Sunday, December 30, 2007

It's the 2007 Douche of the Year award!

You know, a lot of people have asked me, "Chuck, why don't you blog any more?" Or at least one person, my friend Pedro, has asked this. I don't really have good answers to this question, other than

1. I have two jobs, plus freelancing assignments, and as a result have very little time.

2. I'm also looking for another job that would allow me to cut down to one.

3. It's the holidays and nobody really pays much attention to things other than egg nog, champagne and any and all alcoholic beverages necessary to delude themselves into thinking they really care for their relatives and it's a good idea to spend four hours watching the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

But, it is now New Year's Eve, and as years of media consumption have taught us, it's time to watch the Humanitarian Bowl from Boise, Idaho, matching Fres ... er, no. Time for an end-of-the-year list or award! Like, say, my Douche of the Year award!

Previously we had nominated Dick Cheney and Rupert Murdoch. Throw in best buds Pat Robertson and Rudy Giuliani, and we have a crowded field, folks. They're all assholes, to be sure. But what is it about each of them that allows them to transcend asshole status and become the remarkable douches they are? Let's take a quick look:

Dick Cheney: The CEO of the Bush White House, he is the man in charge of the neocon assault on humanity, the U.S. Constitution and common sense.

Rupert Murdoch
: The media monopolist whose minions are directed to ignore the tenets of the journalism they are purported to practice and serve merely as water carriers for Bush, Cheney and the neocons.

Pat Robertson: Fundamentalist Christian televangelist bent on whipping up a fervent faith amongst the masses not in the Prince of Peace but in the politics of fear and hatred.

Rudy Giuliani: A pure opportunist who stops at nothing -- not even the untimely deaths of 9-11 victims -- to exploit his way to power.

An impressive lineup, all of whom are worthy candidates for Douche of the Year. But only one can win. So I must be especially scrutinizing when it comes to their credentials, and of particular interest, since this is a yearly award, is their activity within the last 12 months. So Robertson, who made an impressive return to relevance with his well-hyped endorsement of Giuliani but who has been a bigger douche in other years, is out. Cheney, whose influence took a hit from the midterms of 2006, albeit a tiny, barely recognizable hit shrinking in effect with each day Nancy Pelosi and the pecked hens of the Democratic Leadership Committee sit on their hands in Congress, is also out. Giuliani, who has slid in the polls while leveraging defeat in early, small state primaries against a large-state sweep on Super Tuesday, is in great position to be the douche of the year for 2008. But the choice for 2007 is a man who has worked largely behind the scenes to spread propaganda, fear, hatred, hypocrisy and out-and-out lies across the country and around the world for years. Rupert Murdoch, whose empire expanded with the acquisition of the Wall Street Journal and whose mendacity was enough to strike fear into as nefarious a figure as Journal editorial page chief Paul Gigot, is accorded the dishonor of the very first Time stops for no one Douche of the Year award.

Congratulations, Rupert! May you rot in hell!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Not-So-Insane Campaign

Well, I have to apologize for not writing in such a long time ... well, I don't really have to apologize, since this is my own blog, but ... I feel it's owed to you, dear readers, since I made no announcement of my impending absence in this space. I had to know that moving a taking a third job would monopolize the remainder of my free time for at least a couple of weeks, but I nonetheless felt compelled to deny myself a "cop out" to avoid blogging. Because, you know, guys who work three jobs deserve no break whatsoever, and especially from themselves.

Regardless, I'm here now, so let's get up to date. I'm living with my friend Jeff George, not the former NFL quarterback but a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 14th District of Florida, which includes Fort Myers and Naples. In return for my room, I'm volunteering on his campaign That's right -- the inevitable drift toward politics has finally brought me into loggerheads with an ice floe in the form of a gonzo, independent run for office that calls itself Crazy for Congress. It had to happen.

So I'd like to chronicle my experience with the campaign here. Only, who knows how long I'll be involved with this? I'm supposed to take a job in Sebring with my old paper in January -- but that position may not be around in January, or February, or ever, for that matter, since the parent company is not exactly in the best financial shape. And then I've also been interviewing for other positions that pay a living wage, too, so I don't have to work three jobs just to stay in the neighborhood of financial solvency (never mind actually making enough money to live on). So I have no idea what I'll be doing in a matter of weeks. It's a hell of a time, in all senses of the phrase.

But for the time being ... the campaign. Jeff is running on a platform of "Transparency, Integrity and Accountability," which is a vague way of saying he wants to open up the workings of democracy so everyone can see what influences it and exert their own influence as they see fit. Ideally, what we'd like to have happen is for democracy to no longer be a "pay for play" sort of arrangement in this country, and for the ideals of democracy to supercede the ideals of capitalism, or at the very least co-exist with them. Because otherwise you have an oligarchy and not a democracy. Capitalism is an economic system, not a form of government.

Naturally, sentiments like this relegate you to the back of the pack in any election. The story is no different here, but Jeff would also like to position himself as an outsider/alternative for political outsiders of all stripes, the kind of populist candidate who gets elected whenever the president's approval rating slips below, say, 30 percent.

Jeff's up against a manifestation of the very engines that put that president in office: nepotism, cronyism and disconnection with the people whom you claim to represent. Connie Mack IV, a fourth-generation politician, future husband of California congresswoman Mary Bono and only occasional resident of the 14th District. Also in the race are a pair of democrats and, as of this Friday, Burt Saunders, a state senator who broke ranks from the Republicans to oppose Mack as an independent. Jeff has been quite a bit concerned with this fellow, who threatens to siphon the disgruntled Republican votes and money upon which he had been counting, but, then, when have you known Republicans who broke ranks to have survived more than two months without being turned into political toast? At the very least this distracts the Republican noise machine from aiming squarely at Jeff, and that can only be a good thing. While Mack and Saunders engage in a pissing contest, Jeff will be able to concentrate on voters and issues, which is what he intended to do anyway.

So is democracy in at least some small way accessible to all? We're about to see. Jeff has never run for office before and has neither influential fortune nor friends, so he is a fantastic litmus test of whether someone from outside the societal and monied elite can get elected in this country. Now, Jeff isn't exactly what you might call an "average" citizen ... he's a Muslim and a small-time filmmaker, which doesn't exactly sound like the description of your next door neighbor. Then again, he's a veteran, and his Islam is to the Islam promulgated by Middle Eastern leaders as the Christianity of your mom who goes to Midnight Mass is to Pat Robertson. So no, I am not writing this in between daily 40 lashes from my roommate which I must endure for living as an infidel. Although I have been told to clean my room a little.

Right now I'm working on marshaling the support of an array of community groups, making lots of phone calls and getting lots of "No, sorry, we don't like to talk to politicians," and a good dose of "Who are you? What?! Democracy? What's that? Isn't that the name of the dog in Paris Hilton's handbag?" But I have secured the services of Pond Water Experiment, which has pledged a benefit concert. So now all I need is a venue and an audience, which is precisely where Jake and Elwood were about an hour into The Blues Brothers. Which reminds me ... all I want for Christmas is a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes and a pair of sunglasses to wear when it's dark.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Your flight's canceled, but there's a seat open on the Bush bandwagon

And so, here we are on a dreary night before The Great Trudge across the nation for Thanksgiving travelers, who, by the looks of it, would be better off staying home rather than going "home" ...

