Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What to do With Greg Oden

If you're an NBA fan then you probably know who Greg Oden is.  If not, allow me to explain.  Greg Oden was the number one pick in the 2007 NBA draft, and he was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers exactly one pick ahead of Kevin Durant who was drafted by Seattle. Oden was considered a can't miss prospect coming out of college, a legit seven footer who had great game on both ends of the floor.  Nearly every scout agreed that Oden was the number one pick, and nobody was surprised when Portland ultimately selected him, and prepared to assemble what appeared to be a very talented core of Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Brandon Roy.  Yes, it appeared that Portland was finally going to get over the hump, that this was it, the future of Trail Blazer basketball.  The future had arrived and it was in the form of a seven foot tall giant from Ohio State.  Alas, it was not to be.

Oden only managed to play in 82 games over the course of his five years he spent under contract with the Trail Blazers due to serious knee injuries.  Oden has had five surgeries, including three arthroscopic surgeries on his knees, these are the same kinds of surgeries that guys like Tracy McGrady, Gilbert Arenas, and Kenyon Martin struggled to come back from.  Roy also was an unfortunate victim of injuries, as he played only five seasons with Portland before being forced to retire due to the meniscus issues in his knees.  Thus, the Trail Blazers high hopes quickly disappeared. 

Oden's tragic tail opens up comparisons to former Trail Blazers center Sam Bowie, who was selected in 1984.  Bowie only managed to play 511 career games in 11 seasons, which is good for only a little over half of the games in those 11 seasons.  Bowie was selected over greats like Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton to name a few.  Conversely, Oden was selected over players such as Kevin Durant, Al Horford, and Joakim Noah.  While none of those players are comparable to the stars that were selected ahead of Bowie, they've all been very good NBA players while Oden has hardly played.  Obviously this is not the exact same situation, as Oden was the consensus number one pick in his draft and Sam Bowie was a guy who could have easily fallen to another team, but still, they're centers who the Trail Blazers drafted that unfortunately never panned out due to injuries.

Ultimately, the Trail Blazers were forced to let Oden go, simply because it was not worth continuing to pay him for him to not play a single second of NBA basketball, and they needed to make room for trade acquisitions.  Oden did not workout, nor did any team seek to sign Oden for the 2012/13 season as he wasn continuing to rehab his knee in order to hopefully make a comeback this coming season, and he already has many potential suitors.

Oden is currently being pursued by six different teams, the Mavericks, the Hawks, the Pelicans, the Spurs, the Heat, and the Kings.  Each of these teams has a unique reason for wanting him, and it would appear that Oden would fit in on every single one of these teams rosters.  Ultimately, all of these teams are hoping that Oden can be at least close to what he was when he was drafted, however if he's not it will cost them little to sign him and should be seen as a low risk/high reward investment.

The Mavericks have been desperately trying, and failing, to woo a marquee free agent to Dallas for the last few years.  They were unable to sign Deron Williams, unable to snag Chris Paul, and most recently unable to land Dwight Howard.  Oden is not a marquee player, let me set that straight before anyone thinks that's what I'm suggesting.  He is however, someone who, if healthy should be immediately able to contribute.  Dallas missed the playoffs last year for the first time since the 99/00 season.  The Mavericks had quite a few problems with their roster this past year, but perhaps the most glaring is front court depth.

The Mavs just recently signed center Samuel Dalembert, who is by all accounts serviceable, but if healthy, Oden would certainly be an upgrade.  Mark Cuban is a businessman, and a damn good one at that.  Cuban knows that if he can sign Oden for relatively cheap, and Oden ends up playing at a high level than this is definitely a minor risk worth taking.  Dallas is definitely an intriguing destination, and I would not be surprised to see Oden sign there in any capacity.

The man pictured above (yes the man stop looking to his right) is RC Buford for those of you who are unfamiliar with him.  Buford is currently the Spurs GM and is easily one of the top five best GMs in the NBA, if not the best.  Buford has successfully managed to sign or trade for key players that will fit Poppovich's coaching style, and has helped the Spurs consistently maintain a position among the Western Conference elite.

As I've just pointed out Buford is a savvy GM and he knows what he's getting into in his courting of Greg Oden.  The Spurs just resigned Tiago Splitter to a 4yr/$36M contract, but DeJuan Blair is no longer on the roster, and as much as I love him Matt Bonner is not a serviceable backup center.  The Spurs definitely need some front court depth and this is exactly what they'd be getting in Oden.  

At this point I'm inclined to believe that the Spurs are one of the destinations higher on the list for Oden.  He would be looking at some substantial playing time, and would be walking into a roster that just went to the NBA Finals.  However, he won't be under a whole lot of scrutiny as the media doesn't generally spend a whole lot of time worrying about what's going on in San Antonio, so he won't feel that immense pressure to become the player that he once was.

I could list the reasons for the Pelicans and the Hawks, as well as the Kings, but they basically fall into the same reasons the Spurs and the Mavericks do.  All of these teams are in need of solid front court players, and Oden definitely fits that mold.  These are obviously a variety of teams ranging somewhere between the top, the middle of the pack, and the bottom.  Ultimately however, there is one destination that desires him over all of these other franchises, and that is of course the Miami Heat.

Pat Riley has made some extraordinary moves in South Beach, the biggest of which obviously is bringing LeBron, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh together, a move that has resulted in three straight finals appearances, and back to back finals championships.  Not to be lost amongst that is his signings of Ray Allen for less money than Boston offered him, his acquisition of Shane Battier, and his late round drafting of young players who only need to fill a certain role.  This obviously means that Riley will ultimately land Oden right? Well, I'm not so sure.

Miami's current glaring need right now is quite clearly a capable man in the middle.  Joel Anthony is absolutely god awful, and the starting big men combination of Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem were exposed when they faced the Pacers and their front court of David West and Roy Hibbert.  Oden would provide a presence in the middle that Miami has yet to see during the LeBron James era, and would most likely vault this team into their first ever three peat.

Oden's impact, should he be healthy and in game form would be immense.  Here's the thing, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh are not getting any younger, and they were quite clearly not as effective during the post season last year.  Adding a healthy Greg Oden here would be huge, as they would finally have someone who is capable both offensively and defensively patrolling the paint, meaning that it would be even more difficult for teams to score on what is already a very tough Miami defense. 

Why then, would Oden be hesitant to sign here?  Well, obviously there are many veterans who have opted to sign with Miami for limited contracts because it means opportunities at championship rings.  I don't have any doubts that Oden is interested in a championship ring, but should he sign with the team who has received the most media attention than nearly any other team in sports over the past three years he would ultimately be subjected to a great deal of scrutiny.  Suddenly, every reporter is asking the question "can you still play?" "do you think you're the piece the Heat need for their three peat?" etc.  

These are not the questions you want to be asked if you are a player who is coming back from five knee surgeries, and haven't played in three years.  Instead, I believe Oden will be looking to perhaps play in a smaller market with less media scrutiny where he can quietly try to return to form, in order to pursue a bigger contract with a contending team later on.

At the end of the day, I'm not Greg Oden, so I don't know what's going through his head. I do know that Oden is a competitor, so he very well could go to the place where he believes he can win the most.  I'm a big fan of his, I have been since he played at Ohio State.  And when it comes down to it I can honestly say I hope that he succeeds wherever he plays, whether it be Sacramento or Miami.  I'll be rooting for him.

