Saturday, September 22, 2007

Follow-up on Charlie Bell

Obviously to my great suprise, the Milwaukee Bucks matched the Miami Heat's offer to guard Charlie Bell. Bell is set to make $18,500,000 over the next five seasons.

Bell is surely disapointed that he will not be able to play for the Heat in the coming seasons, but he certainly ended up making more money than he probably thought several months ago. At the end of the day, Bucks general manager Larry Harris felt that Bell was too important of a player for his team to lose. Bell will be the first guard off the bench next season, playing behind starters Mo Williams and Michael Redd. Royal Ivey and rookie Ramon Sessions will also compete for time. Swingman Desmond Mason will be used at both the shooting guard and small forward spots for Milwaukee.

With this signing, the Bucks now add Bell to the list with Redd, Williams, Gadzuric, and Jianlian to players who are locked up for the next several seasons. Additionally, both Andrew Bogut and Charlie Villanueva become restricted free agents after the 2008-09 season, and the Bucks will have to make a difficult decision as to whether to keep these players long term.

Desmond Mason is the only significant expiring contract on the Bucks payroll in the near future at $5,300,000. Between a lack of expiring contracts and upcoming long-term contracts for Villanueva and Bogut, the Bucks will have very little cap flexibility in the future seasons.

I personally would have let Bell go to the Heat and filled his spot with a group of young, inexpensive point guards, such as Dee Brown, Royal Ivey, or others. However, I certainly see from a talent perspective why Harris values Bell so greatly. Bell is a versatile guard who can defend two positions. Bell has improved each season in the league and has shown to be very durable.

With Williams, Bell, and Redd in the backcourt, Mason and Simmons on the wing, Villanueva at the power forward, and Bogut and Gadzuric at center the time is now for the Bucks to compete. Add in rookie Yi Jianlian as a wildcard, and the Bucks should be playoff contenders for the next several years. However, if Milwaukee is not able to have success immediately, it will most likely be the end of general manager Larry Harris and head coach Larry Krystkowiak's time with the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Wildcards for the Portland Trail Blazers

With the news that Portland's center, Greg Oden, will be out for the entire 2007-08 season, the Portland Trail Blazers clearly lose one of their most important pieces.

However, the Blazers still have a great deal of young talent. Jarrett Jack, Steve Blake, Sergio Rodriguez, and Taurean Green will play point guard; Brandon Roy and Rudy Fernandez will be the primary shooting guards; Martell Webster, Darius Miles, and James Jones will play the small forward spot; Channing Frye, Travis Outlaw, and Josh McRoberts will play power forward; and LaMarcus Aldridge, Raef Lafrentz, and Joel Pryzbilla will share time at the center position.

With Zach Randolph being traded in the offseason and Oden not playing this season, Portland will need someone to really step up and fill in the missing production. Randolph joined Kevin Garnett, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, and Tim Duncan as the only players last season to average more than 20 points per game, 10 rebounds per game, and 2 assists per game.

By my estimation, Darius Miles and Travis Outlaw will be the major factors to determine if Portland will be able to improve on last year's 32-win season. Outlaw will need to improve upon on his numbers from last season, his most productive year in the NBA. Outlaw, who signed a three year extension with Portland on July 18, is a terrific athlete who has shown great potential. He has made great strides in his free throw shooting accuracy and his ability to score from mid-range. Outlaw needs to continue to polish his skills on both ends of the floor, however. He is not a good ballhandler and needs to gain more strength. Defensively, Outlaw needs to concentrate more on stopping his man and provide the team with more help on the defensive boards. It will also be important for Outlaw to develop go-to post moves in order to expand his scoring abilities.

For Miles, providing scoring and versatility off the bench will be very important towards Portland's success. Miles is returning from microfracture surgery on his knee and by all indications, he has worked hard this summer in order to have a strong upcoming season.

Both Miles and Outlaw have more versatility and athleticism than any other player on the Portland roster. With Randolph being traded and Oden out for the season, this versatility will be important for Portland to continue to make strides. With most of the players on their roster, head coach Nate McMillan knows what kind of production he is going to get. However, with Miles coming off injury and Outlaw having another summer to develop, the Blazers do not know exactly what type of seasons they will have.