The revelations in advance of former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan's book, that he had been lied to when told that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby were "not involved" in the outing of Valerie Plame, and that Bush, Cheney, Rove, Libby and then-Chief of Staff Andrew Card "were involved" in feeding him these falsehoods, are yet another clarion bleat to the criminal endeavor of the Bush Administration, a nearly seven-year reign of lies, bloodshed, and intentional destruction of truth, democracy and the Constitution of the United States. Even certified water-carriers like McClellan are turning on the Bush- Cheney doctrine now, and there is even an outside chance that the two of them will actually have to, at the very least, own up to their crimes, if not be punished for them. Remember, this Joseph Wilson-Valerie Plame-Robert Novak business isn't just a bunch of Washington "insiders" in a tiff about who let slip something about somebody's wife. This was an attempt by the Bush administration, and very likely Bush himself, to undermine an intelligence agency charged with pursuing information that ran counter to the lies that Bush, Cheney and the neo-cons wanted to use to build a case, in the 2003 State of the Union speech, for this useless and tragic war in Iraq. Certainly, though, if Libby can be pardoned, it's hard to imagine Bush or Cheney ever being forced to do more than deny any of this, if even that. Bush, of course, can't pardon himself, but there's no doubt that if Nixon can get some stumbling boob to set him running off scot free just days after he had been chased out of office, Bush should have nothing to worry about. Giuliani, if he gets in office, would pardon Bush in a New York minute, and anyone else who might be sitting in the White House in 15 months would be hearing from right-wing radio on a minute-by-minute basis about how their insistence on any sort of prosecution was tearing apart the country at precisely the time a president is "supposed to be bringing the country together."

But, nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how the Bush administration keeps Congress from, at the very least, making an inquiry into what McClellan knew and when, and precisely what kind of obfuscation was performed by each of the five people he names as responsible for pumping him full of bullshit on this matter. This is what John Dean, no stranger to these sorts of maneuverings as Nixon's White House Counsel, believes will happen. He appeared this evening, as he frequently does, on Keith Olbermann's show, and as I hear his voice and all the trappings of the news surrounding this and other criminal behavior by the White House, I can't help but find my mind in the same frame as it is when I read about the Nixon years ... and specifically, Hunter S. Thompson's chroniclings, which followed the Nixon presidency closely from the 1972 re-election campaign all the way to his resignation and subsequent pardon, and dovetailed into Thompson's close stalking of Nixon's unceasing presence in public life until his death in 1995. I think, in many ways, Olbermann is the modern Thompson. Both are political newsmen who have, among other things, developed a kinship with Dean, both have a rabid interest and consistent involvement in sports journalism, both are anti- authoritarians at heart, and both have a runaway presidential administration that they have played an important role in not only documenting but -- with their knowledge, judgment, wit and stomach for fearless commentary -- reigning in as well. The similarity is particularly strong in Olbermann's more vitriolic passages, as during tonight's broadcast, when he lashed out at the Pentagon in response to their insistence that Jordan Fox, an Army soldier wounded in Iraq, was indebted to them for a nearly $3,000 portion of his enlistment bonus because he was unable to fulfill the final three months of his tour of duty there. "You jackasses are indebted to Jordan Fox and everyone else like him!" declared Olbermann.

Usually though, Olbermann is the near-opposite of Thompson in terms of outrageous behavior. Thompson was in large part defined by his wild and drug-aided exploits, while Olbermann is, at most times, the picture of dignified reserve. Their personalities are more similar than one might think, however -- driven, cantankerous and foul-mouthed in private but ultimately caring people with a great deal of compassion when it comes to the human spirit.

Speaking of the human spirit, it is with a twinge of uneasiness that I approach the story of the Collier County teachers, who are protesting believed inequities in their current contract negotiations (which call for a one-time bonus of one percent instead of a raise) by pledging to do exactly what their current contract states. Which is the opposite of a strike, the method by which most workers strike against tyrannical employers. What the teachers are saying is that they will limit themselves simply to working the hours to which they are contractually obliged, meaning that a good number of them, at least, regularly go above and beyond their standard workday of seven and a half hours. And for this kind of performance the Collier County school board wants to give them only a one percent raise? The very idea that educators are backed into a corner on a daily basis that it is a move of aggression simply to do only what is expected of them is a blatant signal not only to the people of Collier County, which has one of the most appalling gaps between its richest and poorest inhabitants in the nation, but to everywhere in this country where teachers are compensated in a similarly poor manner, which is just about everywhere, that the current system is unacceptable. These teachers should not even be working under such conditions. I once spoke with a teacher employed by neighboring Lee County when I was working as a journalist for The News-Press in Fort Myers. I was attempting to interview her for a simple story about a holiday off from school, but she declined to speak on the record, citing a clause in her contract that withheld her from speaking to any media. This, in itself, is not news to me -- such restrictions are de rigeur in terms of employment for educators and others across the country -- but the very idea that someone who dedicates their working hours to the benefit of society in the capacity of a public employee, and a teacher no less, should have their First Amendment rights abridged in such a manner is antithetical to the values incumbent to the Bill of Rights. Furthermore, it speaks to the kind of sacrifices teachers are forced to make and the culture of intimidation and resignation that is imbedded into our educational system. If teachers don't get a fair shake, what does this say to their students? A teacher who comes to the classroom cowed and fearful will deliver children who are the same. Is this what we want in America?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Lest we forget ...

I must apologize for the unplanned break I've taken over the past couple of weeks. Combine a full-time job with a freelance assignment on the side with continuing to look for better employment with a string of unforeseen financial difficulties with illness and, well ... you won't have much free time, either. I'm not sure how I have the moment I have right now, and can only imagine I'm getting way behind on something else, but who cares? I'm here now, and that's what counts.

So what did we miss? Most notable, I believe, is the unholy alliance we now have between Rudy Giuliani and Pat Robertson. That's right. A corrupt, two-faced veteran of more marriages than even the Mormon guy he's running against in the primary has decided

Now let's have some fun with some Pat Robertson quotes, shall we? Firs, let's start with the biggie, the one with the greatest amount of irony here since Giuliani's campaign largely centers around the idea that it is Sept. 11, 2001 every day of every year, in perpetuity, or at least until he's elected president.

"We have allowed rampant secularism and occult, et cetera, to be broadcast on television. We have permitted somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 to 40 million unborn babies to be slaughtered in our society. We have a Court that has essentially stuck its finger in God's eye and said, 'We're going to legislate you out of the schools, we're going to take your Commandments from off the courthouse steps in various states, we're not going to let little children read the Commandments of God, we're not going to let the Bible be read -- no prayer in our schools.' We have insulted God at the highest levels of our government. And, then we say 'why does this happen?' Well, why its happening is that God Almighty is lifting His protection from us." -- Robertson's own Sept. 2001 press release

Yes, well, now aren't we lucky that we have a candiddate like America's Mayor, out there protecting us from the nefarious, potent threat of Internet pornographers, homosexuals and anyone who has ever read the U.S. Constitution. These people are, indeed, terrorists who hate us for our freedom!

"Presbyterians are the spirit of the Antichrist." -- The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, p. 239

Really?! My mother will certainly be interested to know that she is the devil. If anything, I think this revelation will inspire her to modify her home decor so that it's more, you know, hell-like. Can't wait to see it, and I'll be having a lot of fun telling people I'll be going to hell for the holidays!

"[Homosexuals] want to come into churches and disrupt church services and throw blood all around and try to give people AIDS and spit in the face of ministers." The 700 Club, Jan. 18, 1995

Pat, those aren't homosexuals! Those are imaginary evil vampires you've created in your own fervent imagination! My advice is to stop renting Bela Lugosi flicks and lay off the Count Chocula for awhile, OK?

"I think 'one man, one vote,' just unrestricted democracy, would not be wise. There needs to be some kind of protection for the minority which the white people represent now, a minority, and they need and have a right to demand a protection of their rights." (talking about apartheid in South Africa)" The 700 Club, March 18, 1992

Protection like, say, making every black count as three-fifths of a person? Now that's what I call a traditional American value! But, you know, I think what this means is, if Rudy is elected, we in America have an obligation invade America, in order to establish a free and democratic America, a nation what would become a beacon and a means by which we may spread democracy throughout the Middle West!