Good luck, Greg.

Follow me on Twitter @DbRedickulous

Rockets' Terrence Ross Arrested For Stomping on a Homeless Man

Via SBNation
Portland police arrested Houston Rockets forward Terrence Jones after "he yelled at a homeless man and stomped on his leg" early Wednesday morning, according to The incident happened at about 2 a.m. local time.
Per police reports, an officer watched a man later identified as Jones "walk by a doorway where two homeless men were sleeping," before he "yelled, 'Wake up,' then raised his leg and stomped down on one of the man’s legs." The victim only received minor injuries that didn't command immediate medical attention.
The second-year NBA player was officially charged with harassment and will attend a court date Wednesday.
A Portland native who starred for the local Jefferson High School, Jones later played for the University of Kentucky before being selected in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft by Houston. It's currently unclear how the team will handle this matter.

Uhh what? Seriously?  I mean Terrence Jones was obviously wasted here right?  Like, I mean don't get me wrong I've been walking home drunk in downtown Iowa City myself past bums plenty of times but I've never thought to myself "damn, I should just stomp on these homeless guys." 

Not to mention the fact that Jones is an NBA player, I mean, what the hell does it matter to him that these guys are homeless?  Seriously, Jones is set to make $1.5M next season.  I have to imagine he thought "how can I help out these bums? Give them a few bucks out of my million dollar salary? Nah, I'll just stomp on their legs for a little bit."  I honestly have no idea what to think here, but at the end of the day I highly doubt that he sees any serious reprecussions from the league or the Rockets.  Maybe a small fine, but that's pretty much going to be it.

The NBA, where caring happens.

PS - These dudes can totally get a settlement out of this right? I mean besides the fact that they can't afford a lawyer, and probably couldn't represent themselves in a courtroom obviously.

Follow me on Twitter @DbRedickulous

A Look at The Brandon Jennings Trade

The Milwaukee Bucks have finally found a new destination for point guard Brandon Jennings, and Brandon Jennings has gotten a contract for about what he's worth.  Last night the Pistons acquired Brandon Jennings from Milwaukee in exchange for Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton, and Slava Kravtsav.  This trade benefits both sides, as the Pistons acquire their second big name this offseason, and Milwaukee can finally start rebuilding.

First of all, let me say, Joe Dumars has managed to save his job this summer.  Acquiring Josh Smith was a big time move in itself and it even led me to predict that the Pistons would make the playoffs. Now with the acquisition of Jennings from Milwaukee for next to nothing Dumars has proven that he is still somewhat of a savvy GM.

I will admit, I'm one of the first people to tell you all about Brandon Jennings' shortcomings.  Don't get me wrong, I'm a Brandon Jennings fan, and I think he has loads of potential, but he's yet to live up that.  Jennings has only shot over 40% from the floor one season, while using 25% of his teams possessions in every season but last in which he used around 24%.  This is obviously not very efficient, and is some good evidence as to why the Bucks have struggled the last few seasons.  However, I do believe that some of this can be attributed to the situation Jennings was in, in Milwaukee.

Realistically Milwaukee hasn't exactly surrounded Jennings with talent.  Though they have made the playoffs three of the last four years they've only registered one winning season in those four years.  While I understand it's difficult to bring in quality free agents to a market like Milwaukee GM John Hammond has not done a great job with the assets that he has had.  The most glaring example of this was trading Andrew Bogut to Golden State in exchange for Monta Ellis.

Ellis and Jennings are more or less the same player, and it was painfully obvious that they were not very cohesive on the floor together.  Both of them are high volume shooters who need the ball in their hands a lot, and neither of them are great defenders.  Pairing two poor defenders in your front court is obviously never a good decision, but the Bucks did it anyway to very little success.  The addition of Ellis definitely hurt Jennings as it was much harder to cover up Jennings' mistakes on defense, and allowed opposing guards to exploit the two of them.

Now that Jennings is no longer in Milwaukee, and appears to have some real talent around him, especially a very talented front court, we should be able to find out how good Jennings really is.  There's little to no doubt that Jennings can score, we all know that, but now that he won't be one of very few offensive weapons we will see if he can effectively run a team as a point guard.  

Jennings' assist totals did improve last year to the best in his career, which is promising because it means he will probably be willing to play the role of a pass first point guard in Detroit which they desperately need.  The Brandon Knight point guard experiment that Detroit attempted was clearly not working, and now it appears that they may actually have a true point guard.  Chauncey Billups will also probably be instrumental in helping Jennings become a better point guard and team leader next season as Billups was very much that guy in Detroit during the early 2000s. 

Make no mistake, Jennings is definitely surrounded by some serious talent now in Detroit.  Obviously he's got Josh Smith, and Greg Monroe is a serious player when it comes to playing underneath.  I think Andre Drummond and Jennings will also be very cohesive and I'm excited to see the two of them run the pick and roll.  Not to mention guys like Kyle Singler, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rodney Stuckey, and Jonas Jerebko.  I mean, none of those guys are stars by any means, but they're much better role players than what Jennings was stuck with in Milwaukee.

The addition of Jennings definitely makes Detroit a team you're going to want to watch on league pass next year, and it will be very interesting to watch how Jennings responds to this opportunity.  Big picture though? The Pistons look like they've definitely gotten a lot better.

John Hammond, man, what can I say about John Hammond that I already haven't?  This guy has been in charge of the Milwaukee front office for 5 years now and I can honestly say I don't think he's made one really great move.  The best move of Hammond's tenure in Milwaukee was probably his drafting of Braond Jennings, and well, obviously Jennings is no longer on the roster.

This trade though, may very well give Hammond the opportunity to turn it around and begin a rebuilding process.  Obviously the question there is whether or not Hammond is competent enough to rebuild successfully, and whether or not he will be around to see the fruits of his rebuild fulfilled as he may very well be fired before that. 

The best thing Hammond did here was trade a clearly disgruntled guard who wanted to be somewhere else, for a decent prospect in Brandon Knight, and two middling prospects in Kravtsov and Middleton.  The best part about this? He doesn't really have to pay them anything, and Brandon Knight could potentially be an asset after this season as he will be an expiring deal and some team may want his services as a bench scorer around the deadline.

Another key here is that Milwaukee is going to be bad.  I mean, really, really, really, really, really freaking bad.  This team is going to challenge Philly and Phoenix for worst in the league here.  I originally pegged them finishing around 12th in the Eastern Conference but there is not a chance that they finish better than Orlando or Charlotte.  This is great news for Hammond as this means he will be in position to get a top 5 draft in what as I continue to mention looks to be a loaded draft class.  Should Milwaukee land say the top pick in this upcoming draft and land Andrew Wiggins, well, that right there is a job saver for Mr. Hammond over here. 

In all honesty, Milwaukee is a difficult team to run.  Small market, cold weather, not a city that has any real major draws.  That's certainly a tough situation for a GM to be in, but you have to make the best of the situation you're in and Hammond has yet do that so far.  The Bucks seemed fine with signing players who are middle of the road guys to keep them in the tail end of the playoffs which will allow them to generate revenue from the playoffs and at least keep the fans mildly interested.

I understand why Milwaukee would be doing this, as Sacramento nearly just lost their franchise to Seattle and the Bucks could be the next to go if they should struggle for several seasons, but it's a gamble they have to take.  Hopefully Hammond will make that gamble and this trade would appear to be a step in the right direction.

