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Mike Kincaide

Mike Kincaide

The Chicago Cubs like to flip veteran players like houses and did so again when they finally got rid of "The Shark" and "The Hammel". Catching Oakland general manager Billy Beane at a great time where the panic button has been pushed on win or go home for the A's, Beane sent his best prospects to the Cubs, giving them an overload of talent in their minor league system and future options of taking more steps in the right direction. It's a trade that finally gives Cubs fans a a clearer view of the light at the end of the tunnel.

So we've been told over and over again that we won't see any of the kids come up this season. Easier said than done. Here's a scary thought, did you know despite the incredible numbers and completely monster season Kris Bryant is having he is still listed as the number 2 prospect in the Cubs system? Seems Javier Baez shows even more potential than Bryant, which is just frightening. While Baez is still developing and going through a few growing pains, it will be hard for the Cubs to justify keeping Bryant in the minors come September if he keeps putting up the numbers he's done so far. Even since moving to AAA ball he's still been dominant. Another interesting thing is Baez plays shortstop, same position as current Cubs All-Star Starlin Castro, same position as the newest member of the organization and #3 ranked prospect Addison Russell. Baez has already been getting some work at 2nd base, yet Russell's development could create some options and raise a few questions in the near future. Especially since shortstop/2nd baseman Arismendy Alcantara (ranked #7) is also in AAA and could see some MLB time come September. Don't forget about Albert Almora and Jorge Soler, who both play the outfield, and are now joined by another new member of the organization, the #9 ranked prospect Billy McKinney. There's always the option of moving Castro or Bryant to the outfield as well, but thats farther down the road if needed. With Anthony Rizzo and castro already in place, the Cubs at least have some pieces to the puzzle to work around.

On the pitching front, the debut of Kyle Hendricks is expected soon, with studs Arodys Vizcaino and Pierce Johnson not too farther away. Hendricks was the Cubs minor league pitcher of the year last season, and is expected to make his Cubs MLB debut sooner than later. The Cubs also recieved Dan Straily in the trade with the A's, a tough right-handed pitcher who will spend time in AAA before eventually making the big team. Dallas Beeler made his Cubs debut in their day-night doubleheader last month and pitched very well. Look for him to get another look or two before the season closes. Also C.J. Edwards and Corey Black are high on the Cubs radar and should arrive to Wrigley by 2015 at the earliest. Both have big time stuff and already give the Cubs a potential top 5 pitching staff. Hopefully catching all these guys in the next few years might just be their 2014 1st round pick Kyle Schwarber, who was not only the best hitter in the draft, but also has been putting up good numbers since joining the minor league single A affiliate.

So after more than a few years living under dark clouds it seems the sun is about to shine even brighter at Wrigley in the near future.

Monday, 17 February 2014 21:30

Spring Training with the Cubs

First off let's eliminate the names Jorge Soler, Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, and Javier Baez from your 2014 opening day vocabulary. Unless one of them dominates the March spring training schedule you won't see them, so let's stick to reality.

Welcome to Rick Renteria's new reality. As the new skipper of the Cubs, the reality of this roster is set only for Renteria to get this team to play hard and compete. That's it. Get the most out of what's given, and what's been given to him is a bunch of hardworkers and un-tapped potential. As spring training gets set ot jump into high gear, here's what the Cubs look like going into 2014.

Pitching-wise, the Cubs could surprise alot of people. Forget about the crapy year Edwin jackson had, he still ate up innings. Jackson is a solid number 4. Travis Wood seems to get better every year, while Wesley Wright may also be ready to catch people by surprise. Carlos Villanueva and James McDonald also eat up innings, both with potential to start or pitch long relief. Arodys Vizcaino has a ton of potential, while Jose Veras has already been tapped early as the closer, with Pedro Strop as his top set-up man. Chris Rusin, Blake Palmer, and Justin Grimm will need solid spring trainings to make the 25-man rotation, with Rusin having the best shot, being a solid lefty. Alberto Cabrera and Hector Rondon  could be solid call-ups during the season, with Kyuji Fujikawa returning from injury. Fujikawa has some nasty stuff, and if he's healthy could be a major addition to the staff. Jake Arrieta was said to have a little soreness in his shoulder, but he said he's fine, and the soreness was a few weeks ago. The team is still going to take it easy with him. Arrieta has long-term potential. Same goes for James Russell, who's become a solid bullpen leader, and solid reliever. The team also signed Jason Hammel, who is looking for a big break-out season after coming from Baltimore. Hammel was the oriles opening day starter, and could do damage in a new league. Have faith that pitching coach Chris Bosio and bullpen coach Lester Strode can muster the best out of this bunch.

What the team decided to do with current ace Jeff Samardzija is the big question. The team seems to be at a cross roads, with either signing or trading the young star. While Jeff has shown signs of dominating teams, he also seems to even out. Maybe its the team not hitting, or the fact that they aren't in the race, but he seems to level to his competition. Is a trade for more prospects in the works? Or is Samardzija destined to be the number one for a while? Thats a question only Theo and Jed can answer.

Wellington Castillo is locked at the catching spot. Many believe that while Castillo is solid defensively and can handle the pitching staff very well, its believed that he's due for a jump offensively. To take the the load off Castillo a bit the team brough in George Kottaras, a solid bencher. If Castillo doesnt improve offensively the team could look for other long-term options.

The Cubs have a ton of questions to answer in infield. Anthony Rizzo needs a big bounce back season as does Starlin Castro. They are the face of the team right now, and ultimately the reason Renteria is here. They need to carry this team offensively, as the team isn't a home run hitting squad. Darwin Barney is back at 2nd. Arismendy Alcantara has been solid in the minors and after another steady season producing career-best numbers, he could get a look if Barney falters, who is also in need of a bounce-back year, while solid defensively his offensive numbers fell off. And then there's 3rd base. Donnie Murphy and Luis Valbuena both will be fighting to prove they are the answer until the Baez/Bryant era begins. Mike Olt's eye issues seem to be behind him, and will be given the chance to take the job at 3rd. He's a power hitter with solid offensive numbers, and when healthy could be a huge boost. The team also signed the versatile Emilio Bonifacio, who could fill in anywhere. He's a speedster who could produce in a clinch. A great versatile bench player.

Finding a true starting outfielder is going to be a big deal this spring. Junior Lake produced solid numbers after being called up last season, and will be given a chance to show it wasnt a fluke. Ryan Sweeney and Nate Schierholtz both made great strides last season as 1st-time starters, and with the pressure off to be traded or only play part-time, they both could have real break-out seasons. Justin Ruggiano has a ton of potential and will have a chance this season now that the outfield isnt as crowded, with the team will finally give Matt Szcur a good look this spring. Oh, we've found Brett Jackson! Even better Jackson has found his love of the game. This kiod has a ton of potential, and now that the pressure is off, could this be the year he finally takes off?

The pressure is off this team in 2014, but fans are expecting them to play hard. Waiting for the team to finally turn that corner to competing, the Theo/Jed era needs  a big season of players showing that potential to bring fans back once again. Is this next year? Let's hope the fans have more than the next Pearl Jam concert to look forward to in the future.



Tuesday, 22 October 2013 02:34

NBA Eastern Conference Preview

When the East is in the house OMG!!! Miami is still the top dog when it comes to the NBA, and they made some key  pick-ups that could keep them on top for a lot longer if they pan out. But are they ready for "The Return"? Did Brooklyn's addition of KG and The Truth move them a step closer to a title? Or are Melo and the Knicks ready to take the thrown? here's your Eastern conference preview!




Toronto Raptors

Head Coach - Dwayne Casey

Toronto is an interesting little place to be in the NBA. How so? Well when mentioning a franchise the first name you mention is hip hop star Drake becoming the team ambassador, well that’s interesting. He’s looking to give the club a make-over, everything but the name of course. Well some good roster moves also help with that make-over. So here’s what we got - Kyle Lowery worked hard to show people he wasn’t some chubby chipmunk trying to play point guard. He’s gotten faster, improved his jumper, and overall just looks like a much better player. This will do him well considering his back-up DJ Augustin somehow went in the opposite direction. There is a good chance my first step could blow past DJ, thats how bad he looked defending players.

Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan are your starters at the 2 and 3. These two are the leaders of the team, the stars, the scorers, the reason people are coming to see raptors games. That won’t change. This team will only improve with the development of DeRozan, who has gotten a lot better. He’s using his size to take advantage of smaller guards, which will happen a lot. Terrance Ross has its moments. Sometimes he looks like he’s ready to be a really good player, shooting 3,s, big dunks, great defense. And then he has his nights where you think he left his game in the locker-room…the locker- room at the practice facility. Landry Fields his recovering from injury, but he’s also a solid 2/3 the team needs. Steve Novak, a 6’10 3 point specialist from the Knicks will be a big help on the perimeter. So far so good, right?

Tyler Hansborough comes over from Indiana with a chance to claim the starting 4 spot and become the fan favorite he’s meant to be. No one works like Psycho T, and now that he’ll actually have time minutes to work with he could have a breakout season. Team fights is not an option here as the Raptors has the scariest bench since Friday the 13th. If you saw Amir Johnson and Quincy Acy anywhere in the world besides a basketball court you’d run in the other direction. They are big scary rebounding, dunking, screen-setting montsers with interesting facial hair. Austin Daye can play 3 positions, including shoot the 3, while Aaron Gray is your back up center. Jonas Valancuinas is the starting center. If this team is going to contend for the play-offs they will need a big season from Jonas, as offensively he’s the only scoring threat in the post.

However its never a good sign when your mascot gets injured in the pre-season.

Best line-up:

Lowery - pg        Gay - sf           Valancuinas - c

DeRozan - sg       Hansborough - pf        6th - Ross



Washington Wizards

Head Coach - Randy Whitman

There’s so much potential here. There’s a promise of the play-offs, which could happen. There’s a great veteran presence mixed with some excellent talent. Just a matter of it all coming together. The team is led by point guard John Wall, who is on he verge of being one of the league’s best point guards. The Wizards will go only where he takes them. Eric Maynor is a solid back-up, while backcourt mate Bradley Beal has shown to be a good compliment to the things Wall does. He needs to improve his outside shooting a bit more for the Wizards to really be successful. Josh Childress can also play 2 and 3, a long-armed athletic defender who has more to offer than what he’s shown last season. Rookie Glen Rice jr. could also give you some minutes.

Otto Porter was drafted to fill the small forward spot, unfortunately he starts the year off with an injured hip. Al Harrington brings a veteran presence and can fill the void for a while, just as Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster can. Chris Singleton gives you more bodies off the bench, but nothing too special. Same goes for Garrett Temple.

Martin Gortat was brought in at the end of pre-season and will grab the starting center spot. He's a mobile big man with a high reboung and field goal percentage, which benefits the wizards trendously. This means Nene will get the start at power forward or can play some back-up center. The Wizards are expecting a bounce-back year from him. Kevin Seraphin will get minutes backing up both spots, as will Trevor Booker, both hard knocks rebounders.