"The Antichrist is probably a Jew alive in Israel today." As quoted in "The Christian Paradox", Harper's Magazine (August 2005)

Wait a second, Pat, I thought you said the devil was Presbyterian! OK, I think I know what's going on here ... happens all the time ... Don't be fooled by my mother's semitic last name. She's a Christian, Pat. Been one all her life. At least until she became Satan.

“How dare the president of the United States say to the duly elected president of another country, 'You've got to step down,'" The 700 Club, July 7, 2003, attacking George W. Bush for asking Liberian President Charles Taylor, who had recently been indicted on war-crime charges, to step down.

Ah, yes, that's actually rather lucid, Mr. Robertson. So where were you on Iraq? Oh, wait, I forgot ...

"We've won the war already, and for the Democrats to say we can't win it -- what kind of a statement is that? And furthermore, one of the fundamental principles we have in America is that the president is the commander in chief of the armed forces and attempts to undermine the commander in chief during time of war amounts to treason. I know we have an opportunity to express our points of view, but there is a time when we're engaged in a combat situation that carping criticism against the commander in chief just doesn't cut it." The 700 Club, Dec. 7, 2005

What kind of statement is that indeed? Folks, you know, I'm not a psychologist, nor do I consider myself to be any more than an amateur diagnostician in this or any other medical field, but I think it's seriously time for all of us to consider that our dear Pat is ... bipolar. Which is OK. We're only now beginning to realize the scope and effects of this neurological disorder, and there's plenty of help, treatment, and qualified therapists out there for people like him. Pat, don't try to be a hero. Do the right thing for yourself. Accept your problem, come to grips with reality (I understand this may be particularly difficult for you) and then, and only then, you may begin to be healed!

“You know, I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if [President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela] thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don’t think any oil shipments will stop. [...] We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.” The 700 Club, Aug. 22, 2005.

OK, this problem may be bigger than we thought. Is it wrong to suspect that Pat may soon list "Nation Builder" as one of his occupations? Or maybe "South American Rebellion Leader"?

Of course, lest we forget Pat's special hope for members of our own government ...

"Maybe we need a very small nuke thrown off on Foggy Bottom to shake things up like Newt Gingrich wants to do," The 700 Club, June 2003

So there you have it. Rudy Giuliani in bed with a man who proposes the overthrow of America with a nuclear strike. This could be interesting come the general election.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Linkin' blogs

We're back with a few links, and a weightier post coming soon ...

I have to link to this story for a few reasons: because it is a strangely comical piece of its own merit, because the sports writer thought it germane to use the a quote from the cheerleading coach, because the item, as of about 1 a.m., had not been updated to include information that might be seen as significant like, say, the final score, and because I've met and spoken with Dunbar on multiple occasions, and am genuinely hoping he's OK.

Plus, this could be the indication of a new trend, given it took place on the heels of the infamous cheerleader- banner incident. Clearly, cheerleading- related unintentional violence is on the rise, folks.

So perhaps we should all be glad that the Writers Guild of America has not yet recruited the anarchist cheerleaders to join in its picket lines. I'm usually pro-labor, but it's hard to get behind any group that's led by a guy who comes up with gems like this, from a story on The New York Times Web site:

Michael Winship, president of the Writers Guild of America East, is glad that his union brothers now include the staffs of two programs that have a visceral connection with their young, obsessed audiences.

“These two shows are a big source of news for a whole generation that was not around for the 1988 strike,” he said. “Losing Stewart and Colbert is something like losing Cronkite during the Vietnam War. ...”

And people wonder how Bush gets away with his shit. Say what you will about Cronkite, but at least he pretended to be serious.

Monday, October 29, 2007

2007-08 NBA Preview (Pacific Division)

Good lord, this thing is done! I can scarcely believe it, and with only hours to spare. This is quite possibly the single most hellbent I've ever been on a project, so I hope somebody out there is getting something out of it. I suppose it is incumbent upon me to make a prediction at this point, and even though I'm no good at this, I'll do it. You can't go wrong with picking the Spurs and the Pistons as finalists, with the Spurs taking the series in six games. They're the two most successful franchises over the past five years and no one has made a move that's significant enough to stop either of them. Only an inspired effort, like LeBron's coming of age in last year's Eastern Conference Finals, or the Mavericks' resounding Game 7 win in San Antonio in 2006, can derail these two.

Oh, and how could I ever forget? ... Statistics in parentheses are points per game, rebounds per game, and assists per game from 2006-07, unless otherwise noted. And I do, on occasion, note otherwise.

Golden State Warriors
2006-07: 42-40
Beat Dallas 4-2 in first round
Lost to Utah 4-1 in conference semifinals
Coach: Don Nelson
Starting lineup
PG Baron Davis (20.1/4.4/8.1)
SG Monta Ellis (16.5/3.2/4.1)
SF Stephen Jackson (16.8/3.3/4.6)
PF Mickael Pietrus (11.1/4.5/0.9)
C Andris Biedrins (9.5/9.3/1.1)
F/C Al Harrington (17.0/6.4/2.3)
F Matt Barnes (9.8/4.6/2.1)
C Patrick O'Bryant (1.9/1.3/0.6)
G/F Kelenna Azubuike (7.1/2.3/0.7)
PG Troy Hudson (5.9/1.4/2.1)
PF Brandan Wright (rookie, 8th pick)
SG Marco Belinelli (rookie, 18th pick)
PF Austin Croshere (3.7/3.0/0.7)

The Warriors returned to relevance in a resounding way last season, making their first playoff appearance in 13 years count with an upset of No. 1 seed Dallas. The emotional heart of the team is Stephen Jackson (pictured, right, with Kobe Bryant), the volatile swingman who will miss the first seven games of the season as punishment for an alleged incident at an Indianapolis strip club. When he returns, he brings intensity that translates on both ends, and especially on offense, where he is fearless driving the basket in the Warriors' up-tempo attack. If he's playing dialed in and isn't turning the ball over, he's one of the league's best players. The conscience of the Warriors is Baron Davis, the veteran point guard who directs Don Nelson's famous small-ball attack. He can penetrate, shoot and post up any other point guard in the league, but like Jackson, is prone to turnovers. Monta Ellis, a scorer whose athletic skills are perfectly tailored for this offense, moves into the starting lineup to replace Jason Richardson, who was traded to Charlotte for rookie Brandan Wright. Andris Biedrins is another athletic presence, but while he excels at defense and is a solid rebounder, he doesn't contribute much offensively. Mickael Pietrus, another skilled athletic defender who could use a reliable jump shot, starts at power forward while Nelson tries Al Harrington as a sixth man. Harrington is an offensive threat as a shooter and with his post-up game and will see time at all three front court positions. Swingman Matt Barnes is another valuable asset off the bench who provides energy and is rapidly developing his offensive game. Kelenna Azubuike's jump shot and open-court game were nearly enough to vault him into the starting shooting guard role. Troy Hudson, a fearless penetrator but not a skilled distributor, is the backup point guard, but his job description, like most others on the team, is subject to tinkering by a veteran coach who is known to experiment.

Los Angeles Clippers
2006-07: 40-42
Coach: Mike Dunleavy
Starting lineup
PG Sam Cassell (12.3/2.9/4.7)
SG Quinton Ross (5.2/2.3/1.1)
SF Corey Maggette (16.9/5.9/2.8)
PF Tim Thomas (11.0/5.0/2.3)
C Chris Kaman (10.1/7.8/1.1)
F Al Thornton (rookie, 14th pick)
G Cuttino Mobley (13.8/3.4/2.5)
F/C Paul Davis (1.6/1.4/0.2)

Power forward Elton Brand wasn't the only one hurt badly when he tore his achilles tendon in August. He'll miss at least the first half of the season, which is probably enough to knock the Clippers from playoff contention since he was by far their best player. Corey Maggette (pictured), who's been a versatile talent and provides both strength and athleticism, must raise the level of play to the star-quality level he's never quite reached if this team is to remain afloat while Brand recovers. It would also help if Tim Thomas, who is one of the NBA's most inconsistent talents, is at his best and produce offensively. Sam Cassell, one of the best shoot-first point guards in the NBA over the past decade, turns 38 on Nov. 18 and just isn't the player he once was, but he's the best the Clippers have at this point. Center Chris Kaman, an energetic force around the basket but a deficient rebounder, needs to improve his rebounding and could use a consistent mid-range jumper, too. Quinton Ross doesn't have much of an offensive game, but is the Clippers' best perimeter defender and is a much needed rebounder as well. Cuttino Mobley is a skilled defender as well, and his shooting and quickness make him a valuable reserve who could wind up in the starting lineup at either guard position at some point. Rookie Al Thornton is another who could be starting soon, but he's blocked for now by Maggette, who is in many ways a more polished version of Thornton. Scoring has always been what backup center Paul Davis does best, but his work rebounding and passing this past offseason has earned him a spot in the rotation. He might start some day if he gets better on defense, too.