It's tough to be a bad team, it really is.  It's tough on the fans, it's tough on management, it's tough on the players.  However, the best success you can have in a small market is building through the draft and acquiring players that want to be in the organization and want to succeed.  Sometimes, in order to do this you have to be pretty freaking bad, and again, that's tough.  Ultimately though you have to look at the end goal if you're a small market team, and that's to be able to have at least a few years of contending before you must make some moves in the name of money and cap space.  No team should make it their goal to be at the end of the playoffs and drafting an average prospect every year, every team should be trying to contend and that's simply how you have to do it in a small market.

In the long run, Milwaukee should ultimately benefit from this trade, though in the short term it's going to be a bit of a rough going.  Hang in there Milwaukee fans, support your team, and hope that your front office is taking steps to making the team a serious contender.

Follow me on Twitter @DbRedickulous

My Way Too Early Western Conference Predictions

I know it's been a little while since I've posted some content, but this article has actually been pretty tough for me.  The Western Conference is so much better than the East in terms of team talent from top to bottom.  However, I think I've gotten my predictions completed, and I'm pretty confident in them.

1. Los Angeles Clippers

This was somewhat of a difficult decision to make but I'm standing by it.  Plain and simple, the Clippers just got a hell of a lot better this summer.  They traded away Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler, along with two 2nd round picks and got back Jared Dudley, and JJ Redick who they both have long term for relatively cheap.  Both of these players are guys who you want on a championship team, as they play good defense, can shoot the ball, are above average ball handlers, and good passers.  Neither of these guys are top tier players, but these are the kinds of pieces that are essential to winning championships.

Another key move the Clippers made this off-season was inking Matt Barnes to a 3yr/$11M deal.  Barnes is a great hustle guy, and a great defender and does exactly what you want a player like him to do.  He's physical, and he plays with a "if you're not on my team I don't like you" attitude, which is great when he's on your team.

The key point for the Clippers this offseason however, was the resigning of Chris Paul to a 5 year deal.  Paul is hands down the best point guard in the league and locking him up long term is huge for this organization.  On the topic of point guards I also think that bringing in Darren Collison was a great move.  Collison is easily a starting caliber point guard and he thrived in New Orleans as Paul's backup, he should be a very key addition this next season.

2. Golden State Warriors

I get it, this might be unpopular but if you watched what the Warriors did in the post season last year then you have to agree with this.  The biggest caveat here is whether or not Stephen Curry can stay healthy, when Curry is healthy he's easily one of the most pure scorers in the league.  Should Curry play the entire season at the level he is capable of there is no reason this team should finish anywhere below 2nd in the West.

The biggest move the Warriors made was making some key trades to shed salary.  Richard Jefferson and Andres Biedrins are both gone, and with the money they acquired they were able to sign Andre Igoudala.  Igoudala is easily one of my favorite players in the league because he goes out and gives you 110% on both ends of the floor every night.  He's a pretty efficient scorer, rebounds well, and is an above average passer.  Furthermore, Igoudala plays suffocating defense which is sure to help this pretty young Golden State team.

David Lee will be back and healthy and although he's a liability on defense he can still score and rebound at extremely efficient rates.  Klay Thompson will be back and he looks to be continue getting better and better. Harrison Barnes has unquestionably accepted his move to the bench with Igoudala, but he will definitely see some big minutes at both the PF and SF positions.  Barnes was an absolute force playing the PF position last year in the post season when David Lee went down with an injury, and it should be expected that he will build on his great play from last year.

The departure of Carl Landry may hurt, but Draymond Green and Barnes both proved they could play the PF so it shouldn't have too terrible of an impact.  Marreese Speights is also still on the roster and he should be able to provide at least some filler minutes at the position if needed. 

Make no mistake, this team was pretty darn good last season, and they should be much better this next season.

3. Houston Rockets

The Rockets arguably made the biggest move this offseason in acquiring Dwight Howard.  This move alone immediately puts them into championship contention, and gives them the ability to win the Western Conference.  I'm sure some people will think it's absurd for me to rank them behind Golden State and the Clippers, but I have my reasons.

Is Dwight Howard still a dominant center? Absolutely.  Is Dwight Howard still the same player he was around 2009/2010? I'm not so sure.  Dwight is a beast on both ends of the floor, but he still has a very limited offensive game.  He has no mid-range jumper, and no post moves that are above average.  Dwight has had success offensively because he is big and strong and athletic and can move players out of the way in order to get dunks or easy looks at the basket.  This is fine, as he's been a very efficient scorer over the past few years, but there is one significant issue.  Dwight's body has begun to break down a bit, as he is very physical, and defenders are often very physical with him.  All anyone has to do is look back to to his back injury from two years ago, and his shoulder injury from last season to be concerned for him.  Howard was clearly not quite the player that he's always been last season, and that should be the cause for some concern.

Of course the issues with Howard could be all speculation and he could return to his peak form, which would obviously not be surprising he is only 27 years old after all.  Not to mention Howard is at his best when he has shooters surrounding him (see his '09 playoff run in Orlando).  Howard will have no shortage of shooters surrounding him in Houston.  Nearly every guard and small forward on this Houston team is an above average shooter.  Patrick Beverly, Francisco Garcia, Chandler Parsons, Omri Casspi, and Aaron Brooks all shot above 35% from long range last season.  Throw in Jeremy Lin and Reggie Williams who also shoot above 30% and you've got a pretty solid group of players who can hit from long range.  This doesn't even include James Harden who shot 37% from three last season, and showed that he is one of the most dynamic scorers in basketball.

Obviously, pairing Howard and Harden should look great on paper, as Harden was exactly what Howard missed during his time in Orlando.  Sure, Orlando had the shooters like Houston does, but they never had a great slasher who could get to the rim on his own.  Harden can definitely do that, and that could very well be what gets Dwight his first ring ever.

4. San Antonio Spurs

Every year you hear the same old thing, "the Spurs' title window is closing" "the Spurs are too old" "Tim Duncan isn't the same player he used to be" etc.  I think the Spurs have proven to us these last two years that anyone who says that is full of it.  Yes, the Spurs are another year older, but they just took the best team in basketball to seven games in the NBA Finals and were two missed free throws away from winning their fifth title of the Tim Duncan era.

The Spurs brought back Manu Ginobli for two years and only $14M, and Tony Parker is coming off of what was an MVP caliber season.  Sure Ginobli struggled in the finals, but he was still a pretty damn good player during the regular season and I don't expect his game to deteriorate that quickly.  As I mentioned Parker is also back and he just continues to get better and better and I fully expect him to be a top five point guard, or at least in the conversation for top five point guards next season.

Tim Duncan is coming off his best year out of his last three years and I don't see this guy slowing down anytime soon.  Duncan is still a crafty passer, can still shoot the mid range, still rebounds very efficiently, and is so fundamental on the low block he's still a force to be reckoned with.  It's also worth mentioning that Kawhi Leonard looks like he's getting comfortable being a scorer instead of just a great defender/corner 3pt specialist.  This is huge as Kawhi looks like he could very well blossom into an Andre Igoudala/Luol Deng type this next season, which is a kind of player every championship team needs.