The "Threat" of Europe

With free agent season coming to an end, Sean Deveney of The Sporting News yesterday wrote an excellent piece called "Europe emerging as NBA free-agent option".
Europe emerging as NBA free-agent option
September 21, 2007
by Sean Deveney

First guard Charlie Bell threatens to sign with a Greek team in order to escape the Bucks, who own his rights as a restricted free agent. Then Andrei Kirilenko is quoted in a foreign newspaper as saying he would consider giving up the remaining $63 million on his contract with the Jazz to remain in Europe and leave the NBA.

And now, the agent for small forward Sasha Pavlovic says his client also would consider heading to Europe if a deal can't be reached with his current team, the Cavaliers. "We certainly are exploring that option," agent Marc Cornstein says. "We have to, absolutely. I am not saying we're in negotiations with European teams right now by any means. But it's an option. I wouldn't be doing my job if it wasn't."

Bell signed an offer sheet this week with Miami, which was matched by Milwaukee. But just nine days before the opening of training camp, three prominent restricted free agents -- Pavlovic, Anderson Varejao and Mickael Pietrus -- remain unsigned. Their difficult situations have raised the issue of NBA players -- especially restricted free agents -- leaving the league for European teams.

Pavlovic and the Cavaliers remain, according to Cornstein, "very far apart," on a new contract. The Cavaliers are also struggling through negotiations with Varejao, a power forward. The two sets of negotiations remain at a stalemate. Because of the restricted tag, the Cavaliers own the NBA rights for both players. If no long-term deal is worked out, the players would be forced to sign one-year qualifying offers. After fulfilling the year, they would be unrestricted free agents next summer, free to re-sign with the Cavaliers, or any of the league's other 29 teams.

Varejao's agent, Dan Fegan, has already indicated that if his client is forced to accept the qualifying offer, he is unlikely to return to Cleveland. As for Pavlovic, Cornstein says, "That would be something Sasha would have to say directly. But I think it is a safe bet he would not want to come back."

Similarly, Pietrus is looking like he won't be around for the long haul with the Warriors -- but there will be no threats of a European escape for Pietrus. His agent, Bill McCandless, says that Pietrus did, in fact, get a one-year offer from a Euroleague team worth more than 2 million Euros, or nearly $3 million. "But the problem is, the restricted tag does not come off when he comes back to the NBA," McCandless says. "We seriously thought about it. He probably would have gone, but in a year, he would come back to the NBA and still be a restricted free agent for the Warriors. We would have been right back where we started."

Instead, McCandless says, Pietrus would choose to simply hold out. Both sides, it seems, have exhausted sign-and-trade possibilities, especially after the Warriors nixed a two-for-one deal (plus a draft pick) the Heat put on the table last week. "There are basically two categories," McCandless says. "Some teams have come to us and worked something out, then presented it to the Warriors. There were two cases like that, where we had an agreement on money, but the Warriors turned it down. Then there are teams that contact the Warriors directly and negotiate that way. But the Warriors don't tell us what is going on with those talks."

Pietrus' best remaining option is to find a multiyear offer sheet, knowing he can give teams some assurance that the Warriors won't match any contract that goes beyond this year. If you're the Warriors, the downside of bringing Pietrus back is the negativity the situation has created. "We had a meeting with the team a couple of weeks ago, and Mickael came out thinking they love him and they're going to make him an offer," McCandless says. "But now, he's not happy. He feels stuck and he feels coerced."

That's the same feeling that is going around in Cleveland. Varejao and Pavlovic were key players in the bunch that LeBron James carried into the NBA Finals. Pavlovic blossomed after he was awarded the starting small forward spot in the second half of the season, averaging 12.7 points in 28 games as a starter. He tired late in the season, though, and slipped to 9.2 points in the playoffs.

Varejao is the team's top reserve, an excellent defender who averaged 6.8 points and 6.7 rebounds in 23.9 minutes last year.

The problem for the Cavaliers is that, with a payroll of nearly $65 million, paying sizable contracts to Varejao and Pavlovic will send them way over the luxury tax threshold, set at $65.4 million. That means the Cavs will pay a dollar tax for every dollar they agree to pay the two.

