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Early NBA Championship Contenders: Stacked Out West

Written by Tom Mullins, TRST NBA columnist. Follow him on Twitter @tomullins

Now that we’ve seen plenty of basketball this season, teams can be separated more easily, the good from the bad, and then there’s the Wizards.

While it’s slim pickings in the Eastern Conference, out West there are several championship contenders. As usual the Spurs and Thunder are the teams to beat, with the Clippers and Grizzlies close behind. As we all know the Lakers are struggling early, and young teams such as Golden State can seize the opportunity.

Other than Miami and New York, yes that’s right, the Knicks are a championship caliber team, the Eastern Conference lacks the ‘elite’ teams. Atlanta and Chicago have played well to date without a true star, while Boston, Brooklyn and Indiana are barely over .500.

Right now you can’t look past Oklahoma City, despite their loss to the Timberwolves last night. Durant’s continuing his brilliant play from last season, looking like a serious MVP candidate. Russell Westbrook has kept improving, now distributing the ball better to his teammates. Losing Harden hasn’t impacted the Thunder, with Kevin Martin fitting in perfectly to the offense and giving them a dangerous weapon from beyond the arc. Serge Ibaka is playing like a borderline All-Star, making consistent mid-range baskets, it almost seems unfair. OKC will probably finish with the top seed in the West, and don’t be surprised if they’re in the Finals for a second consecutive year.

Defending champions the Miami Heat haven’t looked quite as good just yet, especially defensively, though they are still playing at a level greater than most other teams around the league. LeBron James is unstoppable as usual and Chris Bosh is playing efficiently on offense, however Dwyane Wade needs to recover from a slow start in order for this Miami team to be successful down the track. They should be able to escape the East for the third season in a row and defend their title, though the Knicks could challenge them in the playoffs.

Who would have thought the Knicks would be on top of the East only days away from Christmas? Carmelo Anthony has led this new look outfit to the second best record in the league. If their threes keep falling and Amar’e Stoudemire can play effectively with Melo, this New York team could be very dangerous.

Tim Duncan has turned back the clock so far this season and is playing at an extremely high level. The Spurs have cooled down a bit recently, but are still an elite team with guards such as Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, along with a solid bench. They’re not going to let young teams such as the Thunder, Clippers and Grizzlies take over the West without a fight.

The Clippers are the best team in LA right now, thanks to the best point guard in the league, Chris Paul. It’s scary to think how good they could be, as they’re arguably the deepest team in the league with role players still on the sideline (Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups). Expect a deep playoff run from them, with a WCF’s berth in sight.

After a disappointing exit to the playoffs earlier this year, the Memphis Grizzlies look to go much further this season, and with the best frontcourt in the NBA, they have a great chance to succeed. It’ll be tough to get out of the West, though if their key players in Gay, Gasol and Randolph play efficient basketball, along with Conley and production from the bench, Memphis could definitely make some noise.

Look out for teams like the Bulls (if Rose is back healthy), Hawks and Warriors come the playoffs, who have played well early and won’t get the same amount of hype as the true contenders.

Teams who will improve as the season wears on include the Lakers, Celtics, Nets and Pacers. The Mavericks and Sixers should also step up their level of play when their star players return, if Bynum ever plays in Philly.

Buss & Kupchak Just Teased Laker Fans…Twice

by Akiem Bailum

On Twitter: @Li495Akiem

And as we know, no one likes to be teased, especially this much.

Remember back in your school days when there was someone you had a huge crush on and really wanted to talk to that person. Surprisingly, that person starts talking to you first and things start to go extremely well for about until you find you that he or she’s already taken.

Heart. Broken.

Laker fans can now relate.

A few days ago, we found out that the Los Angeles Lakers had indeed parted ways head coach Mike Brown after only their first 5 games. The Lake Show had become a boring infomercial as they had lost 4 of their first five in the regular season and went 0 for 8 in the preseason (if it means anything).

Laker brass had all but admitted that Mike Brown’s implementation of the “Princeton Offense” that involves continuous ball movement and spacing out was not compatible with this star-studded Laker squad.

With the unceremonious Brown-out taking place in LA, all eyes and indications seemed to turn to Phil Jackson. The number one question was did Phil even want to coach anymore. After numerous reported conversations Mitch Kupchak & Jim Buss had with Phil, the vibes were positive that Phil was preparing to come back. He even cancelled a speaking engagement in Chicago to prepare to return to the Laker bench.

Of course, when you are an 11-time champion in Phil Jackson, you come with a rather hefty price tag. Reportedly, he demanded $10 million a year, full power over basketball decisions, and the ability to take off the majority of road games (most likely to those games contested east of the state of Texas).

Phil clearly wanted the job. The fans were preparing for Phil to take the job. Reportedly, Dwight Howard even wanted Phil to get the job.

Phil didn’t get the job.

Instead, that went to former Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni. The entire Southern California region spat out their morning coffee as they heard the news. So was Phil himself.