The Spurs also happen to be coached by the best coach in the NBA in Greg Poppovich.  Somehow this guy manages to get the most obscure of role players to fit into his system and make an impact, and he can pretty much out x and o any other coach in the league on any given night.  So, go ahead and count the Spurs out, but we'll see where they are come April.

5. Oklahoma City

Blasphemy? Maybe.  I mean, it sure could be considering the Thunder have two top 10 players in the league, but I don't think they have gotten better in any capacity.

Yes, Kevin Durant is great, he's easily a top five player but he struggled last season to get his team past the Grizzlies when Westbrook went down.  I understand that Westbrook will be back this next season, but apart from the two of them who do they really have? Kevin Martin is gone, James Harden is obviously gone, Serge Ibaka looks like he's reached his peak offensively, and lord knows Kendrick Perkins isn't going to be a scorer.  I'll admit that I've always been a big fan of Jeremy Lamb, but I don't see him coming off the bench and being an instant scorer, at least not on the level Martin or Harden was.

Another thing that concerns me about Oklahoma City is their coaching.  Scott Brooks is not a good coach, and that's all there is to it.  But wait, he's won so many games over the past few years and got them to the finals.  No, make no mistake the Thunder have accomplished as much as they have because of how talented they've been and how good their chemistry is.  Brooks' offensive sets are extremely poor which is why you end up with Westbrook still dribbling around with eight seconds left on the shot clock.  Seriously, watch Kevin Durant when he doesn't have the ball, he literally just stands around 90% of the time.  If the Thunder want to get to the next level they definitely need better coaching.

Again, I'm hesitant to put Oklahoma City much further lower than five strictly because of Durant and Westbrook, but the Grizzlies very well could overtake them.  Speaking of the Grizzlies..

6. Memphis Grizzlies 

Memphis is probably the most intriguing team here because they very well could finish anywhere from 6th to 2nd.  Though Memphis declined to rehire coach Lionel Hollins, a coach who I have a great deal of respect for I think Memphis is still a complete enough team that they can work with nearly any system they are presented with under new coach David Joerger.  Joerger reminds me a lot of Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau in that he preaches excellent defense, and the Grizzlies have improved tremendously with Joerger on the coaching staff.

Memphis' defense is predicated by Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince, and reigning defensive player of the year Marc Gasol.  Prince and Allen are two of the better perimeter defenders in the league, and though they aren't getting any younger it doesn't appear that they're slowing down any on the defensive end of the floor.  Having Gasol in the middle also allows Memphis' defenders to gamble a bit more because he is so effective at patrolling the paint and moving quickly between his man and a player attacking the rim, and then back to his man again.  The Grizzlies also have some tremendous defenders off the bench, which makes them a tough team to match up against at any time.

Mike Conley Jr. has proven over the last couple seasons, and last post season that he is one of the better point guards in the league.  An elite point guard? Probably not, but he has improved every season that he's been in the NBA and would definitely be the starter for most teams.  Conley can play extremely good defense, which was evident in the way he handled Clippers point guard Chris Paul during the playoffs this past season.  Conley is also extremely effective and running the Grizzlies offense, and has proved that he is a capable scorer and a quite crafty passer. 

Memphis' greatest offensive strength is without question is their low post game.  Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are two of the most efficient post players in the league and the focal point of the Memphis offense.  Both players are extremely hard to match up with in the post as they're both extremely physical, but also have a great deal of finesse to their offensive games.  Randolph and Gasol both seem to up their games on the big stage in the playoffs and I would expect that trend to continue into next season.  

Once a maligned franchise, the Grizzlies are a team nobody should take lightly now.

7. New Orleans Pelicans

The Hornets Pelicans look to make the playoffs for the first time in a long time this coming season.  The Pelicans were quite active this offseason in acquiring Jrue Holiday via a draft day trade, and signing former Kings guard Tyreke Evans to a 4yr/$44M contract after acquiring him through a three team trade with Portland and Sacramento.  Evans certainly has his fair share of critics, but I am not one of them.  Unfortunately Evans was playing in a very, very crowded back court in Sacramento, but should be able to get some solid minutes for the Pelicans and be able to play up to his potential.

Make no mistake, this team is going to score, and they're going to score a lot. I fully expect the starters to be Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis.  Though this lineup is somewhat small, that appears to be the trend in the current NBA and this Pelicans roster should have no trouble with that. Al-Farouq Aminu may start in place of Evans who could be some very much needed firepower off the bench, but if not there's nothing wrong with this starting five.  Every single one of these players can score the basketball at a pretty efficient rate, and between Holiday, Evans, and Gordon they have some very, very capable ball handlers.  

Should this ultimately be the starting five for New Orleans they should be very difficult to match up with.  Holiday, Evans, Gordon and Anderson can all shoot from long range, and Davis has an extremely efficient mid-range game but can also play down low, as can Anderson.  Gordon, Holiday and Evans can also all attack the rim, and can create their own shots which will open up opportunities for everyone on the floor which leads me to believe this team will be in some top offensive categories.

Defense may be somewhat of an issue for New Orleans as they traded away Robin Lopez, and they aren't very deep in terms of big men to protect the paint.  Stiemsma is serviceable but he is not Robin Lopez.  Further, apart from Anthony Davis none of New Orleans top five players are really known for their defense.  This isn't to say they're bad defenders, but they're pretty average.

The Pelicans this next season will definitely be one of those teams you're probably going to want to purchase League Pass to watch because they're going to light up the scoreboard.  I'm excited for the future of this team, and you should be too.

8. Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets are coming off their best season in franchise history in which they logged 57 wins.  Coach George Karl won Coach of The Year and it looked like Masai Ujiri had put together a potential contender even winning Executive of The Year honors.  Instead, Ujiri left for Toronto, and George Karl was subsequently fired.  Obviously the firing of Karl is a bit of head scratcher, but sometimes teams just run their courses with a certain coach, as we saw back in 2008 when Dallas fired coach Avery Johnson after two consecutive first round exits in the playoffs.  Karl has struggled similarly in the playoffs being bounced in the first round the past three seasons.

The most notable departure for Denver is Andre Igoudala who signed with Golden State this offseason.  Igoudala was the perfect fit for the team philosophy under Karl, and his departure may have played a significant role in him leaving the team.  This move definitely hurts Denver on both ends of the floor as Igoudala is a highly skilled defender, and a good offensive player who has one of the best all around games in the league.

The Nuggets will still probably run their high-octane offense that they've been known for the past few seasons, especially since Ty Lawson is still running the point guard.  Lawson should continue to improve as a point guard and a scorer and I fully expect him to have a career year.  I expect Gallinari to be back and healthy, and if Wilson Chandler can be the player he was when he was acquired from New York in the Carmelo Anthony trade this team may very well over achieve.  

Despite Karl and Igoudala being gone the Nuggets still boast one of the deepest benches in the league.  Nearly every single player they bring off the bench is a capable player, and I expect that to help them immensely in their bid for the playoffs.  Defensively they are also still pretty deep and though they won't quite be as good as last year I still think they'll be a tough out for anyone.

9. Dallas Mavericks

Dallas will probably miss the playoffs again this next season, as they haven't really done anything to improve their roster from last season.  Yes, they still have Dirk, and he will be healthy next season, and Monta Ellis may end up being a good fit for this team but otherwise what do they really have?  