But just as significant a problem, just like in Pietrus' case, is bad blood these negotiations have created. The Cavaliers have made no significant additions this summer. The East has improved. It will be much more difficult for this team to return to the Finals next season. Even the Eastern Conference finals will be tough to reach. If the franchise is seen as moving backward, that will upset fans -- as well as James, who can be a free agent in 2010. If a backward move is coupled with losing Varejao and Pavlovic, you'll probably see a very angry James.

Cornstein says he doesn't even have plans to meet with Cavs GM Danny Ferry. "Right now, there's no reason," Cornstein says. "We're so far apart, it wouldn't make sense. If something changes, though, it's only an hour flight to Cleveland from New York. I am not stubborn."

Coincidentally, if Pavlovic did leave Cleveland for Europe, it's something Ferry should know quite a bit about. He once ducked out on the NBA for Europe -- remember, he went to Italy rather than play for the Clippers when he came out of college.

Considering the favorability of the exchange rate -- the U.S. dollar is very low against the Euro at the moment -- and considering all the perks that European teams include in their contracts (a house, a car) it very well could be that a player like Pavlovic would do better in Europe than in the NBA.

"It could happen eventually," McCandless says of restricted free agents signing in Europe. "Maybe not this year. But eventually, someone is going to give up on restricted free agency and play over in Europe."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Optimism for the Wizards

Since the end of last season, the Washington Wizards have resigned Andray Blatche and DeShawn Stevenson, drafted Nick Young and Dominic McGuire, and signed last season's draft pick, Oleksiy Pecherov. Jarvis Hayes has been the only significant player who has left the team, and he had his least productive season of his career last year.

So why are so many people predicting the Wizards to struggle to make it to the playoffs this season? With the Magic, Celtics, and Bobcats making significant additions and the Bulls, Heat, Nets, and Knicks expected to be better, the Wizards have not made drastic enough changes for many to believe they will improve on their 41-win season.

However, from the start of the season to the last game Antawn Jamison played before going down with an injury on January 30, 2007, the Washington Wizards were 26-17 and had the best record in the Eastern Conference. Jamison sprained his left knee in that game against the Pistons and was forced to miss all of February. During those first 43 games, the Wizards ranked second in points per game, second in turnovers per game, eighth in three-point percentage, and fourth in fast break points. This season, they return a health group of key players.

Additionally, Washington gets consistent scoring from three all-star caliber players in Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, and Jamison. The Wizards have a strong mix of young, talented players with Blatche, Pecherov, Young, McGuire, and Mike Hall. Darius Songaila and Antonio Daniels will provide valuable scoring off the bench for Washington this season, and Stevenson will guard the other teams’ best guard every night. Washington has a handful of large bodies to rebound and defend the post. Although they may be one talented post player short, the Wizards have plenty to be optimistic about this season.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

UPDATE: Detailing the Bucks-Charlie Bell Saga

Last night, it was reported by the Associated Press that point guard Royal Ivey signed a one year contract with the Bucks, just one day after Charlie Bell signed an offer sheet with the Miami Heat.

Ivey played the three previous seasons for the Atlanta Hawks. As predicted here, the Bucks would allow Bell to sign with the Heat and replace him with a young point guard with upside. Ivey made $744,551 last season, and I would assume he will be making a similar salary next season in Milwaukee.

As I wrote in my initial post, the Bucks would fill Bell's spot with a small salary-type player because they need to look to the future with Villanueva and Bogut's contracts expiring soon. Ivey will compete with Lynn Greer for playing time behind starting point guard Mo Williams. Ivey is an excellent perimeter defender, but struggles to make an impact on offense. If he wants to improve, he needs to work a great deal on his jump shot, so he can be a threat on offense in the league.

In Miami, it certainly makes sense to overpay for a necessary piece, like Bell, to make a title run. However, in Milwaukee, it simply would have been money wasted. Instead, they have made the correct decision to settle for a young, inexpensive player.

Until a second consistent scorer can emerge in Milwaukee, they will be unable to seriously compete in the Central Division. Whether that second scorer is Charlie Villanueva, Mo Williams, or Yi Jianlian, the Bucks will continue to be a young team that struggles to win consistently. Therefore, limiting the dollars they have committed now in hopes of turning it around in the future, is the appropriate way to go.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Profiling Coach David Blatt

Today, Allon Sinai of the The Jerusalem Post, wrote an article entitled "Coach David Blatt revels in Russia's EuroBasket triumph". The article profiles Blatt and discusses his aspirations to one day coach in the NBA.