Los Angeles Lakers
2006-07: 42-40
Lost to Phoenix 4-1 in first round
Coach: Phil Jackson
Starting lineup
PG Derek Fisher (10.1/1.8/3.3)
SG Kobe Bryant (31.6/5.7/5.4)
SF Luke Walton (11.4/5.0/4.3)
PF Lamar Odom (15.9/9.8/4.8)
C Kwame Brown (8.4/6.0/1.8)
C Andrew Bynum (7.8/5.9/1.1)
C Chris Mihm (last played in 2005-06: 10.2/6.3/1.0)
F Vladimir Radmanovic (6.6/3.3/1.2)
SG Sasha Vujacic (4.3/1.5/0.9)
PG Jordan Farmar (4.4/1.7/1.9)
PF Ronny Turiaf (5.3/3.6/0.9)

Trade rumors continue to swirl around Kobe Bryant, so the team could look drastically different at any moment. Bryant wants out of what seems to be a dead-end situation in which an appearance in the conference semifinals would be a breakthrough accomplishment. The team around him, though improved this season, is not suited to complement his vast skills. Power forward Lamar Odom, the team's second best player, is an all-around talent and probably the best passer on the team, but his weakness is a lack of aggression and intensity, which Bryant demands from teammates. Luke Walton, who likely starts at small forward, is a similar player to Odom in that he is a skilled passer with an array of skills but doesn't look to score. The team's most significant acquisition was of Derek Fisher, who has plenty of experience playing with Bryant, having been his backcourt mate on all four of the Lakers' runs to the Finals this decade. Fisher isn't a star, but he's a dangerous outside shooter and a crafty defender who can make up for a lack of speed. Center Kwame Brown has the most tenuous hold on his starting spot, largely contingent on continued development of his offensive game, into which he has failed to channel his vast athletic ability in any of his six seasons so far. He's in a three-way battle with Andrew Bynum, another high school-to-NBA project, and Chris Mihm, who was the starter before missing all of last season with an ankle injury. The team will likely keep Vladimir Radmanovic on the bench to use as a scoring sixth man, capable of getting points with his outside shot as well as with post-ups. Defense keeps him from beating out Luke Walton for a starting gig. Sasha Vujacic is another valuable reserve, despite his inconsistency, given his ability to play either guard spot. Jordan Farmar, who was the team's starting point guard in the playoffs, is nonetheless a poor defender and shooter and must battle Vujacic for minutes.

Phoenix Suns
2006-07: 61-21
Beat L.A. Lakers 4-1 in first round
Lost to San Antonio 4-2 in conference semifinals
Coach: Mike D'Antoni
Starting lineup
PG Steve Nash (18.6/3.5/11.6)
SG Raja Bell (14.7/3.2/2.5)
SF Grant Hill (14.4/3.6/2.1)
PF Shawn Marion (17.5/9.8/1.7)
C Amare Stoudemire (20.4/9.6/1.0)
F/C Boris Diaw (9.7/4.3/4.8)
G Leandro Barbosa (18.1/2.7/4.0)
PG Marcus Banks (4.9/0.8/1.3)
F/C Sean Marks (2.0/1.0/0.0)

The Suns can make a legitimate claim that they would have won the title last year if not for the controversial suspension of Amare Stoudemire in Game 5 against the Spurs or if not for disgraced official Tim Donaghy, who worked Game 3 of that series. We'll never know for sure. What we will find out is if it was their best shot at a championship with this group by seeing whether the infusion of free-agent signee Grant Hill elevates the team or an injury-prone bunch led by Steve Nash, who turns 34 in February, is about to crumble physically. Nash, a two-time MVP and the director of the Suns signature small-ball, up-tempo attack, has been plagued by back problems in recent years that haven't kept him out of important games but require him to lay on the floor instead of sit during breaks. Hill had his career derailed by ankle injuries that cost him the better part of three seasons. He hasn't played as many as 70 games in a season since, but when healthy lends an interesting change of pace to the Suns' offense. He's never played in a fast-breaking system, but his slick passing, court vision and ability to get to the basket are excellent fits, even if his mid-range jumper will be difficult to shoehorn in. He joins the starting lineup with explosive slasher and rebounder Shawn Marion, center Amare Stoudemire, who combines strength, agility and speed like no other big man, and Raja Bell, one of the league's premier perimeter defenders and a dangerous three-point shooter. The bench features Boris Diaw, whose long arms, athleticism and knowledge of the game allow him to play all five positions, and Leandro Barbosa, quite possibly the fastest man in the NBA who can blow by defenders on his way to the basket. Marcus Banks, a skilled defender whom the team is counting on to improve his playmaking and shooting so he can spell Nash at point guard, is fighting for a spot in the rotation along with Sean Marks, a post player with deft offensive moves and a reliable jump shot but little appetite for banging in the paint.

Sacramento Kings
2006-07: 33-49
Coach: Reggie Theus
Starting lineup
PG Mike Bibby (17.1/3.2/4.7)
SG Kevin Martin (20.2/4.3/2.2)
SF Ron Artest (18.8/6.5/3.4)
PF Shareef Abdur-Rahim (9.9/5.0/1.4)
C Brad Miller (9.0/6.4/3.6)
PG Orien Greene (1.5/1.1/0.5)
G John Salmons (8.5/3.3/3.2)
G/F Francisco Garcia (6.0/2.6/1.1)
F/C Mikki Moore (9.8/5.1/0.9)
F Kenny Thomas (5.3/6.1/1.2)

The Kings were dealt a withering blow when Mike Bibby tore ligaments in his thumb at the end of preseason that will keep him out the first six to 10 weeks of the regular season. Bibby is the last link to their title-contending teams from the early part of this decade and far and away their best ball handler. His shot and leadership will be missed as well, as the starting point guard job falls to Orien Greene, whose best asset is his defense. The team will be missing Ron Artest (pictured) for the first seven games because of a suspension stemming from a no-contest plea to a misdemeanor domestic violence charge. The Kings will be missing one of the best perimeter defenders in the game and a steadily improving offensive force who had developed a reliable mid-range and outside jumper. Veteran Brad Miller has been plagued by nagging injuries, but he should be available to provide the passing, mid-range shooting and rebounding that make him one of the better centers in the game. Prior injuries have robbed Shareef Abdur-Rahim of some of the skills that made him a one-time All-Star and top 10 scorer, but he's still one of the craftier point producers in the game who is an asset offensively. Kevin Martin, the team's leading scorer last season, is around to provide defense and is the kind of athlete new coach Reggie Theus wants to emphasize in a more up-tempo game. The team has a pair of capable if undersized veteran frontcourt options off the bench in Mikki Moore, a shot blocker and active defender, and Kenny Thomas, a rebounder and scorer. The backup wings are the ones who must step up. John Salmons is a smart and versatile player whose shot could use work and Francisco Garcia must work in the weight room to add strength and improve a deficient defensive game.