Dallas signed DeJuan Blair and Samuel Dalembert this offseason which should help them out underneath, and Shawn Marion will return to Dallas this next season which definitely bolsters their front court defensively.  Jae Crowder will be coming off the bench and in his rookie season last year he showed that he is a capable defender off the bench and can score the ball fairly well.

The Mavs should still be able to score the ball pretty well this upcoming season.  Obviously Dirk is still an elite offensive player and Monta Ellis can score pretty well albeit at a sometimes very inefficient rate. Marion is still a decent scorer and Vince Carter has proven that though his age is beginning to show and he's not throwing down monstrous dunks that he can still be a very efficient scorer.

Dallas is definitely not a bad team by any means, but I also don't think they're necessarily a good team either.  They're fairly average and they may make the playoffs, but as of right now I don't see that happening.

10. Los Angeles Lakers

Yes, the Lakers are going to miss the playoffs next season.  I know everyone thinks that Kobe will be back earlier than most are when it comes to a serious injury such as achilles tear, and he might because yes Kobe is a different breed.  However, most players are simply not the same when it comes to returning from this injury.  Kyle Wagner of Deadspin broke down how achilles injuries affect NBA players in a really interesting article back in April.

So, I assume that Kobe won't be back until at least a quarter into the season and in my opinion I think that's being somewhat generous, which means the Lakers are going to have a threadbare roster and are going to struggle in a deep Western Conference.

Los Angeles has refused to commit to contracts beyond one year deals for free agents next season as they hope to compete for LeBron or Carmelo after 2014.  That said, the Lakers did manage to bring in some decent talent on the cheap.  They signed Nick Young to a one year deal, and though he's not the most efficient scorer he can still light it up.  Former Mavericks and Clippers center Chris Kaman was also signed to a one year deal and make no mistake Kaman can definitely still play.  Wesley Johnson was the number four pick back in 2010 and he was signed to a one year veterans minimum deal and he may live up to his potential next season.  

The Lakers still have Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, but both players appear to be out of their prime and very much in the twilight of their careers.  Ron Artest is no longer on the roster as he was a casualty of the amnesty clause, and oh, yeah Dwight Howard is gone.  Obviously Dwight leaving is the most glaring loss of the offseason for the Lakers and leaves the Lakers pretty much barren for the next few seasons. 

The Lakers have no draft picks available until 2017, so I expect them to have some pretty thin years over the next few seasons, and unless they land a high profile free agent they are going to continue to struggle.  So rehab that achilles Kobe, because these Lakers are desperately going to need you.

11. Portland Trailblazers

The Trailblazers are getting there.  Damian Lillard has shown that he will be an elite point guard in the future, LaMarcus Aldridge has been playing at an all star level, and Nic Batum has proven to be an excellent defender and a solid offensive player.  This is an excellent core for the Blazers who struggled somewhat greatly last season and look poised to miss out on the playoffs again.

The Blazers have a pretty darn good core with those three players I listed above, and don't get me wrong Wesley Matthews is no slouch on an NBA court either, but they desperately need some depth.  CJ McCollum was an excellent draft pick and he should have no problems playing alongside Damian Lillard as the two have very similar games.  Thomas Robinson was also a great pickup this offseason.  Although T-Rob hasn't necessarily been what everyone predicted he would be in the NBA he's a solid front court player and should be able to provide some solid minutes off the bench.  The Blazers also nabbed Robin Lopez from New Orleans in a three team deal this Summer.  Lopez is coming off his best year as a pro and will be the starter in the middle for the Blazers.  Lopez gives them a good defensive presence, and some much needed size which they missed out on last year with JJ Hickson playing the center position.  

Dorell Wright was obviously a good addition as they were able to sign him fairly cheap and he will provide some depth at the small forward position.  Wright can shoot and is a pretty decent defender which is something Portland has desperately needed.  Allen Crabbe who was drafted from California will also probably get a decent amount of playing time, as he can shoot the ball from anywhere on the floor and shooters are something every team needs off the bench.

The Blazers obviously did an excellent job of bolstering their bench this offseason, but they're still very young which leads me to believe they'll struggle. However, like I said, they're getting there and they may very well catch some teams by surprise this year.

12.  Minnesota Timberwolves

I've been expecting the Timberwolves to get over the hump for around the past three seasons, and they just haven't been able to do it.  I've realized that these expectations are ridiculous and they won't be much of a contender next season.

Kevin Love will be healthy next year which is going to be big for the Timberwolves, but even a healthy Kevin Love is not vaulting this team to anywhere near playoff contention.  Make no mistake, Kevin Love is one of the best, if not the best power forward in the league, but plain and simple he cannot do it all himself.  Ricky Rubio should also be 100% this season, and he is one of the most fun point guards in the league to watch but Rubio still isn't an elite point guard and will need to raise his game significantly if the Timberwolves are going to have a shot.

The T-Wolves have been fairly active this offseason, acquiring Shabazz Muhammad through the draft, and Corey Brewer, Kevin Martin and Ronnie Turiaf through free agency.  Martin is not quite the player he used to be, but he can still definitely put the ball in the hoop, something Minnesota desperately needs from their wing players, and Brewer will bolster their perimeter defense.  Muhammad should hopefully contribute offensively for Minnesota as he was a great scorer in college, and, as mentioned, the T-Wolves are in very desperate need from high offensive production out of their wing players.  Turiaf will add some front court depth, but if Nikola Pekovic doesn't resign Turiaf may have to start, and that's not something that any team would want.

Speaking of Pekovic why the hell hasn't this guy signed already?  I mean, seriously does he think anyone is going to give him a better offer than the 4yr/$50M offer he received from Minnesota?  Seriously, take that money and run.  Not to mention the guy's from Russia so he can definitely play in the cold weather.  All jokes aside Minnesota better hope they resign him, or they're going to finish a hell of a lot worse than 12th.

13. Utah Jazz

Utah is in rebuild mode like several other teams at the bottom, and that's completely fine.  Al Jefferson is gone, Paul Millsap is in Atlanta, and Mo Williams will probably sign with Memphis.  

Utah started their rebuilding project by drafting NCAA Player of The Year Trey Burke from Michigan.  Burke was an absolute standout in two years of college, and I think he will be an effective point guard for Utah.  I know there are naysayers who will say "oh he struggled in the Summer League" well, if you think Summer League stats have anything to do with actual NBA Production than you're full of shit.  Adam Morrison averaged 25ppg in the Summer League and where is he? Oh yeah, out of basketball.

This next season will allow Utah to see how far Derrick Favors and Alec Burks have come.  Both have been decent NBA players in their own right, but it's now time for them to play at a much higher level.  Gordon Hayward should also hopefully continue to trend his game upward, and if that happens Utah may have a pretty good young core of Burke, Hayward, Burks, and Favors.  

Utah's bench is very thin, but that's okay because this team should be looking forward to the 2014 draft and salivating.  Their bench is not going to help them win games, in fact it will probably help them lose quite a few which means they should get a very, very good draft pick and this next draft class appears to be loaded.  

Utah traded with Golden State this past offseason to acquire Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins, two players who after this season will be off the books.  Marvin Williams also has an expiring contract which means the Jazz will be shedding somewhere around $27.5M in salary which will make them players in the free agent market over the next few seasons.