Best Line-up:

Wall - pg           Porter - sf         Gortat- c

Beal - sg         Nene - pf           6th - Ariza


Charlotte Bobcats

Head Coach – Rod Higgins

Alright, let’s get into it. Kemba Walker may not be the best option for point guard, but he’s the best option here. He’s pretty steady, can shoot, and attacks the rim well, plus he stays healthy. Ramon sessions is looking for a home and just may have finally found one. He’s more of a scorer, but still a good back-up pg. Gerald Henderson has proven to be a solid, serviceable shooting guard who can also play some 3. His numbers seem to get better every season. Ben Gordon arrives as the team’s best 6th man option in years, plus he can play some point if necessary.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist gets the start at small forward, with Jeff Taylor backing him up. again, Henderson can also fill in at 3, so there’s no big loss either way. In the post is where things get messy. so lets just rule out Bismack from the equation. he’ll be lucky to see the floor. Step your game up! Josh McRoberts is the key back-up at the 4 and the 5. how and where Higgins decides to play Al Jefferson and Cody Zellner. Jefferson can play either position, while Zellner still has to fill out, but as of now he’s listed as the 4. Hmmm. Brendan Haywood and Anthony Tolliver are also in the post, sitting on the bench somewhere. as for Bismack…don’t hold your breath.

Best line-up:

Walker – pg          Kidd-Gilchrist – sf         Jefferson – c

Henderson – sg       Zellner – pf           6th - Gordon


Orlando Magic

Head coach – Jacque Vaughn

What an interesting web being weaved in Orlando. First off, hey fake Superman, are you really surprised they didn’t retire your jersey? You caused more headaches than games you won in Orlando, I cant wait for the great reception you get when you return. Go get another coach fired. Sorry, I lost it for a second.

The starting line-up is very interesting. Jameer Nelson and Aaron Afflalo will be your starting guards. Nelson is nothing special, just an above average point guard running point. Afflalo has his moments of great. usually the team’s leading scorer and best defender, he’s great trade bait. The forward spots are the most intriguing. Tobias Harris and Maurice Harkless, both 6’9, came into the league playing completely different positions. Both long and big, Harkless is now getting minutes at the 3 and occasionally the 2, while a beefed-up Harris has made the move from 2 to 4. Harkless needs to develop a better shot to stick at 3, while Harris is to slow to guard 3’s but too quick for any 4’s that would guard him. He was the team’s best player at the end of the season, so expect him to continue down that path. Starting at center is the steady Nikola Vucevic. Big Nik was 2nd in rebounding last season, as well as breaking Shaq’s record for double doubles in Orlando.

The bench is made up of an interesting crew. There’s veterans who are there to guide and lead the youngsters. Jason Maxwell and Glen Davis are small 4’s who bring energy and strength off the bench. Andrew Nicholson had a respectable 1st year, and will be counted on to provide more. being a 6’9 power forward who can shoot the 3, he provides a very interesting match-up problem the better he gets. E’twaun Moore was off to a good start at back-up point before he got injured. the real star of the show is the 2nd pick in the draft Victor Oladipo . Full of energy and a great shooter, he’ll come off the bench, but should make Afflalo expendable by mid-season. A very under-stated game until you seem him play, is a cornerstone of the new magic.

Best line-up:

Nelson - pg       Harkless - sf        c - Vucevic

Afflalo - sg         Harris - pf          6th - Oladipo


Philadelphia 76’ers

Head Coach – Brett Brown

New head coach, new general manager…man, it was all good just a week ago. remember when Doug Collins was running things, they beat the Bulls, even got Andrew Bynum…the future was looking good, just a year ago.

So here we are, already in mid-rebuild mode. what the hell happened? oh well, here’s what we got:

So the 76’ers drafted a new point guard…clearly not needing the young all-star point guard they already had. Michael Carter-Williams will run the show in Phili, with only Tony Wroten and Darius Morris challenging him for a back-up role….wow, three unproven players running the offense, that’s a good idea. Thankfully Evan Turner can run point, too, along with being asked to do everything else.

Your shooting guard and small forward options are the old and often-injured Jason Richardson, James Anderson, and Evan Turner, who is now the face of the franchise. Turner will have the go light all day long as right now this is his team to lose. Khalif Wyatt, Royce White (no planes for Royce, please) and Rodney Williams are also on board, and both will be given significant time to show that they belong. Thaddeus Young will play the power forward spot, even though he’s a much better 3. he needs to rebound and not get thrown out of the post. this will also give guys like Arnett Moultrie and LaVoy Allen a chance to grow. Kwame Brown gives them a veteran look off the bench who can play either 4 or 5.

Spencer Hawes will man the center position until rookie Nerlens Noel arrives. Noels injured his knee in college and may just sit out the year, which is fine. He has no true offensive gave, but has a defensive presence much like Dikembe Mutombo had. He can use the time to recover and learn the game as he’s also looked upon as the future of Phili.…a future filled with lottery rips and high draft picks.

Man, it was all good just a week ago….

Best line-up:

Carter-Williams – pg        Turner – sf        Hawes – c

Richardson – sg          Young – pf            6th – Noel


Atlanta Hawks

Head Coach – Mike Budenholzer

It will be an interesting season in Atlanta. Hopefully they didn’t trade away any draft picks because they should get a pretty high pick after this season. My buddy Jason Goff just moved to Atlanta, now working pre-game for the Hawks, and luckily for him he gets to emerse himself in some god-awful basketball. Why awful?

Kyle Korver is currently your starting small forward. There’s nothing great about that whatsoever. Korver is a good player, and a great shooter, however any small forward at an all-star level is circling date they get to play the Hawks, as Korver’s defense isn’t…eh, well let’s not call it defense. Jeff Teague wanted a bigger role in the offense, and almost left town. Expect more of a scoring output from Teague this season, His backcourt mate will be Louis Williams, a former point guard who sill out recovering from 2013’s season-ending injury.

Derrick Schroeder wowed many during the summer, and will be looked upon to fill both back-up guard roles, if not take the starting spot while Williams gets healthy. The Hawks expected more from John Jenkins this summer and were only under-whelmed. Hopefully this his shooting touch finds its comfort zone and he becomes the player most think he can be.

The post has a lot more answers than the backcourt, thankfully. Al Horford is still the team’s best player, and unfortunately still the team’s starting center. Paul Milsap comes over from Utah to solidify the power forward position, with Elton Brand coming off the bench. That’s an interesting trio. The team is also expecting big things from Mike Scott, who impressed with limited minutes last season. The hawks are also hoping for contributions from Shelvin Mack and Jared Cunningham.

It’s no secret the hawks will be counting on their outside shot falling and muscling ownership of the post. If that doesn’t happen every night, and it won’t, well that lottery draft can’t come soon enough.

Best line-up:

Teague – pg         Korver – sf          Horford – c

Schroeder – sg         Milsap – pf          6th – Williams/Brand


Milwaukee Bucks

Head Coach – Larry Drew

Fear the Deer! It’s interesting, because the Bucks are not a bad team. Infact, defensively they have the potential to be something special. They have a weird dynamic of players who do many different things, while at the same time all very similarly above average. I’ll explain what I mean.

Look at the front court. Larry Sanders and John Henson are both long defensive-minded young forwards you don’t really wanna challenge near the rim. Add rookie Giannis Antetupounmpo to the mix with his athletism, mixed with the rebounding skills and production of Ersan Iyasova, along with 6’ll Ekpe Udoh, and the Bucks have one of the best young posts in basketball. But who’s gonna score?? The Bucks also have Zaza Pachula at center, who is a better than average back-up.

Caron Butler comes home…finally. I expect a very productive season from Butler, who’s finally in familiar surroundings. Khris Middleton was a great scorer the season he spent at Texas, and with development could turn into a good player. Until that happens, the Carlos Delfino is back. Delfino loves Milwaukee and had his best seasons with the Bucks shooting-wise. Gary neal also comes to the Bucks, a good defender and another good shooter.

The Brandon Jennings era is officially over, however the OJ Mayo movement has begun. Mayo will be given the freedom to become the leader of this team. He has the green light to score, while his new backcourt mate, Brandon Knight, will be happy to help facilitate.

Knight is also a young,. skilled guard with potential, who won’t take as many bad shots as Jennings did. He also won’t put up the points Jennings did. The Bucks also brought back former team leader Luke Ridnour to teach and develop Knight, and will probably get more of the minutes during crunchtime.

Best Line-up:

Knight – pg          Butler – sf         Sanders – c

Mayo – sg         Henson – pf         6th - Iyasava


Cleveland Cavs

Head Coach - Mike Brown

Uncle Drew has some new friends to play with. Once LBJ left Cleveland I guess the Cavs felt they had nothing else to lose. Drafting Kyrie Irving has turned out to be a five-star move. Irving has stepped his game up each year, and is making strides to become a yearly all-star weekend member. Can he carry this team to the next level? Who knows, but he’ll have some help in trying.

Smart move bringing back coach Mike Brown. This team is very athletic and offensively gifted, so bringing in a defensive-minded coach is great for these youngsters. Irving will get a lot of help from the vastly improved Dion Waiters. He will fill that2 guard spot perfectly, giving the Cavs two big scoring threats. Another huge move was bringing in Jarrett Jack, who’s just been incredible the last few years. A great outside shooter and leader, he can play each guard spot. Matthew Dellavedova was brought in as a back-up to the back-up.

The return of Brown mixes with the emergence of some overly-athletic small forwards who seem to produce for him. Earl Clark strived with the Lakers when brown was coach, and its said that Alonzo Gee responds really well to Brown’s coaching. Both aren’t stars and won’t be asked to carry the scoring load, but they produce. Somehow they contribute. Also add CJ Miles to that mix. Clark can also play the 4, while Miles can line up as a guard, all great things to have on your bench.

What contributions the team gets from Carrick Felix or Sergey Karasev will have to be seen.

Now here comes the fun part. The Cavs had the 1st pick of the 2013 draft and chose Anthony Bennett. Bennett could play the 3, although he’s not in shape enough, nor ishe ready to play 3. He’s a 4 at the moment, but he has potential down the line to be a successful 3. For now another draft pick, Tristian Thompson is having a great pre-season and has the job.

Anderson Varejao was a very productive center before he got injured. His field goal percentage and rebounding ability. Along with his energy, was a huge plus to the cavs. Now that he’s healthy expect that same kind of play…until Bynum shows up. The team to a risk on Andrew Bynum and so far it looks like it may pay off. He’s getting healthier, in better shape, and could actually be in the line-up before too long. Bynum is a game-changer, a 20 ppg type player. Mix him with this offense, knowing you don’t need to rush him back….things are looking up.