2007-08 NBA Preview (Northwest Division)

One more of these things to go ... now, let's all say it together: Statistics in parentheses are points per game, rebounds per game, and assists per game. Good! And this time with better enunciation ...

Denver Nuggets
2006-07: 45-37
Lost to San Antonio 4-1 in first round
Coach: George Karl
Starting lineup
PG Allen Iverson (24.8/3.0/7.2)
SG Yakhouba Diawara (4.4/1.7/0.9)
SF Carmelo Anthony (28.9/6.0/3.8)
PF Nene (12.2/7.0/1.2)
C Marcus Camby (11.2/11.7/3.2)
PF Kenyon Martin (9.5/10.0/0.5)
F Eduardo Najera (6.6/4.1/0.9)
PG Chucky Atkins (13.2/1.9/4.6)
PG Anthony Carter (3.0/1.5/5.5)
F Linas Kleiza (7.6/3.4/0.6)
G/F Bobby Jones (2.5/1.3/0.4)
C Steven Hunter (6.4/4.8/0.4)
PG Mike Wilks (3.6/1.1/1.7)

The Nuggets team two of the league's most prolific scorers in Carmelo Anthony (pictured, right) and Allen Iverson (pictured, left) with a deep bench. They have a chance to be a title contender if they stay healthy, which they haven't been able to do recently. One of their starters has suffered an early season-ending injury in each of the past three years. Two years ago it was Nene, the Brazilian who could be the X-factor for this team. He is a gifted athlete with ballhandling skills that a power forward in the team's up-tempo offense needs, but he must improve his jumper in order to become the versatile offensive threat the team needs in its power rotation. Center Marcus Camby was the league's fifth leading rebounder last year and is a major defensive asset, while backup power forward Kenyon Martin, returning from knee surgery, excels at defense as well. Whether Martin regains the explosiveness and leaping ability he had before he got hurt remains to be seen. Shooting guard Yakhouba Diawara, the fifth starter, is an athlete who can run the floor and provides perimeter defense, and though he won't contribute offensively, scoring isn't needed when you play alongside Anthony and Iverson. J.R. Smith is a penetrating wing who can score off the bench, but lacks and mid-range game and is a liability on defense. Chucky Atkins, Mike Wilks and Anthony Carter are around to play point guard if Karl decides to go small and shift Iverson to shooting guard.

Minnesota Timberwolves
2006-07: 32-50
Coach: Randy Wittman
Starting lineup
PG Randy Foye (10.1/2.7/2.8)
SG Rashad McCants (5.0/1.3/1.0)
SF Gerald Green (10.4/2.6/1.0)
PF Al Jefferson (16.0/11.0/1.3)
C Theo Ratliff (2.5/3.5/0.0)
SG Corey Brewer (rookie, 7th pick)
F Antoine Walker (8.5/4.3/1.7)
F Ryan Gomes (12.1/5.6/1.6)
C Mark Madsen (1.1/1.6/0.2)
PF Craig Smith (7.4/5.1/0.6)
G Marko Jaric (5.3/2.6/2.1)

It's the first Timberwolves season without Kevin Garnett since 1994-95 as the rebuilding process begins in Minnesota. They'll build around power forward Al Jefferson (pictured), already a great rebounder who is developing the kind of offensive post moves that could make him a superstar some day. The team's other anchor is point guard Randy Foye, the seventh pick in the 2006 draft, a scorer who must improve his playmaking ability. Every other position is largely up for grabs, especially shooting guard, where the best guess is undersized but versatile scorer Rashad McCants will get the starting nod. The other wing position is Gerald Green's, an athletic offensive threat who must bulk up and improve his defense to hold on to the job. Center is the purvey of veteran shotblocker Theo Ratliff, who won't contribute any more than putbacks offensively. The bench features Antoine Walker, an aging long-range gunner who can handle the ball but won't drive the basket and may well wind up with another team soon. Corey Brewer, the team's top rookie, is the team's other option at shooting guard and provides athleticism on offense and defense but undeveloped shooting and ballhandling skills. Ryan Gomes doesn't excel at any skill but is a versatile all-around forward who could become the team's sixth man. Craig Smith is an undersized power forward whose physical gifts might be a nice fit in an up-tempo attack. Marko Jaric and Mark Madsen are veterans at point guard and center, respectively, who'll provide leadership and guidance.

Portland Trail Blazers
Coach: Nate McMillan
Starting lineup
PG Steve Blake (6.4/2.0/5.0)
SG Brandon Roy (16.8/4.4/4.0)
SF Martell Webster (7.0/2.9/0.6)
PF LaMarcus Aldridge (9.0/5.0/0.4)
C Joel Przybilla (2.0/3.9/0.3)
SF Travis Outlaw (9.6/3.2/0.8)
PG Jarrett Jack (12.0/2.6/5.3)
PF Channing Frye (9.5/5.5/0.9)
G/F James Jones (6.4/2.3/0.6)
F/C Raef Lafrentz (3.7/2.6/0.3)
PG Sergio Rodriguez (3.7/1.4/3.3)
G/F Darius Miles (14.0/4.6/1.8)

The team was a trendy pick for the playoffs this year before first overall pick Greg Oden (pictured) underwent microfracture surgery on his knee that will force him to miss the season. They're probably lottery-bound again but there's plenty of young talent that will team with Oden on playoff teams in the future. Reigning MVP Brandon Roy is an all-around talent who will improve as he develops his outside shot. LaMarcus Aldridge still needs to work on his strength and post game, but he is nonetheless an athletic force inside. Martell Webster is an outside shooter at small forward who can become a star, too, if he is willing to drive to the basket more often. Jeol Przybilla is a defensive stopgap at center and won't figure in the offense. Coach Nate McMillian hasn't named a starting point guard, but Steve Blake is a logical choice given his defense and court vision. Jarrett Jack, who is a slightly better offensive player but turns the ball over too much, is the other option at point. Travis Outlaw, an agile if slender player whose energy is key on both ends of the floor, will likely be the team's sixth man. Backup power forward Channing Frye is a mobile shot blocker who has a reliable mid-range shot but doesn't grab enough rebounds. Former Sun James Jones is a long-range shooter who will provide quickness as a backup wing. Raef Lafrentz can shoot from the outside, too, and can provide a matchup problem at either post position despite being a defensive liability.

Seattle Supersonics
2006-07: 31-51
Coach: P.J. Carlesimo
Starting lineup
PG Luke Ridnour (11.0/2.3/5.2)
SG Damien Wilkins (8.8/2.8/1.9)
SF Kevin Durant (rookie, 2nd pick)
PF Chris Wilcox (13.5/7.7/1.0)
C Robert Swift (last played in 2005-06: 6.4/5.6/0.2)
F Jeff Green (rookie, 5th pick)
PG Earl Watson (9.4/2.4/5.7)
G/F Wally Szczerbiak (15.0/3.1/1.7)
C Kurt Thomas (4.6/5.7/0.4)
PF Nick Collison (9.6/8.1/1.0)

The team is headed in a new direction, and that has nothing to do with its impending move to Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant (pictured), the second overall pick, is the centerpiece of a youth movement designed to eventually lift the franchise back amongst the elite. He's a gifted and versatile scorer who needs only to refine the skills he already has and perhaps add more post-ups to his game. It'll be up to him how far the Sonics go this year, which probably isn't very far since there isn't any other marquee talent around him. Damien Wilkins can score and provide some toughness and defense, but he's not outstanding in any particular facet of the game. Luke Ridnour is a fearsome shooter and a skilled passer, but doesn't possess the strength necessary to be one of the league's better point guards. Chris Wilcox is quite the opposite, a tough man inside who must polish his offensive skills. If he does, though, he could be a beast and a valuable asset for the team's future. Robert Swift, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL in his knee, is an X factor at center who's a talented shot blocker but must prove he can be a consistent scorer. Jeff Green, the fifth overall pick, is a versatile player who backs up Durant at small forward and will likely see plenty of time at power forward as well. His lack of ballhandling skills keep him from starting or seeing minutes at shooting guard. Earl Watson is a defensive stopper at point guard who takes care of the ball and can hit a mid-range shot but isn't a playmaker or outside shooter. Backup center Kurt Thomas brings a valuable veteran presence inside along with rebounding, solid defense and capable offense. Wally Szczerbiak is another veteran who provides size and shooting as a backup wing, but he doesn't defend well. Nick Collison, a skilled low-post scorer and passer, provides depth and is the choice for offense off the bench as a power forward.