14. Sacramento Kings

I don't know when the Kings are going to turn it around but it's not anytime soon that's for sure.  They've been in lottery the last seven years and have been just absolutely abysmal.  None of their draft picks besides Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins have turned into anything other than average NBA role players, which is very, very concerning for a franchise in the shape their in.

Sacramento drafted Ben McLemore with the 8th pick this past year and McLemore looks like he could be a future star in the league.  Again, the kid struggled in the Summer League but you already know how I feel about Summer League play.  McLemore has all the potential, and all the athleticism, let's just hope he works to get there.  Sometimes players with McLemore's ability end up going into situations like the Kings are in and never get any better, but I expect coach Mike Malone to get the most out of him.

The one bright spot for the Kings right now is that DeMarcus Cousins has said he wants to stay in Sacramento and seems to really mean it.  It's always very rare for a star player to want to continue to play for a losing organization, and you really have to respect Cousins' loyalty in this situation.  Yes, he has his maturity issues, but I would say this is a good sign that he's working on that and I fully expect him to be the cornerstone of this organization for a long time to come.

Sacramento narrowly avoided having their team sold to Seattle last season, so the new Kings management better turn this team around and fast, or they'll be in that conversation for awhile.  Fortunately, they're getting a new arena, moving out of Arco which is so old it's absurd, and the Maloof brothers are no longer running the franchise.

P.S. - Kings fans, go to the fucking games.  Seriously, I'm from Iowa and we have no pro sports teams here.  You somehow managed to keep your team around, so you better damn well appreciate them. I don't care how bad they are.

15. Phoenix Suns

Is there anyone else to put here?  I mean the Suns are easily going to be the worst team in the league this upcoming year.  Phoenix seriously has nothing in terms of good players, but they do have some assets and they look poised to win the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes this upcoming season.

Phoenix acquired Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler this summer in exchange for Jared Dudley.  Bledsoe and Butler are both expiring contracts which means they're definitely worth something.  Phoenix also traded Luis Scola who still had quite a few years and a considerable amount of money left on his contract for Miles Plumlee, and Gerald Green from Indiana.  Green and Plumlee are both on the cheap, and should also help this team tank for 2014.

Phoenix is seriously going to be just absolutely horrendous next season, but hopefully they can flip what assets they do have into more draft picks for the 2014 draft, and prepare themselves for the future.  Don't worry Suns fans, though you can't see the horizon yet, and it's a great uphill battle, the team is starting to look prepared for a turn around.

Follow me on Twitter @DbRedickulous

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Breaking Down The Phoenix-LA Clippers-Milwaukee Trade

I know I'm late to the party on this one, but I'd be remiss if I didn't write a post about my favorite player being traded, I mean the blog is named after the guy after all.  So yeah, a couple weeks ago the Clippers dealt backup point guard Eric Bledsoe and small forward Caron Butler to the Phoenix Suns for Jared Dudley, and completing a sign and trade with Milwaukee for JJ Redick in exchange for two second round picks.

If your first reaction to this trade was something along the lines of "holy hell the Clippers just got way, way better" than you obviously know at least something about the NBA.  Yes, the Clippers just got extremely better and they gave away next to nothing to get it.  Sure, Eric Bledsoe is a pretty damn good player, and is definitely starting caliber in the league, but his rookie deal is up after this season and the Clippers would have had to pay him a considerable chunk of money.  Obviously that was never going to be the case, but it was interesting to see what they were going to get for Bledsoe who was pretty highly coveted by a lot of teams.  Ultimately, they struck a three team deal with Milwaukee and Phoenix, and it appears that they may have struck championship oil.

Last season the Clippers were one of the premiere teams in the league.  They had pretty good depth, some decent size, and the best point guard in the league running their offense.  Unfortunately, they were extremely poorly coached, and while they had a decent bench with lots of capable players, Jamal Crawford was the only real scoring threat off the bench.  These are things that separate good teams, from championship caliber teams.  The addition of Redick and Dudley have vaulted the Clippers into the realm of championship caliber teams, and should get a great deal of consideration to finish 1st in the Western Conference this next season.

Redick and Dudley are obviously by no means elite players, but they're very, very good players.  Redick and Dudley are both players who do every thing you want out of a role player.  Both of these guys play good defense, hustle on both ends of the floor, are above average shooters, can handle the ball decently well, are great at moving the ball and making the extra pass, and are capable of scoring 20 points on a given night.  These are the exact kinds of players that you want when you're trying to move your team from very good, to elite.  

Redick will more than likely end up starting at the shooting guard position, and Dudley will more than likely start at the small forward.  There's a chance that Jamal Crawford may start in place of Redick, but I fully expect Doc Rivers to use Crawford off the bench as he's an instant offense guy when you're resting your starters.  As I mentioned Redick and Dudley can both shoot the ball from the perimeter at an extremely efficient rate, which will benefit the other Clippers starters greatly.  Chris Paul will be able to create for himself, or his teammates and will be able to have a high amount of confidence in his wing players to knock down shots. This will be huge for the Clippers as defenders will have to decide whether they're going to help off on Paul leaving a 40% career shooter from the arc open, or stick to their man and leave Chris Paul's defender in a one on one matchup, neither of these seem ideal for the defense to me.

Alright, so it's no secret that the Phoenix Suns are currently one of the worst teams in the league.  They don't have a whole lot of assets, they're still paying Michael Beasley $12.25M over the next two seasons, and they don't any big time play makers or scorers.  While I don't know exactly what Bledsoe will bring to the table, it seems to be the consensus among several GMs that Bledsoe has the potential to be a serious playmaker.

While Bledsoe may very well be a long term option in Phoenix I have to doubt that's the case.  Phoenix inked Goran Dragic to a long term deal last year, and he is a very capable point guard when he has talent around him.  Bledsoe will definitely contribute for Phoenix, I have zero doubt about that, but what Bledsoe really brings to the table is a very, very valuable asset that many teams will most likely be vying for at the deadline.  First of all, his contract expires at the end of this season, which means even if Phoenix doesn't trade him they will have cleared out a good deal of cap space.  However, should they trade him, there will be some teams who are in contention looking to add one more piece that they can get on a rental, and that of course is always a valuable asset to have.  

While I fully expect the Suns to move Bledsoe for some picks and some cheap contracts, I wouldn't at all be surprised if they keep him the full year and then let his deal expire.  Bledsoe is not going to turn this franchise around, that is cut and dry, so that means that the Suns will still be very, very bad next season putting them in contention for a top pick in a very talented 2014 draft class. 

Butler is also a very valuable asset in that he too is an expiring contract and he's a solid veteran who has a good enough offensive and defensive game for any teams looking to acquire a piece like this at the deadline.  Again, Phoenix could either choose to trade him for some future assets, or let his contract expire and save themselves the cap space, either route looks like it will have a favorable conclusion for Phoenix.

When it comes down to it, Phoenix managed to put themselves in a great position to rebuild with this trade.  They shed a long term deal with Dudley, and brought in to pretty valuable assets.  Overall, this should help the Suns in their quest to move back towards the top of the Western Conference.

Does that look like the face of a guy who got hosed?  Because to me that looks like a guy that got hosed, and it should, because plain and simple John Hammond (no not the Jurassic Park guy, but that would be sweet) got hosed.  Seriously, I don't think there's a franchise being more mismanaged than the Milwaukee Bucks are currently under John Hammond.