Best line-up:

Irving - pg       Bennett - sf         Bynum - c

Waiters - sg       Thompson - pf         6th - Jack/Varejao



Detroit Pistons

Head Coach - Mo Cheeks

If Detroit thinks they can get away with the garbage they’ve been throwing out there during pre-season then it’s going to be an ugly season in the motor city. Singler at starting shooting guard? Really? Come on.

So don’t be surprised if Greg Monroe gets traded. They already have Andre Drummond signed at center, plus with bringing in Josh Smith, who’s a better 4 than 3. Bring some more talent to this team. Since we’re focused on the post, Jonas Jerbas and Charlie Villanueva are also down there, along with Josh Harrelson. Look for Tony Mitchell to get some time.

Kyle Singler is a very productive sub who can play the 3 or 4...and apparently the 2? Yikes. The Pistons signed Luigi Datome, the former Italian league MVP. He’s a tremendous shooter who just needs to adjust to the American game.

The backcourt is the fun part. Brandon Jennings was brought in to help take the Pistons into a new era. Jennings is a scorer and his play alone could elevate Detroit’s overall play. To help Jennings become a more complete point guard they called on former champion and team captain Chauncey Billups, who can play either guard spot if necessary. The fact that there are finally two official point guards (well three including Will Bynum) means Rodnet Stuckey can focus primarily on scoring and defense, that is once he gets back from breaking his thumb. The Pistons also drafted ketavious Caldwell-Pope, who has a great shot, can defend very well, and will fight for that starting spot by the All-Star break.

The Pistons will be good, but they have to get healthy and finally click as a team, which probably won’t happen til late in the year.

Best line-up:

Jennings - pg      Smith - sf        Drummond - c

Stuckley - sg       Monroe - pf        6th - Singler


Boston Celtics

Head Coach - Brad Smith

Many people expect Brad Smith to fail. They expect Danny Ainge’s dream of rebuilding and getting back to the top to fall flat. Unfortunately it won’t happen with this roster. While there’s work to be done, the Celtics have put together an interesting bunch of veterans and youngsters who can still compete for a play-off spot in the east.

It all starts with Rondo. When he gets back that will change everything. Will he be traded for more talent? Remains to be seen. But until then he’s the starting point and the best player on the team. Rondo leads the charge for a solid group of guards. Avery Bradley is a great defensive guard, however he’s shown to be a better 2 than 1.Phil Pressey has looked good in pre-season and can also play point. The team also has Jordan Crawford, along with Courtney Lee. Lee is a solid guard who’s game seems to be in decline. If only MarShon Brooks could play any kind of defense he’d take that starting job, but unfortunately brooks only knows the Bill Murray style of play: no defense allowed.

Keith Bogans is a great veteran presence on the bench, and he can hit the 3 for you, but he won’t get much time with Gerald Wallace and Jeff Green in front of him. Both play the 3 and can play the 4 in a small line-up. Brandon bass is a tough rebounded and solid 4. He can score a little, however he won’t be able to contain Jared Sullinger for long. Sullinger has shown he’s a monster in the post this pre-season, and also showed signs of it last season. A little consistency and the job is his for keeps. This makes things interesting for bass and Kris Humphries, who since his dabble in reality tv has seen his game go from prime time to late nite infomercials. He’s now a solid bench player. Still a good rebounder and good defender, he’ll get time at the 4 and 5. He’ll probably get the start at 5 for now, but expect rookie Kelly Olynyk to be the starter before long. Olynyk has had a great summer, and just like Sullinger will grab that spot for keeps with a little consistency.

Best Line-up:

Rondo - pg          Green - sf          Olynyk - c

Lee - sg            Sullinger - pf          6th - Wallace/Humphries


5. New York Knicks

Head coach – Mike Woodson

Mike Woodson will have his hands full this year. The Knicks have a reason to be confident as basketball-wise they are loaded with talent. They could be one of the most talented if not toughest teams in the league. From top to bottom the Knicks can compete. At point guard Raymond Felton will start, with no Bibby, or Kidd, or any other golden age point guard. Felton is a solid guard who can shoot and play good defense. He’s exactly what a team like this needs, unselfish and plays defense, not many mistakes. Behind him are big shot Beno Udrih and Pablo Prigioni, both experienced, both good shooters. None of these guys are going to put any fear in the heart of DRose, but hey, they are solid.

Imani Shumpert is a great guy to have on your whether he’s starting or off the bench. Shumpert is a good scorer and takes it to the hole relentlessly. He generally starts but it may be tough to keep JR Smith on the bench any longer. JR is quickly becoming a star and the 32 guy on this Knicks team. A scoring machine, JR needs to get his off-court antics together, as he’s already going to miss time.

Tim Hardaway jr was drafted over the summer and he can play the 2 or 3. He’s looked good this summer and should get significant time. The Knicks also picked up Chris Douglas-Roberts off the free agent market.

CDR is a 6’7 shooter and will land a job somewhere if he doesn’t stick here. James White is also on the roster just in case the And 1 guys stop by and want a dunk contest. But this team revolves around Carmelo Anthony. Akll that free agent talk needs to stop as NYC is where he belongs and he needs to carry this team if they really expect to compete for the top spot. Melo has the potential to make this team great,but he has to get his mind on this season and not the next.

You’re not going to out-tough the Knicks down low. Amare Stoudamire is back and healthy, while defensive juggernaut Tyson Chandler will still man the 5 spot. If any one of them misses time or gets in foul trouble there’s Andrei Bargnani and Kenyon Martin. And if that doesn’t fit into your diet how about a healthy dose of Metta World Peace, who will get time at the 3 and the 4. Whoa.

The Knicks are still trying to figure out who to keep between Cole Aldrich, Josh Powell, or Toure Murry, all serviceable players, but the core of this team is set and ready to make big moves this season.

Best Line-up:

Felton – pg        Anthony – sf        Chandler – c

Smith – sg         Stoudamire – pf           6th – Shumpert


4. Brooklyn Nets

Head Coach – Jason Kidd

Is Brooklyn in the house? Without a doubt, although it seems like Boston lite these days. You may be able to move teams but you can’t change colors per say, so the nets resemble what the Celtics looked like last season somewhat, and its not just because the team’s top guys are KG and Paul Pierce. They still have that now or never feel…maybe its because of new coach Jason Kidd. Who knows. Either way pierce is trying to change that in trying to get everyone to defer to Deron Williams as the guy.

Williams is the guy. It’s his team and finally he has some real players behind him. Joe Johnson will play the 2 and will be looked upon to score more than he did last season. Jason terry also made the trip from Boston to play 6th man again, while Shaun Livingston will be the back-up point guard. Tyshawn Taylor is also on the roster but how much time he actually gets will be shocking. This is clearly a veteran-ran team.

Paul Pierce and KG reclaim the 3 and 4 just like they did in Boston. They give the Nets a toughness they were missing in the past. And unlike in Boston, KG and Pierce won’t be relied on to carry the team, as they can play the 4th and 5th options. Andrei Korlenko is the 1st option off the bench at both positions, a solid player and even better defender. The Nets also have Alan Anderson and Reggie Evans on the bench. Look for Evans to get lots of time as KG really wants him as his wingman.

Andre Blanche will get lots of time. His game has matured being around actual professionals. He’ll back up Brooke Lopez, who if healthy will have this team all to himself to be the big dog. He could become the league’s best center if he stays healthy, as no other big man in the East can handle him.

Best line-up:

Williams – pg         Pierce – sf         Lopez – c

Johnson – sg         Garnett – pf         6th – Terry


3. Indiana Pacers

Head coach – Frank Vogel

In wanting to get better they just may have gotten worse. So here’s what happened: The Pacers are convinced they have the firepower to take out the Heat. Great. Yes they have some tremendous athletes, however this team is not as close to the promised land as they think. The return of Danny Granger to his true form would help, but losing the energetic Psycho T doesn’t. While having Luis Scola on your bench is a great addition, Hansborough brough a toughness and energy that Scola doesn’t have. Also bringing in CJ Watson isn’t going to help. Both the Bulls and heat have proven they can rattle CJ when it matters.

Paul George is becoming one of the league’s best players. He can carry this team for only so far, whoever he’s gotten a lot better and needs to be more aggressive. Chris Copeland and Solomon Hill are both good players but nothing special. Same goes for starting point guard George Hill. And Lance Stevenson should help them emencely, since he can play up to 3 positions.

The core of this team is set, yet they aren’t as deep as the Knicks or athletic as the other two top teams on the East. The one advantage they may have is the 7 foot Roy Hibbert manning the middle. Depending on what day you wake up, depends on which Roy Hibbert you’ll get. While his inconsistencey sucks, he was an all-star. Plus his partner in the post is David West, a big tough power forward with a little jump shot to match.

Best line-up:

Hill – pg        George – sf        Hibbert – c

Granger – sg        West – pf         6th – Stevenson/Scola


2. Chicago Bulls

Head Coach – Tom Thibodeau

This team is one of the few teams that can match if not beat Miami. They aren’t intimidated and completely believe they are better than the Heat. And that’s completely true, if they stay healthy. And all of that starts with the point guard, the return of Derrick Rose. Rose returned this pre-season and looked to be getting back to the MVP form he once was in before the injury. Now stronger with a better 3 point shot, a motivated Rose is a very dangerous Rose.

The Bulls supporting cast is better than ever. Back are Boozer, Deng, and Noah, all former all-stars. Jimmy Butler has won the starting 2 spot and his development over the season should be something to watch. He continues to get better. His play moves captain Kirk Hinrich to the bench where he’s a great two-way guard. Giving the bench even more depth is the addition of 3 point ace Mike Dunleavy jr. Taj Gibson is used to being the best player on the bench but not this year. This team has depth. Nazr Mohammad is the back up center and actually looks alive this year, while Maquis Teague is still developing as a point guard. He had a tremendous summer league. The Bulls also drafted Erik Murphy and Tony Snell, two very active youngsters who defend very well and can shoot.

Yet it all falls on the health of the team and DRose. Is he ready to lead his team past the Heat?

Best line-up:

Rose – pg         Deng – sf        Noah – c

Butler – sg        Boozer – pf         6th – Hinrich/Gibson/Dunleavy


1. Miami Heat

Head coach – Erik Spoelstra

To be the man you gotta beat the man, and until someone beats Miami, they will remain the top team in the NBA. The Heat still has one of the best rosters from top to bottom. Loaded with deadly shooters, the heat did something remarkable and re-stocked the post. With guys like James Jones and Rashard Lewis just waiting in the wings, and youngster such as Eric Griffin.

The bench is very good. Shane Battier is still a great defender and a tremendous 3 point shooter, backed up by “Jesus Shuttlesworth” himself, Ray Allen. Norris Cole is the back-up pg, while the post is covered by Birdman! Birdman! Chris Anderson. And then it gets scary…the Heat took a flier on center Greg Oden. If Oden can get and stay healthy, and this is a big if then the Heat may have found a huge diamond in the rough. Oden could change the way you play against the heat. The heat also brought back their former lottery pick Michael Beasley. If Beasley can get his head straight with Miami, he could be a great option in the post.