Utah Jazz
2006-07: 51-31
Beat Houston 4-3 in first round
Beat Golden State 4-1 in conference semifinals
Lost to San Antonio 4-1 in conference finals
Coach: Jerry Sloan
Starting lineup
PG Deron Williams (16.2/3.3/9.3)
SG Ronnie Brewer (4.6/1.3/0.4)
SF Andrei Kirilenko (8.3/4.7/2.9)
PF Carlos Boozer (20.9/11.7/3.0)
C Mehmet Okur (17.6/7.2/2.0)
G/F Matt Harpring (11.6/4.6/1.3)
F Paul Millsap (6.8/5.2/0.8)
C Jarron Collins (2.5/2.1/0.7)
G/F Gordan Giricek (7.8/2.1/1.0)
PG Jason Hart (6.9/2.7/2.9)
PG Ronnie Price (4.6/1.3/0.4)

The Jazz were surprise Western Conference finalists last year, as Deron Williams (pictured, in front) and Carlos Boozer (pictured, rear) took command the way no one since John Stockton and Karl Malone has done in Utah. Williams, in particular, has a bright future as one of the best point guards in the league entering his third year. He has excellent command of the offense as an all-around offensive threat. His only weaknesses are a lack of quickness and average defensive play, the latter of which he's likely to improve. Boozer can matchup with any of the top power forwards in the game and is a dominant offensive force against anyone who isn't. His increased defensive intensity in the playoffs last year helped lift his game. Small forward Andrei Kirilenko, trade demands notwithstanding, fits in well as a complimentary offensive player who can defer to others when his inconsistent jump shot is not falling, plus he is an outstanding defender. Mehmet Okur is the perfect high post complement to Boozer on offense as quite possibly the best outside shooting big man in the league, but struggles defensively. What hurts the Jazz the most will likely be the absence of shooting guard Derek Fisher, who was a great leader and served as the backup point guard as well. Ronnie Brewer, who could handle a fair share of ballhandling duties as well. is the starting shooting guard for now, but his shooting will have to be consistent to stick in that job. Sixth man Matt Harpring may wind up seeing minutes as a two guard. He can defend that position and shoot from anywhere. Paul Millsap, a strong if undersized power forward, should see increased minutes this year after proving his mettle as a surprising rookie last year. Jarron Collins is a veteran offensive weapon who can be used to back up Okur and Boozer. Gordan Giricek often finds his way into coach Jerry Sloan's doghouse, but he's a dead-eye shooter and provides size at the wing positions. The onus is on Jason Hart, a steadying influence, and Ronnie Price, the better athlete, to prove themselves as backup point guards and alleviate the pressure on Williams and Brewer.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

2007-08 NBA Preview (Southwest Division)

Someone please tell Yao that photographers who want him to do homoerotica aren't with the Chinese government, and he doesn't have to comply with their requests ...

Objects in mirror are closer tha ... er ... statistics in parentheses are points per game/rebounds per game/assists per game from 2006-07, unless otherwise noted.

Dallas Mavericks

2006-07: 67-15
Lost to Golden State 4-2 in first round
Coach: Avery Johnson
Starting lineup
PG Devin Harris (10.2/2.5/3.7)
SG Eddie Jones (7.7/3.0/1.7)
SF Josh Howard (18.9/6.8/1.8)
PF Dirk Nowitzki (24.6/8.9/3.4)
C Desagana Diop (2.3/5.4/0.4)
G/F Jerry Stackhouse (12.0/2.2/2.8)
G Jason Terry (16.7/2.9/5.2)
C Erick Dampier (7.1/7.4/0.6)
SF Devean George (6.4/3.6/0.6)
G/F Trenton Hassell (6.7/3.2/2.7)

A core scarred by consecutive playoff collapses returns to seek an elusive championship that seemed imminent, before they blew a 2-0 lead in the 2006 Finals and before they were shocked in the first round last year. Reigning MVP Dirk Nowitzki (pictured, second from left) is the anchor for what coach Avery Johnson (pictured, far right) promises will be a more up-tempo attack this season (also pictured is team owner Mark Cuban, far left, and commissioner David Stern, second from right). That would seem to fit their personnel, and point guard Devin Harris has the quickness and playmaking ability to run a fast-break offense, and is one of the best defenders at his position as well. Only the lack of a jump shot keeps him from becoming an All-Star. The development of a reliable shot helped Josh Howard earn his first All-Star berth last year, and his athleticism could become even more apparent if the team quickens its pace. Center Desagana Diop can run the floor well for a 7-footer and his blocked shots could start plenty of transition opportunities. The Mavs will go to backup Erick Dampier for rebounding. Defensive whiz and long-range shooter Eddie Jones will likely get the nod at starting shooting guard, though incumbent starter Jason Terry could very well playing more minutes. Bringing Terry off the bench would allow for the Mavs' reserves to have an unrivaled one-two offensive punch and mean the team could continue to play an athletic, up-tempo style even when Howard and Nowitzki are getting their rest. Trenton Hassell and Devean George are around when the team needs to tighten its defense.

Houston Rockets
2006-07: 52-30
Lost to Utah 4-3 in first round
Coach: Rick Adelman
Starting lineup
PG Rafer Alston (13.3/5.4/3.4)
SG Tracy McGrady (24.6/5.3/6.5)
SF Shane Battier (10.1/2.1/4.1)
PF Luis Scola (rookie, 55th pick in 2002)
C Yao Ming (25.0/9.4/2.0)
G/F Bonzi Wells (7.8/4.3/1.1)
F Chuck Hayes (5.6/6.7/0.6)
G Mike James (10.1/2.0/3.6)
G Luther Head (10.9/3.2/2.4)
C Dikembe Mutombo (3.1/6.5/0.2)

The Rockets are counting on an unconventional rookie to lift the team into the upper echelon of the Western Conference. Luis Scola, a 27-year-old Argentinian who has been considered the best player not in the NBA while playing in the Spanish league the past several years, was acquired in a deal with the Spurs and is expected to step into the starting small forward position. He's a skilled low-block player who can score and teamed with center Yao Ming (pictured) might give the Rockets the most intimidating combination of post threats since they had Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson in the '80s. Yao is considered by many to be the league's top center with an array of post moves and the deft passing and ball-handling that sets great centers apart. Tracy McGrady is the perfect perimeter complement when healthy, the rare wing who is equally adept with a pull-up shot as he is driving to the basket. McGrady has rebounding and passing skills as well, but has missed 10 or more games two of the last four seasons. McGrady often creates plays for the offense since point guard Rafer Alston has never been known for his passing. Alston has nonetheless developed his jump shot to the point that he's a capable starter. Shane Battier has nowhere near the talent of the other four starters but is in the lineup because of his shooting, defense, intelligent play and defense. The bench features three offensively talented perimeter players in Bonzi Wells, Mike James and Luther Head, as well as an undersized post player who is nonetheless a force on the boards in Chuck Hayes. Then there's backup center Dikembe Mutombo, who can hit an open jumped and is still a skilled rebounder and shot blocker at 41. years old.

