but Smart's impact on the game was certainly felt. Smart is the first lottery pick the Celtics have had since Jeff Green (traded to Seattle on draft night for Ray Allen) in 2007, so any encouraging signs are sure to excite Celtics Nation, and with his performance last night, Smart definitely has the arrow pointed up.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hornets Extend Walker

The Charlotte Hornets chose to extend their point guard Kemba Walker late yesterday, as the parties agreed to a four-year, $48 million deal, which will start during the 2015-16 season.
The Hornets felt it was important to solidify their point guard position because their star center, Al Jefferson, has the option to become a fully unrestricted free agent this summer.
The former UCONN star hasn't necessarily transferred that stardom to the Association yet, but at only 24 years of age, he still has upside. He has posted career averages of 16 ppg and 5.5 apg through three seasons, which one would figure to be inflated stats as a product of playing for a bottom-dwelling team, but that's not exactly the case. The Hornets squeaked into the playoffs last year, and Kemba posted career bests of 17.7 ppg and 6.1 apg. Those are very serviceable numbers, and with the expected raise of the salary cap due to the new TV contract, Walker's deal could be a bargain.
With the addition of Lance Stephenson, Walker's numbers should continue to improve as the team seems to be destined for a 4-6 seed in the playoffs. If they can keep Jefferson, this should be an exciting team in a depleted East for a few more years. Nevertheless, it's a relief that Jordan and the Hornets finally seem to show a commitment to put, at the very least, a competitive team on the floor.
Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Unfortunate State of the Pacers

It's crazy how quickly fortunes can change in the NBA. A window can be open, a team can be set up for long-term success then BOOM, it slams shut. An organization can do all the rights things. Have a perennial up and coming All-Star locked on a long-term contract. Heavy veteran leadership. Rim protection. Quality role players off the bench. Solid coach. Stable front office. Set up to win for the foreseeable future. But it happens - injuries, trades, contract negotiations. Long term success in anything is very difficult, which makes fans and analysts marvel at teams like the Spurs or Patriots. The NBA Gods are cruel, and they unfairly close windows and careers every season. Teams and players just have to have faith they'll be able to fend them off long enough.    

This year's "Window-Closing" team is without a doubt the Indiana Pacers. Yeah, one could argue the Miami Heat, but their demise was more self-inflicted than subjected to fate. The Pacers lost their star in Paul George to a freak, heart-breaking injury while playing a Team USA scrimmage. There's currently optimism surrounding his recovery, but after an injury as violent as that, who knows. It's extremely rare for a small market team to not only draft a player like George, but to fend off a team like the Lakers and ink him to a max contract is an entirely different feat. The Pacers accomplished that. They had a guy who was vaulting himself into superstar consideration, and there's a chance we may have seen the best from Paul George - let's hope we haven't.

They also lost their fringe-All-Star caliber do it all energy player in Lance Stephenson, who will be sorely missed by fans and in the box score. For as much love as Lance got in Indy, his overall impact on the game was still under appreciated. The guy really did everything and covered up a lot of holes for the Pacers. He may have caused headaches (and he did), but he was the only guy that brought it 100% night in and night out. Larry Bird and the Pacers brass really made a mistake letting him go. We know it, fans know it, Bird knows it, and worst of all, Lance knows it. (On a side note: without PG, how much fun would it have been to watch Lance go absolutely crazy this year?)

Next up is David West. West has already been ruled out for the first three games recovering from a sprained right ankle - not an encouraging sign from a player who all of sudden is 34 years old. But D-West has absolutely been the mental and physical toughness behind the recent run of success in Indy. He's been an incredible leader and has been everything the Pacers asked him to be. But now, in what will most likely be a lost year for the Pacers, West might want out. The Pacers might want him out too. He's set to make $12 million this year and will receive $12.6 million in 2015-16. That's a big contract to move, but West is a guy that a fringe contender would absolutely target, and for a Pacers team that might have their eyes set on the future, they'll listen to all calls for him. This humble blogger thinks West is traded this year - fire up the Trade Machine!

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