And then there’s the starters. Chambers and Haslem have been around forever, and they do their job, which is contribute when you can and stay out of the way. Bosh played a lot more at center and it definitely helped in the end. DWade is getting a ton more help off the bench, but when healthy is still one of the best guards going. As for King LBJ, well don’t be surprised if he gets MVP #4 on the way to title #4.

Best line-up:

Chambers – pg        James – sf         Bosh – c

Wade – sg          Haslem – pf         6th – Allen/Battier/Birdman

Thursday, 10 October 2013 23:47

NBA Western Conference Preview

We all know the best the NBA has to offer is in the East, but what’s going on with the Western Conference. Well here’s a who’s who of the West and who to expect from the best teams in the West.           


Sacramento Kings

Head coach - Michael Malone

The Kings are clearly in franchise rebuild mode 2.0. Trading away your best player, moving then not moving to Seattle, new big name owner - not to mention the wholesale changes made on the roster - yeah, rebuild mode 2.0 sounds just about right.

Let’s look at the positives, which is tremendous guard play. Greivis Vazquez is a tremendously underrated point guard who has the size to play small forward if necessary. Greatly unselfish, Vazquez’ versatility only opens doors for explosive players like Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette. The Kings drafted Ray McCullom, a 6’3 point guard, along with Kansas freshman and lights-out scorer Ben McLemore. Many consider McLemore the most talented player in the 2013 NBA draft, and he will be looked upon to provide big . The Kings will also be looking for bigger numbers from starting shooting guard Marcus Thornton. Thorton is a solid starting shooting guard, a veteran who McLemore will have a hard time beating out to start...this year.

Things get messy from here on. DeMarcus Cousins has been compared to Derrick Coleman a lot, and if he got his head on right could be the best big man in the NBA. He can shoot, he’s quicker than most 4 or 5’s, and around the basket he can be just a monster. However his mind seems to be on everything else rather than being a professional. With the addition of Shaq to the organization, not just as an owner but as Cousin’s mentor, might Cousins finally get on the right track? The Kings also offer some big questions on who to play with Cousins. With no true center, do you go with the worker bee Carl Landry? Or how about long-time King and the versatile 6’11 Jason Thompson. Then again how do you keep the 6’9 greyhound Patrick Patterson off the court? No matter how you play it the Kings will get good production off the bench, especially with veterans Landry, John Salmons, and Luc Mbah a Moute on the roster.

The Kings aren’t going anywhere this year. New coach Michael Malone (who also brought along dad Brendan as an assistant) has one job, and it’s not winning. That job is develop these young kids and help turn Cousins into the All-Star he could/should be.

Best Line-up:

Vazquez - pg     McLemore  -sf      Cousins - c

Thornton - sg    Patterson - pf    6th - Thomas


New Orleans Pelicans

Head Coach - Monty Williams

I know you’ve been dying to talk Pelicans, so let’s get into it. The New Orleans backcourt looks as messy and as talented as any in basketball. Eric Gordon returns from injuries and can be a big-time scorer, while Jrue Holiday was thought to be the new face of the 76’er franchise. He was an all-star last season, which makes this trade absurd. Austin Rivers, a 1st round pick from last season, can play either position for periods of time, although he’d love to just be a scorer, but that’s not going to get him on the floor. He needs to pick up things defensively if he wants to stay on the floor this year. A good pre-season has helped the chance of him playing more this season improve. He's had a great summer and has taken steps in the right direction.

Tyreke Evans comes in from Sacramento and can play any of the guard spots or the 3, where he’ll probably end up getting the most time. Evans improves this team 100% with his versatility and scoring ability, plus he’ll make the Pelicans a fun team to watch run. Anthony Morrow has also been known to score points in bunches at the 2 or 3.

Anthony Davis comes back this season and heads a pretty big front court. While Davis isn’t a huge scoring machine, he has the tools to become a complete player someday, while his defensive skills are already better than any of his teammates. Speaking of defense, don’t say that word to loudly around Ryan Anderson. Anderson is a big time shooter and another scorer, providing another option most teams don’t have. The Pelicans still have Jason Smith and Al-Farouq Aminu as very talented options. The sky is the limit for Aminu, who’s still developing his game. New Orleans also drafted Jeff Whitey out of Kansas, who could give them some minutes down in the post.

Best line-up:

Holiday - pg     Evans - sf     Davis - c

Gordon - sg      Anderson - pf    6th - Aminu


Denver Nuggets

Head Coach - Brian Shaw

The Denver Nuggets had an incredible 2013 season. Everything seemed to go right, well except the play-offs. There was no one superstar that stood out, it was a complete team effort, and made for some of the most exciting basketball in recent history. They had the 2nd longest winning streak in the NBA and didn’t have a LeBron or a DWade on their roster. Head coach George Karl could do no wrong. That was then. This is now, and now features a new head coach (Brian Shaw) and a lost to free agency All-Star shooting guard (Andre Iquodala).

So the big reason the Nuggets are so successful is because of how big they are. JaVale McGee is an athlete freak, despite his weekly Shaqtin’ A Fool appearances. McGee can jump out of the gym, block shots into the crowd, and dunks like a madman. That’s it. That’s his job. He doesn’t really have a great low post game, which is why playing him at the 5 doesn’t benefit you much unless its run and gun, which is the Nuggets game. Denver decided to use Kenneth Faried at the 5, a smaller version of 1992 Shaq. At 11 points, 10 rebounds a game, Faried was a dunking machine. He grabbed rebounds like old school Dennis Rodman, and played with an energy and intensity many opponents just weren’t ready for. JJ Hickson comes into Denver, capable of playing the 4 or 5, making the Nuggets even more of a solid dunking, shot-blocking machine. Danilo Gallinari missed the end of the season with an injury, however he was the team’s 2nd leading scorer. At 6’10 he’s always a match-up problem, plus he’s probably the team’s best shooter. Add Darrell Arthur to the mix and you have one big, tough front line.

Make no mistake Ty Lawson makes this team go. As the team’s leading scorer, Lawson is one of the league’s fastest point guards, and on a team that loves to run that’s a huge bonus. He’s developed a solid three point game, and showed tremendous leadership during the play-offs.

Plus it helps to have veteran leader Andre Miller backing you up, giving the Nuggets arguably the best pg tandem in basketball. Questions arise in who will play the 2, as current Nuggets options are all solid bench players. Wilson Chandler can do it, however he came off the bench last season. The Nuggets would love for Evan Fournier to finally develop, as he’s shown tremendous skill, plus adding the versatile vet Randy Foye helps them tremendously with their 3 point %.  But for now the job lies with Chandler. Is he capable, can he play unselfish enough to not take the ball out of Lawson and Gallinari’s hands? The Nuggets also signed Nate Robinson, who had a tremendous year off the bench playing the role of DRose for last year’s Bulls team. Robinson is not a starter, however, and gives you much more of a boost off the bench.

Best line-up:

Lawson - pg     Gallinari - sf      McGee - c

Chandler - sg     Faried - pf     6th - Hickson/Robinson


Phoenix Suns

Head Coach - Jeff Hornacek

The Suns are in trouble. Gone are the days of Thunder Dan, KJ, or Tom Chambers. There’s no Larry Nance nor Charles Barkley leading the post game. Infact, there’s not much of anything really. And that’s the question that needs to be answered early on for the Suns. Who will take the lead and be the Suns go to guy? They are hoping it’s Eric Bledsoe. Brought over off the bench from the Clippers, the suns ae counting on Bledsoe’s display of talent when filling in for Chris Paul to help lead them back in the righ direction. Bledsoe showed signs of superstardom in limited minutes, and the word of mouth about his game has been off the charts. How that plays out for an 82 game season we’ll have to see. Expect Bledsoe to be matched up with steady point guard Goran Dragic. Dragic was the only truly consistent thing about the Suns last season, and will be counted on to do the same. Trying to keep up with the Suns guards will be interesting, as they have some of the more versatile players in the NBA in PJ Tucker and Gerald Green. Who steps up and gets playing time will be a season-long experiment.

Even more questions arise in the front court. Emeke Okufor is a solid center. His defense is incredible when he’s healthy, and he loves to rebound. But the Suns drafted Alex Len, who by all accounts, is the more talented product. But his time will come. Channing Frye has returned from some heart issues that had him miss last season entirely. Playing these two together could be interesting as Frye is a great 3 point shooter, while Gorat is big enough to command a double-team. The Morris twins are finally together again, which hopefully means they’ll get production from both instead of just one. The Morris boys can play the 3 or 4 and played well together in college.

A reunion may be just what the doctor ordered. Miles Plumlee is still developing but is a great center for the Suns style of bball. PJ Tucker’s energy and hustle could have him playing a lot of minutes at the 3 and 4, as he helps tremendously on defense as well.

Best Line-up:

Dragic - pg      Green - sf       Okufor - c

Bledsoe - sg      Mar. Morris - pf      6th - Frye


Memphis Grizzlies

Head Coach - Dave Joerger

You really have to convince me this team got better somehow. With no major additions, a new coach, and nothing to show from the draft, how does this team keep up with the elite in the Qwest? Admittedly your frontcourt is bad, bad news. Defensive player of the year Marc Gasol along with Zach Randolph…yeah that’s a problem. Add long-armed shooter Tayshaun price and you’ve got yourself the best defensive threesome in basketball down low. Kosta Koufas was the starting center for most of the year in Denver, and playing him at the 5 could move Gasol to the 4 on occasion, a very scary thought. Koufas had a very good year in Denver, and should only improve playing with Gasol. Look for Jon Leuer to play a much similar role to last’s year. He’s a big body who seems to be getting better the more he plays. Ed Davis could be key if he fulfills his potential. Davis could be just what the team is looking for to fill in spots next season.

Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayless are back, along with Tony Allen. The Grizzlies got a drop dead shooter in Mike Miller, stealing him away from the Heat. Quincy Pondexter also returns, making their outside shooting game much improved from last year. Whatever the Grizzlies get from rookies Franklin and Calathes will be a bonus. Defensively this team should be very good, but offensively they could look as ugly as a pig in make-up.

Best Line-up

Conley - pg      Prince - sf      Gasol - c

Allen - sg       Randolph - pf       6th - Koufos/Bayless


Utah Jazz

Head Coach - Tyrone Corbin

This is what a youth movement looks like, people. The Jazz will be in the draft next year, hopefully with a high pick, maybe a franchise-changer. If you are a Jazz fan appreciate the growth in your team this year, watch as players get better, and that once in a while surprise big win they get every other week or so.

Gordon Haywood will be relied on for scoring. He’s the team leader, lines up at the 3, but can play the 2 if Corbin decides to get big and play Marvin Williams at the 3 instead. Williams started a lot at the 3, and with no proven shooting guard this is a logical option with the game on the line.