Just 24 hours after guiding Russia to the European Championship title David Blatt was already preparing for his next challenge. The 48-year-old Israeli coach arrived in Turkey on Monday to join up with Efes Pilsen which he will guide in the Euroleague this season.

On Sunday night Blatt became the first Israeli coach to win the EuroBasket tournament after Russia defeated Spain 60-59. The victory over the host and world champion completed a remarkable two weeks for the Russian team, which won its first Euro title since the break-up of the USSR despite its underdog status.

"This was a victory of David over Goliath. We faced the beast and knocked him down and won," a joyous Blatt said. "It's an historic event. I'm proud to be the person in charge of this historic journey.

"Our plan was to stay in the game and make them feel the heat, the pressure of 15,000 fans, and to see how they play. Fortunately, we did that and we won."

Blatt's game plan worked to perfection on Sunday, with nationalized guard J.R. Holden scoring the winning basket for the Russians with 2.1 seconds remaining in the final.

"This is an ultimate moment in the history of the Russian nation. It's the first championship of the new Russia. I feel very lucky to be part of history both in Russia and FIBA Europe basketball," Blatt added.

Spain was a massive favorite ahead of the game, with Russia surprising everyone by simply reaching the title game.

"Russia's win surprised me in the same way it surprised everybody else," Israel coach Tzvika Sherf told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. "David played a major role in his team's win. He made the most of the abilities of his NBA players and combined them outstandingly with Holden and the skills and European experience of the players from the top Russian sides.

"David succeeded in making Andrei Kirilenko the star of the side and at the same time also got the Utah forward to contribute to team play. David ran his team fantastically and prepared the side for every game as only he knows."

Russia finished eighth in the European Championships in 2005, meaning Blatt had to rebuild the team and take it through qualification when he was appointed to the job last summer. According to Blatt. the turning point came after the team lost its second qualifier to Belgium last September.

"After that loss I walked inside the locker room and went crazy, threw things around and told the players that now I understand why everybody, including myself, thought that Russia is a loser team," he said. "After that game, a lot of people back home said, this is the same old thing. They were saying Russia is just losers, but since that game everything has changed."

Blatt, who was born and raised in the US, moved to Israel in the early 80s after playing for the American basketball team in the 1981 Maccabiah. The former guard, who played collegiate basketball at Princeton University under coach Pete Carril, began his coaching career at Hapoel Galil Elyon in 1993.

Six years later he was appointed as Pini Gershon's assistant at Maccabi Tel Aviv, remaining with the club until 2004. Blatt was named head coach for the 2001/02 season after Gershon announced his retirement. He was, however, demoted to the assistant's position two years later after Gershon came out of retirement and the two guided Maccabi to the Euroleague title at the end of the season.

Blatt left for Russian club Dynamo St. Petersburg in 2004 and led the team to the FIBA EuroCup. He then moved to Italian giant Benetton Treviso, winning an Italian championship and cup in his two seasons at the club.

Blatt could have well been guiding the Israel national team at the EuroBasket tournament this month had local bureaucracy been slightly more flexible. He was named as the national team coach in 2004, but despite coaching in Israel for over a decade he was later told he would not be able to guide the blue-and-white as he had no Israeli coaching certificate. Blatt quickly lost patience with the ensuing wrangle and decided to resign before ever even coaching the team.

Blatt is being tipped by many to make the rare leap from European to NBA coaching. The coach has never hidden his desire to guide a team in the best league in the world and after Sunday's triumph is surely a step closer to fulfilling his dream.

"If a European coach will reach the NBA in the coming years it will be David," Sherf said. "David is very similar to Phoenix Suns coach Mike D'Antoni. They're both Americans who coached successfully in Europe for several seasons. David has the vision, ability and contacts to get to the NBA."

"The NBA dream is closer then ever, but it won't happen this season because I have a contract with Pilsen," Blatt told Army Radio on Monday. "I will only leave for the NBA if I receive a challenging and financially satisfactory offer."