Memphis Grizzlies
2006-07: 22-60
Coach: Marc Iavaroni
Starting lineup
PG Damon Stoudamire (7.5/2.2/4.8)
SG Mike Miller (18.5/5.4/4.3)
SF Rudy Gay (10.8/4.5/1.3)
PF Pau Gasol (20.8/9.8/3.4)
C Darko Milicic (8.0/5.5/1.1)
PG Kyle Lowry (5.6/3.1/3.2)
C Stromile Swift (7.8/4.6/0.3)
SF Casey Jacobsen (6.5/2.0/1.3)
SG Juan Carlos Navarro (rookie, 40th pick in 2002)
F/C Hakim Warrick (12.7/5.1/0.9)

The Grizzlies were the worst team in the league last year, but that was mostly because they were racked by injury, most notably to Pau Gasol (pictured), who was coming off his first All-Star selection in 2006. His versatile offensive game is back this year, but new coach Marc Iavaroni will insist he concentrate on improving his mediocre defense. Gasol is surrounded by Mike Miller and Rudy Gay, two athletic, multi-talented offensive threats who will be challenged to get better defensively as well. Damon Stoudamire has never been considered a great passer or much of a pure point guard, but Iavaroni believes he has been a calming influence and has distributed the ball well enough in preseason to get the starting nod. Talented but unaccomplished Darko Milicic gets his first chance to prove his mettle as a full-time starting center. Veteran Stromile Swift, who might be a better fit with the team's athletic core, waits in reserve behind Milicic. Hakim Warrick is another post player who could fit that scheme but is the fourth option in the team's power rotation because of his lack of strength and defensive liabilities. The Grizzlies have a defensive option at backup guard in Kyle Lowry and an offensive weapon in Juan Carlos Navarro. Casey Jacobsen is around for his dead-eye shooting.

New Orleans Hornets
Coach: Byron Scott
Starting lineup
PG Chris Paul (17.3/4.4/8.9)
SG Morris Peterson (8.9/3.3/0.7)
SF Peja Stojakovic (17.8/4.2/0.8)
PF David West (18.3/8.1/2.2)
C Tyson Chandler (9.5/12.4/0.9)
G Bobby Jackson (10.6/3.2/2.5)
G Jannero Pargo (9.2/2.2/2.5)
G/F Rasual Butler (10.1/3.2/0.8)
PF Melvin Ely (3.0/1.8/0.6)
C Hilton Armstrong (3.1/2.7/0.2)
F Ryan Bowen (last played in 2005-06: 1.3/1.3/0.4)

The Hornets nearly made the playoffs last year despite being beset with injuries and playing half their home schedule in Oklahoma City. Healthy and back in New Orleans full time, the team could make a leap this year. Point guard Chris Paul (pictured, right), who many believe may be the best at his position in a couple of years, is the nerve center of the Hornets and can distribute, penetrate and is a strong team defender. Paul gets the attention, but power forward David West (pictured, left) gets the points, despite his lack of athletic ability. The team's leading scorer from last year combines long arms, sure ball handling and uncommon court vision with a reliable mid-range jumper to excel. Center Tyson Chandler was the league's second best rebounder behind Kevin Garnett last year, and is a defensive force. Only his inability so far to develop a decent offensive game keeps him from superstardom. Peja Stojakovic is one of the league's best shooters and can penetrate to score as well, but doesn't defend and can't stay healthy. He played only 13 games last year due to back surgery and has missed more than 15 games in three of the last four seasons. Morris Peterson, the team's most significant free-agent signee, brings his deadly outside shot and veteran leadership from Toronto, where he helped mentor a young club to a surprise division championship last year. Bobby Jackson, the Sixth Man of the Year in 2003, leads a deep bench with his slashing offense and solid defense. Jannero Pargo is a shooter and a defender, but neither he nor Jackson can adequately fill in as a ball distributor when Paul is out. Rasual Butler is an intriguing athlete and potent shooter who still must develop strength to defend and drive the basket. Melvin Ely is the choice for offense in the post, while Hilton Armstrong is the better defender, while Ryan Bowen can provide a punch of energy and rebounding at either forward spot.

San Antonio Spurs
2006-07: 58-24
Beat Denver 4-1 in first round
Beat Phoenix 4-2 in conference semifinals
Beat Utah 4-1 in conference finals
Beat Cleveland 4-0 in NBA Finals
Coach: Gregg Popovich
Starting lineup
PG Tony Parker (18.6/3.2/5.5)
SG Manu Ginobili (16.5/4.4/3.5)
SF Bruce Bowen (6.2/2.7/1.4)
PF Tim Duncan (20.0/10.6/3.4)
C Fabricio Oberto (4.4/4.7/0.9)
G/F Michael Finley (9.0/2.7/1.3)
C Francisco Elson (5.0/4.8/0.8)
PG Jacque Vaughn (3.0/1.1/2.0)
G/F Ime Udoka (8.4/3.7/1.5)
F/G Brent Barry (8.5/2.1/1.8)
PF Robert Horry

The Spurs return every rotation player from last year's championship team, so there's no reason to think they can't repeat, which is about the only unaccomplished objective left for this bunch. It all starts with Tim Duncan (pictured, left), who staked his claim as the greatest power forward in the history of the game with another title in 2007. He has the size, the talent, and a wide variety of skills on the offensive and defensive ends, and few have ever known the game better. He is a dominant post presence. Tony Parker is the perfect complement who dictates the pace of the game and can turn it into an up-and-down, athletic, slashing affair if the situation warrants. He and Manu Ginobili are two of the best at driving to the basket. Ginobili has been used as a sixth man who doesn't start but plays clutch minutes in the past, but he's opening the season in the starting lineup. Bruce Bowen (pictured, right) provides toughness on the perimeter and is one of the best defensive players in the game, despite having little more than an outside shot to rely upon offensively. Fabricio Oberto emerged last year as a solid post defender and slick passer who knows his role and never got in the way despite limited offensive skills. Michael Finley, though 34 and in decline, is an outside shooter off the bench whom Duncan can find on kick-outs and can use his strength to body up defenders and back them down for an easier look at the basket. Francisco Elson is a better shot blocker than Elson but is more suited to a bench role because of his foul difficulties. Jacque Vaughn is a veteran caretaker for the offense, a distributor who rarely looks to score. Ime Udoka, a journeyman free-agent signee, has impressed as a rebounder from the perimeter who can play a variety of positions. Brent Barry is a deadly outside shooter who isn't afraid to drive the lane, but doesn't play much defense. Robert Horry, at 37, is a bit player, but has won seven titles, more than any other player in the league, and still can hit the outside shot when needed most.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

2007-08 NBA Preview (Southeast Division)

This project has officially become unwieldy. But no stopping now -- we're halfway done. And, as always, the statistics in parentheses are points per game, rebounds per game and assists per game, unless otherwise noted.

Atlanta Hawks

2006-07: 30-52
Coach: Mike Woodson
Starting lineup
PG Speedy Claxton (5.3/1.9/4.4)
SG Joe Johnson (25.0/4.2/4.4)
SF Josh Smith (16.4/8.6/3.3)
PF Marvin Williams (13.1/5.3/1.9)
C Zaza Pachulia (12.2/6.9/1.5)
C Al Horford (rookie, 3rd pick)
F/G Josh Childress (13.0/6.2/4.3)
PF Shelden Williams (5.5/5.4/0.5)
SG Salim Stoudemire (7.7/1.2/1.0)
PG Acie Law (rookie, 11th pick)
PG Tyronn Lue (11.4/1.9/3.6)

The Hawks have been dreadful for years, but may have finally assembled enough young talent to approach a playoff spot this season. If Josh Smith (pictured with ball) has improved his ballhandling and shooting skills, he could make the leap and become a premier small forward in his fourth season. Joe Johnson is the team's established scorer, and if he and Joe Johnson become more aggressive, they may become one of the best one-two punches in the league. Third-year man Marvin Williams possesses all the tools to become an effective power forward on a winning team, just as he was on the 2005 NCAA championship team at North Carolina. Rookie Al Horford, like Zaza Pachulia, are tough defenders, but the nod at starting center goes to Pachulia, who possesses the more sophisticated offensive game, for now at least. Speedy Claxton, an effective if undersized floor general, is the caretaker at point guard until rookie Acie Law is ready to take over. Tyronn Lue is also an option at the position and part of a deep bench that's led by versatile sixth man Josh Childress (pictured, background).