Trey Burks was brought in to be the new point guard of the franchise. Burke is a proven winner with unlimited talent. There is no solid back-up for Trey, as John Lucas III shoots more than he’ll ever pass the ball, so it’s all on Trey. Brandon Rush was the NBA’s best 3 point shooter at one point, and with some actual minutes under his belt who knows what he can do. This opening will also let Alec Burks finally get some minutes.

He’s shown potential in the past and finally his time could be here. The Jazz also added Richard Jefferson to the roster, who could play either the 2 or 3. If Jefferson claims the 2 job that would greatly benefit the Jazz.

The Jazz need something from Derrick Favors. He’s been given enough time to hide behind Al Jefferson and Paul Milsap, but those days are over.  If he falls short Jeremy Evans has also been looking for his moment in the sun. The same goes for Enis Kanter. Kanter has shown great potential, and finally being a starter could bring in the big numbers most people are expecting. Andris Biedrins comes in to back up the center position. Not the best post up center, nor is defense his thing, but he can run.

The Jazz are in the hunt for a point guard while Burks recovers from surgery. Not a good way to start the season.

Best Line-up:

Burke - pg     Haywood - sf      Kanter - C

Jefferson - sg      Favors - pf      6th - M. Williams


Los Angeles Lakers

Head Coach - Mike D’Antoni

Believe in the Lakers. Ok, well, you can only believe for so long, but it’s hard to imagine a Kobe Bryant team falling on such hard times. It all started with Dwight Howard, who clearly was a cancer to the LA system. He destroyed chemistry and left a distasteful residue with the organization they are still recovering from. Call it good/bad timing with Kobe returning from injury. Sure he’s coming back, however a determined and motivated Kobe is the deadliest mamba of all.

The Lakers need a trade. They need a power forward like Miley Cirus needs an STD test. As of now they are playing Jordan Hill next to Pau in the starting line-up, which is fine, but matched up against high quality power forwards in the league, not a good match-up. Think of Hill as a poor man’s poorer Horace Grant without a jump shot. He can rebound, you don’t need to run any plays for him, and he’ll clean up garbage around the rim, but he can only play for so long. Gasol will be the starting center, with Chris Kaman coming off the bench. This is great news, if both weren’t injury prone and old. However it plays well if healthy near play-off season. It would be nice if rookie Ryan Kelly developed into anything during the season as he has a tremendous versatile game that could help, however he’s still recovering from foot surgery and hasn’t even put on a shoe during training camp. When he’ll be available is anyone’s guess. Once again, this team needs another big man!!!

What the Lakers lack in size they make up for everywhere else. Steve Nash is hungry to prove he’s not done. He’s motivated to have a “Nash-type” year, which at one point meant holding up an MVP trophy. The Lakers will limit wear and tear on Nash by having both Steve Blake and the re-discovered Jordan Farmer on the roster.

Farmer did a remarkable job backing up Deron Williams last season and could be just what the doctor ordered. Still in his 20’s and a good shooter, Farmer is very familiar with how the Lakers run. He’s bff with Nick Young, who is comes back home to LA as the starting 3. Young is hungry, aggressive, and extremely talented, probably one of the best running mates Kobe has ever played with.

Young can be a big-time scorer, and will take some of the pressure off of his teammates as he has no problems shooting. Jodie Meeks also returns, a streak scorer who plays well with Kobe.

It will be very curious to see what if/if anything the Lakers get out of Robert Scare and Elias Harris. Anything at all they can give you at the 4 would be great. They same goes for Wesley Johnson. Johnson has not lived up to any of the hype he got before he was drafted, and has under-achieved in two NBA stops so far in his short career. He still can score and has a ton of potential, unfortunately he’s already banged up early in pe-season. Xavier Henry has yet to develop, yet he could be the key to a good season. He was sitting on the end of the pre-season bench un-noticed when he broke out in game 1 for 29 points, and has maintained a good scoring average since coming off the bench. 

Best Line-up:

Nash - pg     Young - sf       Kaman- c

Bryant - sg      Gasol - pf      6th - Henry/Hill


Minnesota Timberwolves

Head Coach - Rick Adleman

If you’re a fan of the NBA then you love watching the Wolves play ball. They are a quick, in your face, big shot-taking, fight for every rebound, awesome passing team. This team is based on which Kevin Love comes to the arena. An injury-plagued 2013, if he plays anything like he did in 2012 then the Wolves are going to the play-offs. Love can score inside and out, and no one can rebound with him down low when motivated. Put him next to surging center Nikola Pekovic and you may have the league’s best center/power forward combo. Pekovic continues to get better and stronger, while butting up impressive numbers each season. The problem comes in the back-ups. Besides Ronny Turiaf, there is no other true big. If Robbie Himmell makes the team he’s only 6’8 and coming off 2 knee injuries. Chase Budinger is the next biggest at 6’9, but he plays the 3. Derrick Williams has the same issues at Budinger (except Budinger always seems to be injured, just like he is at this moment), which is good if you wanna play an inside outside game with another big man, but that doesn’t happen too often. This also brings into question, who’s starting at the 3??

Corey Brewer is a long-armed defender with solid skills, but not starter skills. But he’s a great defensive short minutes starter. Shabazz Muhammad is on the roster. He could get some time as he’s an amazing talent, or he could sit the bench because he’s such a headcase. If he gets his head on straight he’s got way too much talent not to find somewhere to play on the floor. They Wolves also brought in Kmart from Oklahoma City. Martin is a solid shooting guard and a tremendous upgrade at the guard position.

The fun comes with the point guards. We all know Ricky Rubio is a human highlight reel. How far his ceiling goes is up to him, but right now he’s a steady great passing point guard, and should be 100 percent after last season. JJ Barea comes back as the fiesty back-up known for making tough lay-ups and getting up in opponents faces.

Gritty, tough….just what this team needs. Also what the team needs is solid back up guard Alexev Shved. Shved is a tough guard who provides scoring off the bench, capable of playing either spot. Dante Cunningham also is on the roster

Best Line-up:

Rubio - pg      D. Williams - sf      Pekovic - c

Martin - sg       Love - pf      6th - Budinger


Portland Trailblazers

Head Coach - Terry Stotts

Rip City is filled with potential. There’s so much untapped talent and youth….you can literally see the “what if” signs above the arena. Lets start in the backcourt and work our way up, shall we?

Damian Lillard was easily the best rookie the NBA had last year. Can he carry a franchise? Probably not, but he’s a great lead option on a team filled with great options. Having Mo Williams as a back-up is a brilliant move for a young team needing veteran leadership. The same goes at shooting guard. Wesley Matthews is a veteran guard who plays well with Lillard. He’s a good defender and can score, however the Blazers are hoping 2013 draft pick CJ McCullom will be the future at the 2. He’s super athletic and a good scorer, yet he’s still young, and currently rehabbing a broken foot. Matthews is a great bridge til he’s ready.

Nic Batum returns at small forward, and he’s a solid player who’s game needs to elevate if the Blazers want to do anything in the West. Dorell Wright was signed in the off-season, an athletically-gifted 6’9 forward who can run, dunk, and shoot the 3 very well. The Blazers were desperately in need of a real center, and while Myles Leonard is a quality scoring center with a bright future, defensively he’s nowhere near what the team needs. This changes with Robin Lopez coming to town. Williams put up 11ppg/9rpg as a starter in new Orleans last season, and should clog up the post instantly.

This could be the year Thomas Robinson breaks out. After a very weird, well-traveled rookie season, Robinson is motivated to make teams start taking notice of what they missed. He makes for a great back-up to LaMarcus Aldridge, who if healthy, is an elite power forward. Aldridge finally gets the defensive help he needs along with a bench that can take a lot of the load off of him late in games. Rip City gets deeper and defensively better, along with bigger…, what if???

Best Line-up:

Lillard - pg      Batum - sf      Lopez - c

Matthews - sg      Aldridge - pf       6th - M. Williams      


Dallas Mavericks

Head Coach - Rick Carlisle

Oh boy, this is not what rebuilding looks like. It’s more like a team trying it’s hardest to hold on to some sort of hope that they are just a couple of pieces away, and the mavs are not a couple of pieces away.  You can keep trying to patch up holes with boxes, but the pieces just wont fit very well. What does that mean? Well read along…

There’s no part of Dirk Norwitzki that should be in the post banging for rebounds, unless he wants to, and trust me, he doesn’t. Dirk would much rather be one of those  old small forward dudes, barely playing defense, running…ok, jogging down court hitting screens to get open to shoot because he has the all clear shoot whenever sign. Unfortunately the Mavs already have a bench full of those guys, and their power forwards are all under-sized, well at least compared to Dirk.

Playing at center are Samuel Dalembert, Bernard James, and Fab Melo. Dalembert is durable center. He’s not going to blow you away at any point, but he will fill clog up that post, grab some rebounds, foul hard, and change some shots. Bernard James also does the same thing to a lesser degree. He’s still learning the game and isn’t as talented as Dalembert, but there’s potential there. Fab Melo is…well, until prove otherwise about a season away from the And 1 circuit.The Mavs also have Brandan Wright, who should be the starting 4 but can play a lot of the 5. You will see Wright on the floor during some of their better line-ups.

So the Mavs signed DeJuan Blair away from the Spurs. Blair works hard. He’s a big body who shoots a high percentage and hustles like a mofo for rebounds. But he’s a bench player. Same goes for Jae Crowder, who plays more 3 than 4. Also undersized and not starter material. Remember those guys I mentioned already playing Dirk’s spot? Well one of them is Shawn Marion. Shawn will probably get the starting nod only because he plays better defense that our 6th man, Vince Carter. Neither guy are the same player they were a decade ago…hell, they aren’t even the same players they were 2 years ago. But there’s still talent in both. VC can play 2 or 3, while Shawn can play more 3 or 4.

The point guard situation got a solid answer fima;y with the arrival of Jose Calderon. Jose is like a poor man’s Steve Nash, which is perfect for a team like Dallas. Picking up Devin Harris was also a huge move, as Devin is a solid guard, who can play either position in a pinch. He’s starter worthy, but having him as an option on the bench is a tremendous plus. Unless this season goes straight to hell you will not see Shane Larkin. Who you might see a bit of is Gal Mekel, the Israeli league MVP. Mekel may stick just because of his shooting ability alone.

While the biggest signing in my opinion may be Calderon, its hard to argue that Monta Ellis isn’t the best signing of the summer. Ellis is a big time shooter who can handle the ball well. His addition takes a ton of scoring pressure off Dirk, and easily makes the mavs one of the better backcourts in the league. Wayne Ellington is a solid back-up guard who will get minutes on hard work alone.

It’s hard to tell just which may the season may fall with this team. If healthy and shots fall they have enough talent to make the play-offs and even possibly get out of round one. But that’s if every ball falls right.