D’Antoni’s price tag isn’t as hefty as that of the 11-time champ. He’ll only be paid $12 million over 3 years (3 years guaranteed, 4th year being a team option).

Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak, for whatever reason, just teased the entire Southern California region into believing that Phil Jackson would be returning to run things once again. If it’s one thing you don’t do, it’s tease Laker fans. Los Angeles is first-and-foremost a Laker town with no professional football team (for now) in that city. Many in Laker Nation are ticked enough that not all of the team’s games are available on TV in the region because not every cable company has agreed to carry their new network.

There’s been much speculation as to why Phil Jackson didn’t get the job. It could’ve been because the Triangle Offense was incompatible with Steve Nash. It could’ve been because his demands were too high.

And let’s not forget that whole thing about him dating Jeanie Buss. Even when he’s not visible, he’s still very close to the team.

If they felt the Triangle Offense wasn’t compatible with this cast of characters on this team, why even talk to or interview Phil? It’s clear that his relationship with the Buss family is so close-knit that they don’t know how to move on from him even if they want to. If they’re trying to move on from the Phil Jackson era, it’s admirable since he won’t want to coach forever, but the 11 championships are hard to pass up even if he wants more money.

Also, if Jim Buss didn’t give him the job because Jackson wanted to control the basketball making decisions, it’s clear that Jim Buss is nothing but a son playing with daddy’s toys.

Anyone who heard the Laker fans at the Staples Center on Friday Night knew that they had already made their choice with the chants of “We Want Phil”. Every indication was that they were going to get Phil. Given his track record in LA, that’s what makes this such an egregious tease.

That was only the first. The second is just around the corner.

Mike D’Antoni’s track record as a head coach is most remembered for his Phoenix Suns teams flaming out in the playoffs after having great regular seasons. D’Antoni was Nash’s coach in Phoenix. In 2005, they lost in the Western Conference Finals to the eventual NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs—a team that actually did practice defense that year. In 2006, they’d lose in the postseason to the Dallas Mavericks.

D’Antoni’s style is to turn every basketball game into a track meet. The word “defense” is a foreign word to Mike D’Antoni.

That’s where’s the tease comes in. Every Laker game for the rest of the year just became the All-Star Game. D’Antoni’s style of ball will bring excitement, it’ll create highlight reels on Sports Center, and it will put fannies into the seats at Staples Center.

But, Laker fans are similar to fans of the Yankees or Manchester United. Anything less than a championship ring for the purple and gold is considered a failure of a season. D’Antoni’s track record does not exude much confidence that it’ll change in LA especially when he had those Phoenix Suns teams that looked like the league’s best team.

Plus, Kupchak and Buss have a bigger problem looming this summer if they fail to hoist a championship banner. Dwight Howard can leave Los Angeles after this year and they could find themselves in the exact same fix that the Orlando Magic did after this year. I saw when the media talked to Howard about the hire today and his body language didn’t look like that of someone who felt the team made the correct hire.

To make a long story short, if Howard doesn’t feel the Lakers are where he’ll win a championship, the Brooklyn Nets (where he really wants to be) are right there waiting.

Let the Showtime begin! Lights…Camera…Action! Take 1!

2012 NBA Draft Recap: Every Team, Every Pick

It may not have been the most talented draft in terms of all-stars, according to some people, however there certainly are many solid NBA players amongst these young prospects.

Round 1

1 New Orleans Hornets: F Anthony Davis

Obvious pick for New Orleans, Davis will make an immediate impact especially on defense.

2 Charlotte Bobcats: F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

Great pick by Jordan and the Bobcats, although I thought they would go with Robinson.

3 Washington Wizards: G Bradley Beal

Couldn’t of asked for a better birthday present, he gives the Wizards a much needed shooter.

4 Cleveland Cavaliers: G Dion Waiters

Came as a surprise to some, will give Kyrie some help in the young backcourt.

5 Sacramento Kings: F Thomas Robinson

Didn’t think he would be available at 5, smart option for the Kings. Cousins and Robinson could be a dominant force up front.

6 Portland Trail Blazers: G Damian Lillard 

Some thought they should of taken a risk and selected Andre Drummond, but Lillard was the better choice and the top PG in this class.

7 Golden State Warriors: F Harrison Barnes

Barnes will boost the offensive production of the Warriors and play along side Curry and Thompson, the future of Golden State.

8 Toronto Raptors: G Terrence Ross

Exciting player with great athleticism and perimeter shooting. If the Raptors can land Nash, a playoff birth could be a possibility.

9 Detroit Pistons: C Andre Drummond

Could be somewhat of a risk, but Drummond could develop into an elite big man in the NBA.

10 New Orleans Hornets: G Austin Rivers

Provides the Hornets with a good scoring option, though he has to improve on the defensive end.