Charlotte Bobcats
2006-07: 33-49
Coach: Sam Vincent
Starting lineup
PG Raymond Felton (14.0/3.4/7.0)
SG Jason Richardson (16.0/5.1/3.4)
SF Gerald Wallace (18.1/7.2/2.6)
PF Emeka Okafor (14.4/11.3/1.2)
C Primoz Brezec (5.0/3.2/0.4)
G/F Matt Carroll (12.1/2.9/1.3)
PG Jeff McInnis (4.3/1.6/3.3)
F Walter Herrman (9.2/2.9/0.5)
G/F Derek Anderson (8.0/2.3/2.7)
SF Jared Dudley (rookie, 22nd pick)
C Ryan Hollins (2.4/1.1/0.0)

Season-ending injuries in preseason have robbed the team of its best low-block scorer in Sean May and Adam Morrison, its top scorer off the bench. That's tempered any enthusiasm over the acquisition of Jason Richardson, a potent scorer and rebounder from Golden State. Richardson struggles defensively though, and he and Gerald Wallace, the team's leading scorer from last season, must learn to mesh their similarly athletic offensive skills. Wallace and Emeka Okafor, unlike Richardson, are defensive stalwarts. Okafor is a major force on the boards but must work on his offensive game in the post with May out. Primoz Brezec, the last-minute choice at center, is a defensive liability, is a reliable shooter who can stretch the defense but a liability on defense, which might be mitigated by Okafor's presence. Slashing, playmaking point guard Raymond Felton has quietly become one of the league's better point guards despite the lack of an outside shot and his diminutive 6-foot stature. The bench is short but sixth man Matt Carroll (pictured) is a dead-eye shooter who could provide instant offense, and Walter Herrmann uses his strength as well as his shot to provide scoring from either forward spot.

Miami Heat 2006-07: 44-38
Lost to Chicago 4-0 in first round
Pat Riley
Starting lineup
PG Jason Williams (10.9/2.3/5.3)
SG Dwyane Wade (27.4/4.7/7.5)
SF Ricky Davis (17.0/3.9/4.8)
PF Udonis Haslem (10.7/8.3/1.2)
C Shaquille O'Neal (17.3/7.4/2.0)
SF Dorell Wright (6.0/4.1/1.4)
C/F Alonzo Mourning (8.6/4.5/0.2)
PF Mark Blount (12.3/6.2/0.8)
PG Smush Parker (11.1/2.5/2.8)
SG Daequan Cook (rookie, 21st pick)
G Anfernee Hardaway (last played in 2005-06: 2.5/2.5/2.0)

The Heat traded for Ricky Davis to provide a third scoring option behind Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O'Neal (pictured). He has been a selfish player in the past, but he's never been around personalities quite as strong as Wade, Shaq and coach Pat Riley. He's a slasher and a much more athletic player than Antoine Walker, whom the Heat sent to the Wolves in return, and will help make the Heat offense less reliant on Shaq's ability to draw defenders down and create room for outside shooters. Jason Williams, a distributor and outside shooter but a liability on defense, and Udonis Haslem, a tough rebounder who takes pressure off Shaq on the boards but struggles with his shot at times, return as starters. Alonzo Mourning is back to ensure the team doesn't miss a beat while Shaq's on the bench, and Mark Blount, a capable offensive player who came over in the Davis trade, will see minutes in the frontcourt as well. Dorell Wright has the athletic ability to develop into a valuable sixth man but must watch his turnovers and improve on defense. Smush Parker, who started most of last season for the Lakers, is backing up at point and Anfernee Hardaway is attempting a comeback after two years out of the game.

Orlando Magic
Lost to Detroit 4-0 in first round
Coach: Stan Van Gundy
Starting lineup
PG Jameer Nelson (13.0/3.1/4.3)
SG Keith Bogans (5.1/1.6/1.0)
SF Hedo Turkoglu (13.3/4.0/3.2)
PF Rashard Lewis (22.4/6.6/2.4)
C Dwight Howard (17.6/12.3/1.9)
PG Carlos Arroyo (7.7/1.9/2.8)
SG J.J. Redick (6.0/1.2/0.9)
G/F Keith Bogans (5.1/1.6/1.0)
F Pat Garrity (2.2/1.3/0.4)
C Adonal Foyle (2.2/2.6/0.4)
PF Bo Outlaw (2.0/2.6/0.4)

The two big changes for the Magic this offseason were the additions of head coach Stan Van Gundy (pictured, right) and the signing of free-agent Rashard Lewis (pictured, left), both of whom signal a change toward a more open, faster-paced style of play. Lewis challenges defenses with a consistent long-range jumper and an ability to create off the dribble, and he can post up if the occasion calls for it, too. He's sieve defensively, though, and the team has mirrored that deficiency throughout training camp. Dwight Howard will be playing center full time this year, and with Tony Battie out for the season, the All-NBA Third Teamer will carry a heavy load this year. Point guard Jameer Nelson returns to direct the attack, and while he'll welcome the opportunity to make quick cuts to the basket, his lack of playmaking ability could be an albatross for the Magic all season, or at least until backup Carlos Arroyo takes over primary ballhandling duties. Keith Bogans has overcome his shooting woes, at least for the time being, and will start at two-guard. Small forward Hidayet Turkoglu isn't an outstanding player, but his all-around skills and ability to play four positions make him an invaluable asset. The team has a choice of wing players off the bench -- they can go with either sharpshooting J.J. Redick or defensive stopper Trevor Ariza. Pat Garrity, in his second stint with the Magic, brings shooting off the bench at either forward spot. Veteran Adonal Foyle is around to make sure the team has someone capable of protecting the basket even when Howard is on the bench.

Washington Wizards
2006-07: 41-41
Lost to Cleveland 4-0 in first round
Coach: Eddie Jordan
Starting lineup

PG Gilbert Arenas (28.4/4.6/6.0)
SG DeShawn Stevenson (11.2/2.6/2.7)
SF Caron Butler (19.1/7.4/3.7)
PF Antawn Jamison (19.8/8.0/1.9)
C Brendan Haywood (6.6/6.2/0.6)
G Antonio Daniels (7.1/1.9/3.6)
G/F Nick Young (rookie, 16th pick)
SF Oleksiy Pecherov (rookie, 18th pick in 2006)
F/C Andray Blatche (3.7/3.4/0.7)
PF Darius Songaila (7.6/3.6/1.0)

Late-season injuries to Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison, among others, derailed the Wizards last year, but barring similar maladies there'll be no stopping the Wizards' offense. The questions is whether they'll heed coach Eddie Jordan's call and stiffen up defensively. That would help Gilbert Arenas' (pictured) quest to become a First Team All-NBA type of player after finishing third in the league in scoring last year. It is of even greater importance that Arenas, Butler and Jamison, all terrific offensive players, make an effort to ratchet up their defense now that Etan Thomas, a shot-blocking rock on the interior, is out for an indefinite time following heart surgery. He'll be replaced at center by Brendan Haywood, a solid defender but a downgrade from Thomas. Starting shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson, the team's best perimeter defender, is more valuable than ever this year. Antonio Daniels is a reliable ballhandler and an attractive defensive option off the bench at either guard spot. Rookie Nick Young is a wing player who can provide scoring with his jump shot, but must be more aggressive in driving the basket. Andray Blatche has to become more assertive in the post, since he may be the best option off the bench at both power positions, though Darius Songaila's versatile offensive game was put on display when injuries forced him into heavy minutes last year, and he'll be an asset again this season.