Best Line-up:

Calderon - pg      Carter - sf        Wright - c

Ellis - sg       Norwitzki -  pf     6th - Marion/Harris 


Golden State Warriors

Head Coach - Mark Jackson             

Steph Curry spent the end of the 2013 season and the play-offs showing the league why he could be one of the league’s best guards in the next few years. Dropping 50 in the garden, an incredible play-off run, you couldn’t stop Curry. Look for more of that to be on display this season. This season Steph has a true backcourt running mate in Andre Iguodola, who wil be counted on by Mark Jackson for more of he defense than offense. Iggy loves to run and can score, but he’s so athletic and easily one of the team’s best defensive players. Currently Tony Douglas is the back-up pg, he’s ok…he can shoot the 3, likes to run, but is he a starter if Curry goes down? No.

Klay Thompson is the league’s best shooter, outside of Curry. Thompson could start at guard too, but he’s built for the 3. Thompson is ready to put up big numbers, as he’s in the perfect system to just let it ride every night. Now here’s where things get complicated….Harrison Barnes comes off the bench to play the 3 or the 4. The Warriors are small, always will be small, but for a team that runs and shoots the ball so well a back-up like barnes isn’t so bad. Then again, last year’s back-up in the post was Carl Landry, and Mark Jackson would kill for another Carl Landry.

All-star David Lee is back and healthy, same goes for center Andrew Bogut. Lee will feast in an offense like this because he’s not asked to do much but rebound. Everything else you get from him is extra, and luckily for GSW he has a little jumper, can run very well, and can score a bit. Bogut is better than advertised. Before he got that major arm injury Bogut was one of the top centers in the East. Even an average Bogut playing for the Warriors is better than 75% of most centers in the West. Jermaine O’Neil was brought in to back-up Bogut, a very high quality back-up if he’s healthy.

Filling out the rest of the roster are  Draymont Green and Kent Bazemore , both versatile, not game-breakers, but their contributions throughout the season can’t be measured.  Mareese Sprieghts was brought in for more beef in the post. GSW aren’t as deep as they were last season, so they need to be healthy if they want to do anything this season. And if they are healthy by play-off time the deadliest thing you want to see is a team that can shoot like the Warriors.

Best Line-up:

Curry - pg      Thompson - sf      Bogut - c

Iggy - sg        Lee - pf       6th - Barnes  


San Antonio Spurs

Head Coach - Greg Popovich

It’s ok to say it now, one bad coaching decision lost the Spurs, the best team in the NBA last season, the NBA championship. It’s ok, the team is back mostly a full strength here to try it again. Last season Tony Parker was just untouchable.. He was the league’s best point guard by far. Cory Joseph and Patty Mills are respectable back-ups as a pair, mostly because the Spurs play great team ball. Ginobilli is back as the 6th man, and is a good ball handler, which takes pressure off the back-ups if parker does go down. And if Ginobilli misses any significant time again no worries the Spurs signed Marco Belinelli.  No systems fits belineli better than the Spurs. After a strong season Danny Green proved in the play-offs that he is a guard that needs attention. He could start at the 2 or the 3.

Kawhi Leonard is the teams most athletic player, not to mention their best defensive player. His ceiling is high and you can’t hide him on the bench anymore. Unfortunately he’s not big enough to play 4, which would really help,  but hey, what team doesn’t need a great 3 man. Sam Young is a great average player to have on your team. Nothing spectacular, just a good player. Same goes for forward/center ff Ayers. Corey Magettee has been making a great impression in pre-season. He gets to the free throw line a lot, which Pop loves. Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw are also back this season to take turns playing both post spots.   

Thiago Splitter made huge strides last year, finally getting a ton of minutes starting. He’s a good steady center who works hard. As for the franchise, well Timmy had a rebirth last season. Pop knew just when to rest him, keep him healthy and rested, and Timmy came through with a remarkable season. They’ll need more of that this year to repeat their run at the top of the West. The Spurs did prove that when healthy and at their top game they could beat anyone, including Miami. Maybe just a few smal adjustments will get them back to the top.

Best Line-up:

Parker - pg     Leonard - sf     Splitter - c

Green - sg     Duncan - pf     6th - Ginobilli          


Houston Rockets

Head Coach - Kevin McHale

Let’s just get into it: The Rockets have the most interesting guards in the league. I think people were expecting “Linsanity” to take over last season, and instead should be happy with an average point guard who needs to dish more than try and take over. If Lin understands his role, and it sounds like he just might now that harden and Howard are around, then he can be a very dangerous option. He penetrates well and can hit big shots. But put pressure on his shoulders and he’s a turnover/defensive liability problem. Patrick Beverly comes in not afraid of anything. He’s got nothing to lose and plays very hard, which is why he gets so much time. The fact that Aaron brooks just sits on the bench as just an option is scary. Brooks is a very good player, and a great person to have if one of your guards goes down. Now you’ll match any of these guys up with James Harden, who is fighting his way to the top of the NBA’s to shooting guards list.

Harden is trying to show he’s one of the NBA’s elite, and winning this season would help plead his case.

Chandler Parsons is the man behind “whats causin’ all this“. Chandler openly recruited Howard to come to Houston, and his game has taken off each season he’s been in the league. After a great play-off run, Parsons has even more confidence in his game and is starting to play like it. Reggie Williams, Francisco Garcia, and Ronnie Brewer are versatile back-ups that can all play the 2 and 3. Each brings something different to the table - Brewer is best defensively, Williams can shoot and get to the rim the best, while Garcia handles the ball better and has a great outside shot.

The question has been who will be the starting power forward? Terrance Jones is spending the pre-season proving his case the hardest, as he’s worked so hard this off-season and put up good numbers so far. Greg Smith was steady last season, but nothing overly impressive. He did his job, and he’ll contribute in many ways. Omir Casspi needs a bounce-back season. He’s a good shooter, but seems to get lost when it comes to post play and rebounding. Marcus Camby is injured again, but he’s more or less another coach anyways.

Omer Asik had good numbers last season as the starter. He monitored the post and pushed and shoved anyone or anything that moved out of the post. He’s generally upset because he thought the starting center spot was his and he played hard to keep it. And then Dwight Howard arrives to town. Plans change. Donatas Motiejunas shouldn’t be ruled out of the race to be power forward. Danatas has respectful numbers last season, however his taken off this off-season. He was the MVP of the Las Vegas summer league and playing like a giant dragon on an island filled with smurfs. If he doesn’t start he’s a great option to back-up the 4 or 5.     

As for Dwight, well I never believed in Superman, and after what hes done in Orlando and now LA, I doubt I ever will. Now that he’s finally got his wish its definitely put up or shut up time for Mr. Howard.                                       

Best Line-up:

Lin - pg     Chandler - sf      Howard - c

Harden - sg      Ross - pf      6th -  Beverly/Asik   


Oklahoma City Thunder

Head coach - Scotty Brooks 

Things have changed a bit for the Thunder. Gone are the high-scoring shooting guards of the past. Around for this ride are a bunch of “what if’s“, “let’s hope“, and ’he needs to step up”… The Thunder are hoping to get a much better season out of perry jones, as well as Hasheem Thabeet. They also brought in big steven Adams, officially making them the tallest bench in the world. With Russell Westbrook still on the sidelines for a while, the Thunder need reggie Jackson to keep playing at a high level until he returns. Derek fisher can also run the ship until Westbrook returns, but if they want to contend in the play-offs they’ll need a healthy RW, nothing less.

Thabo will stick as the starting shooting guard. He fits this team like a glove, and defensively he’s the best guard on the team. And now we get to Jeremy lamb, who a lot of weight falls on this year. He had a great summer league, and will be given the time to show what he’s got. Ryan Gomes was brought back from God knows where. He can play the 3 or 4 as he’s big enough, while still having quality skills. He’s a good bench player to have as he will produce for you somehow. He’s much like Nick Collison, who plays the 4 or 5 off the bench. Solid defender, solid player, can start in the post in a pinch.

Do you really need to talk about KD? I mean, he’s KD. He needs to carry this team, ala 1990’s Jordan and stop deferring to other players.

Kendrick Perkins did a lot of looking in the mirror lately and accepted that he needs to step his game up and get right. Still a solid center, the Thunder need more from him than some of the awful numbers he put up in the play-offs. There’s also the expectation that serge Ibaka is ready to step up as the 3rd or 4thscoring threat on the team. Serge could elevate his game and his team by becoming more of threat with the ball, something he’s been working on. Expect Ibaka to pick up some of the slack while Russ is gone.

Best Line-up:

Westbrook - pg     Durant - sf       Perkins - c

Sefolosha - sg        Ibaka - pf      6th - Lamb


Los Angeles Clippers

Head Coach - Doc Rivers

Let’s take this position by position: Chris Paul is the man that’s not secret. He’s the 2nd best point guard overall in the league and has been given the weapons to really show off his skills. LA native Darren Collison has come home to be the back-up. Darren needs to sit back and learn how to lead, and he’s with two great leaders in Rivers and Paul.

JJ Reddick just got injured. That’s fine, he’ll be back soon. JJ is one of the league’s best shooter, and if you haven’t noticed, being wanted by the best team in the West has given JJ a ton of swagger. He’s walking around these days like 2Chainz. Willie Green will take a lesser role now that the team has added a shooter like JJ, but he’s still a capable defender and scorer. Reggie Bullock got drafted out of UNC and has some serious game. He’s a long-armed defender which Doc loves, not to mention he gets to the free throw line and he can shoot. Unfortunately for him there’s JJ and Jamal Crawford in front of him. Many felt like Crawford had a all-star worthy 1st half, and as the league’s undisputed best 6th man, he gives the Clippers crazy firepower.

Jared Dudley has a stranglehold on the 3 spot. Dudley’s game keeps getting better, and so does his jumper. He’s become a good shooter, along with his athletism, and that’s something the Clippers lacked last season. You will also see a lot of matt Barnes. Rivers loves what he brings defensively, and he’s still moving very well.

Blake Griffin needs to come out and play up to the superstar billing he’s gotten in the past. He needs to develop more offensively, become more of a weapon, cause a double-team, taking pressure off Paul and opening things up more for the shooters. This team will only go as far as Griffin develops. Antwain Jamison comes into the perfect situation. This offense is made for him, and as the back-up for Blake expect Jamison to get enough time to stay healthy, but enough minutes to be productive. Lou Amundsen is a good post to take up space on the bench. He works hard, that’s all we can ask.

Ryam Hollins and BJ Mullins are bought 7-foot long-armed whackers. They will hit you if you come into the post. They will make their lay-ups and put-backs, look to block shots, and foul the crap out of you. They are the less-developed product that was DeAndre Jordan, solid back-ups but not long-term starters. Jordan however, keeps getting better. He’s with a coach that will push him to get better, not to mention he’s determined to become something more than a big dunking shot blocker.

Doc rivers is the kind of coach who gets the best out of his players mentally and on the court. Let’s see if guys like Griffin, Jordan, and Paul all take heed. The Clippers have enough talent to make it to the finals, but are they mentally ready for it?