So, Hammond makes a deal at last years deadline, sending Beno Udrih, Doron Lamb, and Tobias Harris to Orlando for JJ Redick, Ish Smith, and Gustavo Ayon.  The way everyone, myself included, saw this deal was that Redick was the prize, a guy who could help out Milwaukee off the bench and who could be the answer at shooting guard should they not resign Monta Ellis.  Instead, Tobias Harris went to Orlando and looked like a star, and Milwaukee barely even gave Redick minutes which doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Ultimately, Milwaukee traded what looks to be a great young player in Tobias Harris, and a decent young player in Doron Lamb for TWO 2ND ROUND DRAFT PICKS.  How John Hammond still has a job here is beyond me, but I shouldn't be that surprised, considering he's employed by the Milwaukee Bucks.

Follow me on Twitter - @DbRedickulous

The Lakers Are Clearing Cap Space For a Run at Lebron And Carmelo


Take a good long look at those photos, because that very well could be a reality after the Summer of 2014.  According to ESPN Reporters Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst the Lakers are refusing to sign anyone to a deal longer than a year in order to maximize their cap space to make a run at a big name free agent.

After the 2013/14 season the Lakers will only be on the hook for around $10M in salary.  The NBA announced on July 10th that the salary cap for this season would be set at $58.679M which means the Lakers have roughly $48M to spend on free agents.  What this means is the Lakers could potentially bring in two big names in the summer of 2014, which would completely revitalize a Lakers squad that looks poised to struggle next season.

The question here is whether or not LeBron or Carmelo would even be willing to exercise their early opt out clauses in their contracts and leave their current situations.  Neither of the two are strangers to leaving their former franchises in search for greener pastures, and both would obviously like to play in situations that give them the opportunity to win multiple championships.

I have to believe that it is inherently more likely for Carmelo to opt out of his contract.  This is not because he wants to leave New York, but because he will be looking for a long term contract, and he will be able to weigh his options.   I believe Anthony would thrive in Los Angeles as he has shown that he can play in a big, media intensive market during his time in New York.  I have to imagine that the thought of being the next big superstar in Los Angeles would be quite alluring to Carmelo, even if he would have to play with Kobe for at least a couple of those years.  

Carmelo also wants to win championships, and though New York is trying to build a team around him to accomplish that the team he's playing for looks an awful lot like the team he played with in Denver.  I realize that New York is a big time market and will attract players to come play with him, but the Lakers have a much a greater appeal than the big apple, considering the fact that it's warm nearly year round.  The Lakers will also have the cap space to bring on other high profile talent that they can place around Carmelo and are no strangers to paying the luxury tax.  I would not be surprised at all if Carmelo decides to head to Los Angeles on a long term deal there, however I wouldn't be surprised if he stays with the Knicks as he is known for calling New York "his city."

Lebron going to Los Angeles is far less feasible.  Though I don't doubt he would consider it, LeBron wants to go somewhere, where he'll be able to compete for championships.  While Los Angeles is certainly that place, and while he could go there and pair with other stars much as he did in Miami I don't think LeBron truly wants to be a Laker.  Another factor that may be at work here, is that I highly doubt Kobe Bryant is going to be pushing management for a guy like LeBron to come into his town and take over his team and potentially win more rings than him.  Kobe is a competitor, and I'd imagine the last thing he'd want is someone to steal his legacy in Los Angeles while he's still around, and LeBron poses a much greater threat to that than Carmelo.

While LeBron is clearly enjoying his time playing in South Beach, LeBron also still has a fondness for his home state of Ohio.  Personally, I feel that when LeBron looks back at his career and the rings he won he'll wish that he won them back in Cleveland, which is exactly why I believe that is LeBron's next destination should he leave Miami.  Cleveland clearly has a plan in place with some very, very good young talent in Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, and a still somewhat developing Dion Waiters (take better shots man).  Cleveland will have the financial resources, and by signing Andrew Bynum they've given themselves another asset that may intrigue LeBron.  While Bynum is only on a one year deal with a player option for the second year the Cavaliers could very well resign him should LeBron decide he wants to head back home.

I'm sure many people think that LeBron going back to Cleveland as his supporters there feel that he turned their back on him, but could you honestly sit there and tell me that Cleveland fans wouldn't welcome James back with open arms?  Not to mention the fact that James loves media attention, he thrives on it, he revels in it, and imagine this story:  The Prodigal Son Has Returned: LeBron James to Leave South Beach For Cleveland.  There would truly be no bigger storyline in perhaps of all of sports should that happen (which means ESPN will shove it down our throats for a year or so) and I would be hooked on watching LeBron try to deliver a title back to his hometown.  Doesn't sound so far fetched now does it?

Of course the one question mark that remains here is Kobe Bryant.  I briefly discussed what that means for signing LeBron, but he could also hinder the signing of others because he does not wish to take a paycut.  This could be problematic for the Lakers in terms of bringing in expensive players as Kobe will probably be making somewhere around $20M or more annually which takes about half of the Lakers' cap space away.  However, should Kobe end up taking less money it's possible for the Lakers to bring in both LeBron and Carmelo, which would obviously be an immediate contender.  While I highly doubt that would happen, it's always in the realm of possibilities.

Another thing to consider here is Pau Gasol.  Gasol is one of the contracts that will be expiring at the end of this season, and it's highly unlikely that Gasol will be getting a huge contract.  However, he can definitely still play and would be an extremely valuable piece should the Lakers get LeBron or Carmelo.  Should both LeBron and Carmelo choose to opt out of their contract how long do the Lakers pursue these players before trying to extend Gasol? Do they extend Gasol at all?  It will be very interesting to see the moves they make.

At the end of the day this is all speculation, and the Lakers may sign neither LeBron, or Carmelo.  The Lakers obviously need to make moves now, and bring a franchise leader aboard, as Kobe isn't getting younger and they don't have any draft picks all the way until 2017.  

Should this happen though? Well, that's a damn scary team to look at.

Follow me on Twitter - @DbRedickulous

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

So, Dwight Howard is a Rocket. Re-evaluating The Howard Trade From Last Summer

At long last the three-ring circus is over, and after two tumultuous offseasons Dwight Howard officially has a home for the long term.  The circus that has come with Dwight Howard over the past couple years has been an abhorrent nightmare, one that SportsCenter shoved down the throats of every NBA fan.  Dwight has made his comments about loyalty, he has wavered on where he's going, he has demanded to play in certain areas, and his image has taken an absolute beating.  However, Dwight Howard and his immaturity appear to finally have found a home.

Daryl Morey, the current GM for the Houston Rockets has been pushing for a marquee player since last off-season and now it appears that he finally has one.  Morey made a play for Howard last off-season when he pursued a trade with Orlando, one that Magic GM Rob Hennigan promptly rejected.  Morey ultimately ended up trading pennies on the dollar for James Harden who appears to be a superstar in the making, and signing Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, as consolation prizes.  Morey did not give up however, and ultimately managed to land his guy, someone who will put fans in the stands, and could potentially be the asset that vaults Houston into the realm of contenders.  