11 Portland Trail Blazers: C Meyers Leonard

12 Houston Rockets: G Jeremy Lamb

13 Phoenix Suns: G Kendall Marshall

14 Milwaukee Bucks: F John Henson

15 Philadelphia 76ers: F Maurice Harkless

16 Houston Rockets: F Royce White

17 Dallas Mavericks (traded to Cleveland): F Tyler Zeller

18 Houston Rockets: F Terrence Jones

19 Orlando Magic: F Andrew Nicholson

20 Denver Nuggets: G Evan Fournier

21 Boston Celtics: F Jared Sullinger

22 Boston Celtics: C Fab Melo

23 Atlanta Hawks: G John Jenkins

24 Cleveland Cavaliers (traded to Dallas): G Jared Cunningham

25 Memphis Grizzlies: G Tony Wroten Jr.

26 Indiana Pacers: F Miles Plumlee

27 Miami Heat (traded to Philadelphia): F Arnett Moultrie

28 Oklahoma City Thunder: F Perry Jones III

29 Chicago Bulls: G Marquis Teague

30 Golden State Warriors: C Festus Ezeli

Round 2

31 Charlotte Bobcats: F Jeff Taylor

32 Washington Wizards: G Tomas Satoransky 

33 Cleveland Cavaliers (traded to Dallas): C Bernard James

34 Cleveland Cavaliers (traded to Dallas): F Jae Crowder

35 Golden State Warriors: F Draymond Green

36 Sacramento Kings (traded to Indiana): F Orlando Johnson

37 Toronto Raptors: F Quincy Acy

38 Denver Nuggets: F Quincy Miller

39 Detroit Pistons: F Khris Middleton

40 Portland Trail Blazers:  G Will Barton

41 Portland Trail Blazers (traded to Brooklyn): G Tyshawn Taylor 

42 Milwaukee Bucks: G Doron Lamb

43 Atlanta Hawks: F Mike Scott

44 Detroit Pistons: G Kim English

45 Philadelphia 76ers (traded to Miami): C Justin Hamilton

46 New Orleans Hornets: F Darius Miller

47 Utah Jazz: G Kevin Murphy

48 New York Knicks: F Kostas Papanikolaou

49 Orlando Magic: C Kyle O’Quinn

50 Denver Nuggets: C Izzet Turkyilmaz

51 Boston Celtics: F Kris Joseph

52 Golden State Warriors: C Ognjen Kuzmic

53 Los Angeles Clippers: F  Furkan Aldemir

54 Philadelphia 76ers (traded to Brooklyn): F Tornike Shengelia

55 Dallas Mavericks (traded to Los Angeles Lakers): G Darius Johnson-Odom

56 Toronto Raptors: F Tomislav Zubcic

57 Brooklyn Nets: F Ilkan Karaman

58 Minnesota Timberwolves: F Robbie Hummel

59 San Antonio Spurs: G Marcus Denmon

60 Los Angeles Lakers: C Robert Sacre

2012 NBA Draft: Predicting The Top 5

by Tom Mullins- TRST NBA Writer

1. New Orleans Hornets- PF Anthony Davis

Davis is a lock at the number one spot, he’s the future of the franchise and will make an immediate impact, not only on the team but in the ticket sales. His athletic game along with his defensive presence will help the Hornets notch up a few more wins next season and give the team potential moving forward. The bigger question for the Hornets is their decision with the tenth overall pick.

2. Charlotte Bobcats- PF Thomas Robinson

Since they were ‘robbed’ out of the first pick, the struggling Bobcats will take one of the most NBA ready players in the draft. Many compare Robinson to the Clippers’ Blake Griffin, but with a better jump shot and slightly less athleticism, even though he is explosive at the rim. Charlotte has also been interested in trading the pick for a young star such as Rudy Gay or James Harden.

3. Washington Wizards- SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

John Wall needs to be surrounded with talent, who better than Kidd-Gilchrist to help him out in the nation’s capital. After winning the NCAA Championship with Kentucky, the 18-year-old has been described as a natural leader with an extreme level of competiveness. He has a perfect build for the NBA and could make the Wizards a playoff team in seasons to come.

4. Cleveland Cavaliers- SG Bradley Beal

Florida’s freshman shooting guard Bradley Beal will be taken by the Cavs and be the future of Cleveland along with their exciting young point guard Kyrie Irving. He’s a solid rebounding guard and can be an offensive threat from almost anywhere on the court. Cleveland will take him if he’s available, but I could also see them selecting MKD.

5. Sacramento Kings- SF Harrison Barnes

With Tyreke Evans’ future in Sacramento uncertain, the Kings may look to trade their lottery pick or Evans in exchange for a veteran leader. If they stay put, Barnes would probably be the best available player left on the board and could definitely be part of Sacramento’s future with his outstanding work ethic and great outside game.

What to look out for?

Andre Drummond may be a ‘risky’ pick but could possibly sneak into the top five, some even predicting him to be taken by Charlotte. Also don’t be shocked if we see multiple trades occur in the top ten, or even the first five picks.

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