Best line-up:

Paul - pg      Dudley - sf         Jordan - c

Reddick - sg      Griffin - pg      6th - Crawford

And the D. Rose era part II officially starts NOW.

With the opening of media day for the Bulls you quickly learn just from the tone of many of the players that they not only can't wait to start the season, but have a huge chip on their shoulder. Quickly overlooked as one of the best teams in the league, it wasn't that long ago that the Bulls not only had the NBA's best player, but also the best record in the NBA. Even though the lost Rose to a knee injury all of last year, the Bulls still sent two players to the 2013 All-Star game, while having one of the better records in the Eastern Conference. On any given night the Bulls proved they could beat anyone, and often times seemed just one player away from taking their place among the elite. This is where all the D. Rose hate comes from...but as proven by many other athletes who have rushed back too soon after an injury (hey fantasy football league owners, how's the RGIII pick working out for ya right now?) sometimes its better to be safe than sorry. When many critics or so-called experts speak of who the best teams in the league are right now the Bulls are generally not one of the first teams mentioned. And that my friends lies the motivation for potentially a very exciting season. That else did we learn from media day?

Derrick Rose looks like the bigger, stronger version of D. Rose. Maybe its from doing some insane work-outs in LA this summer, or scrimmaging with ninjas and dragons (don't ask) in China, or maybe its from hitting the weights every day for the past two years. Whatever the case Rose made sure he got much stronger to avoid all those nagging injuries he got getting hacked while driving strong to the basket in the past. Plus when you're a little insecure about your legs after an injury, well you wanna make sure they are strong, healthy, and bigger than ever. And by the looks of things it might take Shaq himself falling of Rose to cause injury. He looks so much stronger than in the past, which, combined with a much improved 3 point shot, and that stealth-like quickness, its bad news for the rest of the league.

"I'm going to play the same way," said Rose at the start of media day. "The only thing that has changed is probably my jump shot, that I can shoot a little further. But the biggest thing is my confidence level. I'm way more confident in my game and in my craft.

"I worked the whole year, trained my body a whole year, and going out there and showing people that I'm the same player, a more efficient player, that's what I'm trying to prove.''

Just who will be your starting 2??? here lies the question of the Captain and the Butler. D Rose feels so much more comfortable running with Captain Kirk Hinrich, mostly because Kirk took care of Rose his rookie season. He's un-selfish, loves to play defense, and provides a veteran comfort level that Rose can appreciate. He also can shoot the ball well, which also gives his teammates confidence in him. The problem comes in the emergence of Jimmy Butler. Generally a 3 who can play the 2 according to match-ups, Butler proved at the end of last season and in the play-offs that he's hungry and ready for more. You couldn't get him off the floor in the  Miami series, and his defensive game took major strides toward All-Star worthy. Butler's game improved so much that Richard Hamilton and Nate Robinson both took a back seat to him in the play-offs, and became completely expendable this off-season whenButler showed he could knock down the corner 3 without hesitation. It's a matter of chemistry however, as Rose and Butler have never been paired together in a game so it's unsure just if they can work together. But with both's aggressive court nature it will be fun to watch and see what happens.. Oh btw, guess who Butler spent most of his summer in LA working out with?

Luo? Are you still with us? The Bulls announced that they will not be talking future contract until season ends with Luo Deng, the team's starting small forward and 2nd best player. This causes issues, many, many issues. First of all you don't need this type of media headache all season. The last thing Deng needs to be worried about is his contract all season. Plus, let's be honest, Deng is your 2nd best player and consistently best defensive player. Despite being banged up a lot the past two years, he rarely missed any games, and it took a damn spinal tap for him to miss those! For a team that doesn't offer many true scorers eliminating Deng from the equation so fast is not a good start, unless you plan on trading him.

How are the bigs? Playful, cranky, healthy, zen'ed out, decide which is which. The team is looking to take some of those heavy minutes off these guys by signing another big soon, besides center Narz Mohammad.  Joakim Noah comes into camp healthier than ever, no longer dealing with the foot issues that have plagued him the past 3 seasons.

"I'm 100 percent healthy and I'm so excited for this year," Noah said. "We've got a lot of work to do, but I feel like this is our time."

The talk of the afternoon was the possible addition of 6'9 forward Indiana product D.J. White coming into training camp, while last year's free agent signee Malcolm Thomas and Dexter Pitman will also be fighting for a spot. Thomas had a good summer camp, but let's see if that translate over to the regular season. The Bulls will also bring former Duke star Dahntay Jones, Kalin Lucas, and Patrick Christopher. They will need to sign just one more player to make the league requirement.

Did we rebuild the bench mob? Not quite, however it could be consistently one of the better bench's the team has had. Taj Gibson and Kirk Hinrich/or Jimmy Butler will be the first faces you see off the bench, along with free agent signee Mike Dunleavy jr. Hinrich can play the 1 or 2 easily. Dunleavy is a big dude. Like 6'9 big, and you don't realize that until you see him. Being able to play the 2 and 3 , plus with his size I'm sure a little bit of 4, Dunleavy provides help for a struggling 3 point game. Last season he hit a career high 43% of his 3's. Nice! The Bulls were one of the league's worst 3 point shooting team last season, yikes. Mohammad comes back as your back-up for Noah, and anything the rest depends on the youngsters.

What youngsters? Are the rookies really going to play? Again, the Bulls were one of the league's worst 3 point shooting teams, so they made sure to find some aggressive players in the draft who can put the ball in the basket. Tony Snell is an aggressive 2/3 who can shoot very well. While much won't be made of him, look for the rookie from Florida Erik Murphy to be a huge surprise this season. Not only can he bang down low but has surprising shooting range the team loves. Murphy mad waves in summer league and could be a big boost down low. Speaking of summer league, point guard Marquis Teague needs to make his stand this season as well. Teague looked out of place last season, however a strong summer has given the coaches some optimism that he could spell Rose a lot more this season. But the Bulls aren't completely sold on that, which is why they are looking to bring in some guard competition from Roger Mason jr, Mike James, and Chris Wright.

We'll get our first glimpse at part II of the D. Rose era and the 2013 Bulls on Oct. 5th as they open up the exhibition season on the road against division rival Indiana.

 Not even Dr. J can save this bunch.
That's a "The Fish who saved Pittsburgh" reference for all you youngsters out there. It's a basketball movie from  the 70's starring Dr. J. Who's Dr. J you ask? Ugh. Nevertheless the Steelers are in trouble. Big trouble. Big trouble Little China trouble.And they may be headin0g towards 0-3 with no help in sight.
The Steelers can't score. Check that, the Steelers won't score. Antonio Brown is supposed to be the number one reciever now, and he just had a huge confrontation with offensive coordinator Todd Haley about not getting the ball. speaking of confrontations, Haley and quarterback Ben Rothlisberger havent been on the same page since Haley got to town. The big issue here is the Steelers are loaded with talent! Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery are both talented recievers who could work off Brown very well. Tight end Heath Miller is still banged up, however the Steelers have an abundance of capable runningbacks. Isaac Redman is listed as the started as they wait for Le'Veon Bell to get back. They also have Felix Jones on the roster, who's as fast as some wide-outs. Unfortunately the Steelers can't seem to get the ball past the line of scrimmage. For all that talet their running game is non-existent.
The Steelers are solid on defense however. while they don't have the scary linebacking corp as in the past, they are still the 10th ranked defense in the league. carried by a strong secondary, it's defensive end Brett keisel and inside linebacker LaMarr Woodley that bring the pain in crunch time. The Bears will need a mistake-free game from quarterback Jay Cutler, which means no forcing balls to a double-teamed Brandon Marshall. Getting a big day from Matt Forte would make things alot easier, and if the Bears can move Forte past that second tier a few times, that would shake up that defense.
The bigger answers come on defense. Since the Steelers can't really move the ball through the air, keeping the running game contained will be a must for the Bears. It also helps that Steeler offensive lineman Mike Adams has probably had the worst season possible so far, being pancaked several times by the Bengals DE Michael Johnson. Adams has shown the technique of Bea Arthur so far this season, which is why a healthy, inspired Julius Peppers could have a huge day. As of now cornerback Peanut Tillman is doubtful, yet Tim Jennings is starting the year off like an all-pro. If they can continue to keep the Steelers in their scoring drought, and get kicker Robbie Gould some goood field postioning 3-0 just may be a touchdown  away.
Thursday, 12 September 2013 19:19

Bears ready to bury Vikings' hopes

Week one was not good to the Minnesota Vikings. Sure they can score. Sure AP got off to a great start. Unfortunately, by the end of the day the game showed more flaws than firepower, and another division loss to the Bears could drop them into dire straits.

While Adrian Peterson is still probably the best running back in the NFL, he's missing a key ingredient from last season, as his All Pro fullback Jerome Felton will be sitting on the sidelines instead of blocking. While he did tear out the gate for a 78 yard run his first time out, AP only finished with 98 yards. This should help the Bears contain AP somewhat, but they still need to contain! As for the passing game, well you'd think if you had one stud receiver you'd throw to him more, and they did, except it wasn’t their big money free agent pick-up Greg Jennings. Jennings caught 3 passes last week, which could mean he's looking for a break-out game. Unfortunately chances are he'll be matched up against Peanut Tillman, who only had two interceptions last week.

The Lions used running back Reggie Bush much like the Bears use Matt Forte, keeping the Vikings off-guard with passes and runs. The difference is Forte is a much more dominant runner, and with DT Kevin Williams still banged up that could open up some big holes for Forte. Linebackers Greenway and Henderson are staples from the past, nothing too exciting, just steady players. The Bears line gave up no sacks last week, plus KEY STAT HERE: Vikings lineman Jared Allen has never gotten a sack on Bears lineman Jerrod Bushmond. Never. The Vikings also have no cornerbacks. What does that mean? It means call tomorrow and you might get a try-out. It also means that that if the Bears offensive line gives Jay Cutler the same time they did last week then it could be a very big day for Bears receivers.

It's been yet to be proven if Christian Ponder is indeed a quality NFL starting quarterback. It didn't help that the Lions offensive line was garbage last week. Ponder went 18 for 28 with 3 sacks and 2 interceptions for only 248 yards against the Lions. Ponder spent most of the game on his back or running for his life, although he did find receiver Jerome Simpson for over 140 yards, yet no TD’s. Matt Cassell was signed just in case the Ponder experiment goes bad, and Julius Peppers matching up with a weak offensive line could make things go bad really quick. Many are expecting bigger things this week from peppers and inside tackle Henry Melton, so don’t be surprised to see an extra pep in their step.

Everything is in place for another Bears home victory on Sunday. Let’s just hope and Coach Trestman crew read the signs . And wouldn’t it be nice to see J’Marcus Webb make an appearance?

Ah, the miracles of televison. It's televison that can make the great look weak, the good look evil, and the mediocre look magnificent. Many feel thats what HBO's "Hard Knocks" tv show has done for the Cincinnati Bengals, albeit they have appeared in the play-offs the past two years. While it's great for exposure and story-telling, it also gives you an impression that they are better than they appear. The truth will come out when they open up against the Chicago Bears. Will the Bengals look as mighty as they appear on tv, or will this emperor appear without thou clothes.