So, how did Dwight ultimately become a Rocket?  I could go way back and talk about Otis Smith's incompetence, but I'm not trying to give myself an ulcer recalling how Otis Smith ultimately deteriorated my favorite team, so I will instead start with Rob Hennigan's genius. Last Summer Howard was demanding a trade to Brooklyn, and Brooklyn offered a deal that appeared to be the best the Magic were going to receive.  The deal was not ideal for Orlando, but it appeared all but inevitable that they would accept and that Dwight would be a Brooklyn Net, but the Nets were unable to find a fourth team to facilitate the trade and the deal died.  So both teams pressed on, Orlando looking for the best possible deal and the Nets frantically trying to find a way to land Howard, something they ultimately failed at.
 Oh what could have been

Though Dwight's insistence that he be traded nowhere other than Brooklyn, as that was the only place he said he would sign an extension Hennigan continued to call other teams that wanted Howard, and other teams that wanted Howard continued to call Hennigan, and finally, on August 10, 2012 Howard was dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers.  The Howard trade was facilitated between four teams, Orlando, Los Angeles, Denver, and Philly.  Denver received Andre Igoudala from Philly, Philly received Andrew Bynum from Los Angeles, Los Angeles received Dwight Howard, Earl Clark, and Chris Duhon from Orlando, and Orlando received a protected first round pick, Nikola Vucevic, and Moe Harkless from Philly, Arron Afflalo, and Al Harrington from Denver, a protected first round pick, Josh McRoberts, and Christian Eyenga from the Lakers and a first round pick from either the Nuggets or the Knicks.

When the trade was first announced it appeared that Orlando had traded Howard for pennies on the dollar, and several analysts felt that Orlando had handed the Lakers, who had also just secured Steve Nash, another championship.  New Orlando GM Rob Hennigan was also criticized for not even at least getting Andrew Bynum who was widely considered to be the 2nd best center in the league and someone who Orlando could surround with young talent for the future.  Yes it appeared that everyone else got something better than Orlando did.  Philly got a nice piece to help them further contend in Andrew Bynum, Denver got an athletic, defensive minded wing who would fit nicely in the up tempo offense George Karl was employing at the time, and Los Angeles got the most dominant center in the league in Dwight Howard.  Yes, this trade seemed to have worked out for everyone but Orlando who got some draft picks and some young pieces nobody thought too highly of, and yet as of today it's hard to argue that Orlando didn't win this trade.

First of all, Andrew Bynum sat out the entire year with a knee injury and never played a single minute for the 76ers this past season.  The 76ers eventually became a lottery team, and blew up their young core when they traded Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans for the draft rights to Nerlens Noel, and a 2014 first round pick, and they don't appear to have any plans to resign Bynum which would suggest they are going into full blown rebuilding mode.  Because of this, you could argue that the 76ers actually took a few steps backwards in terms of where they went with this trade considering they traded two nice young pieces in Vucevic and Moe Harkless as well as a savvy veteran in Andre Igoudala only to end up rebuilding instead of making the playoffs. 

There were so many great photos of Bynum, but I had to choose this one

Denver had a pretty great season and Igoudala seemed to workout nicely in the system playing good defense and putting up solid numbers on the offensive end (13ppg, 5.4 assists, 5.3 rebounds, on 45% shooting).  However Denver was ultimately bounced in the first round of the playoffs by Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.  George Karl was eventually fired, and just recently Igoudala was signed by, who else but the Golden State Warriors.  This is unfortunate for Denver because they've not only lost a first round pick in a loaded 2014 draft, but they also lost a very talented wing player in Afflalo, and got absolutely nothing back for Igoudala.  Denver can easily also be ranked as another loser of this trade.

This of course brings us to the Lakers.  Los Angeles traded for Dwight Howard who was supposed to be the next superstar to wear a Lakers uniform.  Howard was supposed to be the next great Lakers center joining the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Shaquille O'Neal.  This was Howard's chance to ascend into greatness, nevermind that he had immaturity levels, that his leadership was questioned in Orlando, or the fact that he got Stan Van Gundy fired.  This guy was a franchise changer, a guy who could help Kobe get one more ring and ultimately put him in the discussion for GOAT.  Sure, the baggage that he came with was bad, but Kobe would be able to get him to grow up right?  Surely Dwight Howard wouldn't whine and complain when he was on a team featuring Kobe Bryant, the man known for his work ethic, his intensity, his attention to every minor detail of his game.  Unfortunately for the Lakers, none of this was true.  Howard never seemed comfortable in LA, he was injured, and despite what the two may say he and Kobe did not like each other.  Ultimately Kobe went down with a torn achilles and Dwight did nothing for the Lakers in the playoffs as they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs.  Dwight was ejected from the final game of that series and it was evident he was not coming back.  While Dwight Howard is a great basketball player, he is not mentally strong enough to handle the criticism that he had brought upon himself, and was not prepared to handle the pressures of playing in Los Angeles and being the next Lakers superstar.  Consequently, the Lakers got a mediocre season, and took on a few terrible contracts (notably Chris Duhon's) when they took on Dwight Howard, not exactly what they had hoped to receive.  Though the 76ers and the Nuggets both struck out with this trade as well, the Lakers were hands down the biggest loser of this fiasco.  They lost Howard for nothing, and they have zero draft picks going all the way until 2017.  They have little to no talent coming off the bench, an injured Kobe, an aging Gasol and little assets to trade with.  Unless the Lakers pull off a Lakers move and somehow fall ass backwards into a big time player, it could be a rough stretch for the Lakers in the next couple of years.  Speaking of the Lakers pulling of Lakers moves, how un-Laker like was this whole stay Dwight campaign?  That's not the Los Angeles Lakers that I know, or the one that the late Dr. Buss used to run.  I have zero doubts the Lakers will return to the top of the NBA, I mean it's the freaking Lakers, but I'll tell you now it's not happening anytime soon (anybody that thinks LeBron James is walking through those doors in 2014 is delusional).

Finally, we get to Orlando.  I will be completely honest, as a Magic fan I thought there was no chance in hell that we got anything of remote value for Dwight Howard and figured we'd be settling on Brooke Lopez and some other average players making us one of those middling teams that makes the ass end of the playoffs or the ass end of the lottery, in other words, basketball hell.  However, through the sheer brilliance of GM Rob Hennigan my beloved Magic somehow came out on top here.  Were any of the players we got in return in this trade superstars?  Simply put, no.  However, the young ones we received look to be key pieces in an up and coming team.  Nikola Vucevic looks to be one of the bright young big men in the game, last season he averaged 13.1 points and 11.9 rebounds per game while shooting 52% from the floor.  Those 11.9 rebounds were good for 2nd best in the league, and Vucevic even put up a 30 point 20 rebound one night against Milwaukee.  Harkless saw decent minutes at the beginning of the season, but was not a significant impact.  However, once Afflalo went down with injury, and JJ Redick was dealt to Milwaukee (yes, I teared up when I wrote that so what?) Harkless saw a sharp increase in minutes and his role.  During his time starting at the small forward position it was evident that Harkless has the tools to be an elite defender in this league as he was able to hold his own against the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and other top scorers in the NBA.  Though not a young piece Afflalo showed that he can be a solid veteran leader for this team, and unless Orlando trades him for more rebuilding pieces should be a valuable player for the remainder of his contract, as he can defend well and is an above average scorer.

Overall, this trade looks like highway robbery for Orlando, and as a Magic fan, I feel pretty damn good about that.  Nearly every other team took a couple steps back, and Orlando took a giant leap forward, kudos to you Rob Hennigan.

Follow me on Twitter - @DbRedickulous