As they prepare for their opening day battle against the Chicago Bears, here's how veteran coach Marvin Lewis' team stacks up against rookie coach Marc Trestman's Bears. It's a new era for the coach, a new offensive line, and new team leader. As the face of the franchise, Brian Urlacher, now shows off that face in a broadcast booth, and for a a guy who barked at and despised the media for his entire career that will be some great tv in itself. With Urlacher's retirement it will be very interesting to see who steps up as the man on the Bears "D".

Anyways, HBO's "Hard Knocks" would have you believe that the Bengals offense is just a mish-mosh of speeders, led by the lively young arm of Andy Dalton. Dalton is a big, tough qb who can hit targets anywhere on the field, which is great if your recievers are just above average. Speedy, but just average. The Bengals are loaded with the same type of speedy receivers in Brandon Tate, Marvin Jones, and starter Mohamed Sanu - all putting up average numbers of 200 yards or less. They brought in the sure hands of former Bear Dane Sanzenbacher to sure up the recieving core, but he's more specialty than big time reciever. But the reason no one frets over these average receivers is because of All Pro A.J. Green. Green is a monster, he's Dalton's favorite target, and has game-changing speed. For Bears fans to understand, he's their Brandon Marshall.

Runningback-wise the Bengals will call on Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis to carry the load. Green-Ellis is a bulldozier, with two 1,000 seasons to his name, including one in pass-happy New England. He won't be much of threat in the pass game, plus he put the ball on the ground three times last season. Look for "Hard Knock's" star rookie Giovani Benard to get a lot of looks. Benard has quite the motor for a little guy, as he's as fast as some of the recievers on the team, and can also return kicks. The Bengals also feature two fast-striking tight ends in Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert, both big boys who can eat up yards in a hurry.

You history buffs know that the last time the Bears played the Bengals back in 2009 they ended up getting smashed 45-10. Things have changed since then, as the once laughed at defense of the Bengals is now one of the more feared "D's" in football. While left-end veterans Carlos Dunlap and Robert Geathers are big guys, they dont really make a huge impact defensively, just hold the fort, which is fine if the right side of your line features the 6'7 "Sharknado" Michael Johnson and his 12 sacks. The inside gets scarier with big rookie Margus Hunt, Devon Still, and Domata Pera stopping the run, made even better with the league's best interior defensive lineman, Geno Atkins. Believe the hype when it comes Atkins, he's the real deal.
Much like their receiving corp the Bengals have a bunch of average linebackers with speed, and then one gem of the bunch. Luckily for them that gem is one of the baddest men in football in James Harrison. While he's gotten up there in age, he's still healthy, bigger ansd stronger than most linebackers, and the look in his eyes to destroy any and every quarterback he sees. With his change of scenery he's ready to make a big impact this season for the Bengals.

The secondary is a steady bunch, with physical cornerbacks like Leon Hall and Terrance Newsome starting, along with Pacman Jones. All fast, all ballhawks, all very physical. Add to them with theeven more physical play of safties George Ilora, Reggie Nelson, and future star Taylor Mays, and it may be very difficult completing any long plays downfield.

As for game-planning, look for Bears QB Jay Cutler to attack the Bengals corners with their bigger recievers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffreys. While marshall is one of the biggest and more physical receivers in football, it's jeffreys that has been tearing it up in training camp. Both big guys could over-power a defender in one on one coverage.That should take some pressure off the line and give Matt Forte some room to operate. The Bears did a lot to re-vamp their line in protecting Cutler, and seeing how well the rookies hold up will be important. The key here is Forte, as the Bengals are not a team you want to attempt to spend the day passing on. Leaving your quarterback back there as target practice for Johnson and Harrison is not a good idea. The Bears also have a huge advantage defensively, as the offensive line of the Bengals is already battered, as both starting tackles have knee issues, while the guards are big but still young. Plus the Bears "D" should be able to bully the Bengals receivers all day. Look for Julius Peppers and even 2nd year man Shea McCellan to have a good opening day.

"And baby It’s amazing I’m in this maze with you, I just can’t crack the code, one day you screaming you love me loud, the next day you’re so cold...."

Holy Grail

It was going to be hard for “The Legends of the Summer” tour to actually top the ultimate anticipation and expectations surrounding its build up, however when that tour includes the number one pop artist and the number one artist in rap, not to mention said artist both promoting new albums, you can see why expectations were high.

Here’s what you should know: Justin Timberlake is a tremendous pop artist. He’s a showman, a song and dance king. He’s been doing this thing before even he remembers. Justin can sing and dance and entertain in his sleep. Where he begs and pleads for approval, his tour-mate Shawn Carter basically demands it, un-apologetically. Trying to find a common comfortable ground, both played wingman throughout the night for each other. With large band in hand and a tremendous stage setting, the show opener “Holy Grail”, echo’ed throughout the 60,000 plus packed Soldier Field like anew generation sing a long anthem…and it’s fitting, in a music industry so fickle and built on stars who rise and fall within minutes, both artists were here, in this moment, with the biggest albums in the world, staring in the biggest concert tour of the year.

So let’s get to the show: Over 30 songs, all full of energy, had the crowd singing and dancing all night long. Their difference in styles comes off more as an Alpha/Omega relation, where as in past concerts Timberlake plays the same, he’s all over different instruments, commanding the crowd, and interjecting some very cool dance moves. Put him next to Jay Z however, and you notice how Jay commands a stage, while Justin fits easily into the sideman role. Jay Z has become one of the better live performers in music. While not built on movement or running and dancing around stage, Jay Z makes every move mean something, every verse, wether he emphasizes a line, a word, his voice…it commands the crowd.

There were the typical show-stoppers: Timberlake’s “Tunnel Vision”, “Pusher Love Girl”, “Mirrors”, “Love Stoned”, and “Cry me a river” put the crowd in the palm of his hands. Plus you’ll rarely find another song that gets a crowd moving and chanting like “Sexyback”. And while Justin was tremendous, it’s Jay Z who dominated the night. Commanding the Chicago audience to sing along to his NYC anthem “Empire State of Mind”, Jay Z rocked the crowd with hits such as “PSA”, “U Don’t Know”, “99 Problems” and “ Ni**as in Paris”.

After nearly three hours, as the clock approached midnight the two kings of music brought this epic night to a close, dominating the nights with hits, living up to most of the expectations fans had been counting on for months and months. Great show, great night.    

The NBA opens up the 2013 free agency season July 1st and if the Bulls are hoping to challenge the repeating-defending NBA champion Miami Heat, upgrading their roster this summer will be a start. Last off-season the Bulls re-constructed the "bench mob", and didnt quite get the minutes or production they've gotten in past seasons. So this year, with a healthy Derrick Rose ready to start the season and a solid draft to tighten up the back end of the bench, the Bulls look to answer several key free agent questions going into the upcoming 2013-2014 season.

On the homefront,  The Bulls have 8 returning players - Rose, Boozer, Noah, Gibson, Hinrich, Butler, Teague, and Deng. The Bulls made two solid draft picks in grabbing Tony Snell from New Mexico and Erik Murphy out of Florida. Snell is a very durable shooter with a 7-foot wingspan. Murphy is a 6'10 bruising big man who can also shoot very well, something the Bulls were desperate to add after the loss of Kyle Korver last season. They are quality upgrades on this depleted bench.

As far as their own free agents say goodbye to Daequan Cook and Vladimir Radmanovich. Both Cook could find a place on the end of the roster due to his hard work and loyalty, if he doesnt look for greener pastures elsewhere. The Bulls would do well to re-sign Mario Belinelli. "Hells Bellz" doesnt give you alot defensively, but his clutch shooting this season save the Bulls many times, not to mention he was consistantly the team's best 3 point shooter. A good guard to come off the bench or start in a pinch, answering this question involves also deciding what to do with Nate Robinson, as you can't have both anymore. And with both having tremendous seasons, they both may have played themselves into bigger contracts offering mnore years. The emergence of Jimmy Butler  could spell the end for both. Also expect Nazr Mohammad to return to fiull the big man spot.

So who are the top free agents that make sense for this Bulls team?

1. Andre Iguodala/Nick Young - Let's start with Iggy.  Not only is he an All-Defensive team and NBA All-Star player, but he was also a member of the 2012 Mens Basketball Olympic Team. "Iggy" is considered one of the top shooting guards in the league, matching his athletism with a strong defensive presence. It may cost more than what the Bulls can offer, however Iguodala is an Illinois kid, and may be willing to return home to play for a winner. ironically enough Young was brought to Philadelphia to take the place of Iguodla. Young is a 6'7 guard/forward who can score in bunches. He shoots the 3 very well, however isn't as defensively tough as Iggy. Still, Young is a quality starting guard who doesnt desire the ball as much as most scorers. Unless a miracle happen the Bulls probably can't affor these guys, however great they may fit.

2. Wesley Johnson/Xavier Henry - Both lottery picks, both can play the 2 or 3, and both on the market and desperate to prove their worth. The Bulls could take a flyer on either one, as both have a ton of potenial, both have a ton of athletism, and both can shoot the ball very well. Why not?

3. Mike Dunleavy jr./Chase Budinger - Budinger is a more athletic Kyle Korver, "White Men Can't Jump" in real time. A great leaper and great shooter, he's a huge bench upgrade for any team, especially the Bulls. He's young and and can play the post a bit, but more of a shooter. Remember he was in the dunk contest a few years ago. Dunleavy is a veteran with a ton of roots near by (Milwaukee). He's 6'9 and can play the 2 or 3. If you like Shane Battier (a close friend and college teammate of his) then you'll like Dunleavy, minus the Battier defense. He's a great shooter, and has consistently stayed at the .400 mark for 3 pointers. He's 33, and hasn't played over 80 games in a while, although he did reach 75 last year. He's the size of a 6'9 toothpick, however this versatile toothpick can shoot, drive and score, averaging over 10 points a game. Plus he's also a college teammate of Carlos Boozer.

4. Elton Brand/Jermaine O'Neil/Josh McRoberts - You can't keep throwing injured players out there, not for a long 82 game NBA season, and the Bulls missed size and minutes off the bench from the post position. Brand and O'Neil can give the Bulls exactly what they've been lacking, and don't require heavy minutes anymore. Both can play the 4 or the 5, filling out minutes with Gibson, Boozer, and Noah. McRoberts gives you a different look as he does have the capability to hit outside shots.

5. J. J. Redick - This almost happened. You need a 3rd guard, and while he plays defense like a dusty acoustic guitar, JJ can score. He's a tremendous shooter who can give you minutes at point if needed, and while many will say the Bulls already have a player like him in Hinrich, with the right guard beside him, and in the right system, Redick could be ready for a break-out season. He's also affordable.

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