Also see:

Detailing the Bucks-Charlie Bell Saga

Last season, Charlie Bell made $744,000. Bell had his most productive NBA season, which saw him average 13.5 points per game, 3.0 assists per game, and 1.18 steals per game.

Currently, Bell is a restricted free agent. Therefore, his options are to:

a) Sign a long-term contract with the Milwaukee Bucks.
b) Accept the Bucks' one year qualifying offer of nearly $900,000 and then become an unrestricted free agent after the 2007-08 season.
c) Sign a long-term offer sheet with another team and see if the Bucks match the offer or not.

Here is a timeline of the events that took place:

-Mid August: Milwaukee offers Bell a three-year deal worth $9,000,000.
-Mid August: Bell’s camp reportedly demands the third year be a player option with larger annual payments (nearly $5,000,000 per season).
-August 31: Bell reportedly weighs offers from a handful of European teams.
-August 31: Bell's agent, Mark Bartelstein, reportedly says he is considering simply accepting the one year qualifying offer.
-September 7: Bell reportedly received an offer from Olympiacos for three years and $9,000,000.
-September 13: Bartelstein and Bell determined he would not accept the one year qualifying offer.
-September 17: Miami Heat sign Charlie Bell to a five year, $18,500,000 offer sheet. The Bucks have seven days to match, although Bartelstein and Bell have publicly tried to convince them not to match so he can play with Miami. It has been reported that Bell would make $3,000,000 in year one and an average of $3,600,000 per season throughout the agreement.

The length of the deal probably puts it out of question for Bucks general manager, Larry Harris, to match this agreement. The new deal will keep Bell under contract until he is thirty-three years old. Considering the money the Bucks have committed to Michael Redd and Mo Williams already in the backcourt, it would not make sense for Harris to bring back Bell. Earlier this sumer, the Heat made a strong run at Williams, offering him a five year, $31,000,000 contract. However, the Bucks offered a significantly larger deal at six years at $52,000,000.

Upon determining whether to matching Bell’s offer sheet, the Bucks will need to consider giving future extensions to Andrew Bogut and Charlie Villanueva, who become restricted free agents after the 2008-09 season. Therefore, Harris will most likely pass on Bell and look to fill the spot vacated with a minimum salary veteran-type player, such as Dee Brown or Troy Hudson.

Bell is a savvy veteran who shoots the ball well from long-range. He is a versatile guard who handles the ball well and plays smart. Bell is no more than an average athlete, but hestles and plays hard each night. He is able to free himself off the ball for an open jumper by using screens. He is not much of a threat to drive off the dribble, but still can score effectively.

For Miami, Bell will join Jason Williams, Dwyane Wade, Smush Parker, Chris Quinn, Daequan Cook, and Devin Green in a crowded backcourt. Bell’s addition most likely signals the end of Chris Quinn with the Heat. Additionally, the Heat will most likely look to again unload Jason Williams and his expiring contract of $8,937,500. Miami will be targeting a player who can defend at the wing and shoot the ball consistently from the outside. The addition of Bell also ends any chance that Gary Payton will return for another season. If the Heat are unable to trade Williams, they may even consider waiving him outright, in order to save money against the luxury tax.

Bell will fit in with the Heat nicely. Assuming Williams does not return to the Heat, Bell will compete for a starting job next to Wade. Bell provides a long-range shooting threat that the Heat badly need, especially after the loss of Jason Kapono to the Raptors. Last season, Belll was one of only twenty-one players who averaged more than 13 points per game, 3 assists per game, while shooting over 35 percent from behind the three point arc. His 35.2 percent mark from three point ranked thirty-third in the Eastern Conference last season.

After receiving the offer sheet from the Heat, it is probably in the best interest of all parties for the Bucks to decline matching the offer and let him move onto Miami. Although Milwaukee would have liked to have Bell return to be the first guard off the bench behind Williams and Redd, at this cost it is not worthwhile. I expect the Bucks to decline the offer sheet and turn their attention to free agent point guards. I would suggest signing a young player with upside such as Dee Brown or C.J. Miles.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Examing NBA Point Guards

Last season, fifteen point guard's played more than 2,000 minutes and had an assist to turnover ratio that was less than 2.50.

1) Smush Parker, 1.49
Parker, now with the Heat, struggled greatly last season with the Lakers. In Miami, Parker will be looked upon to come off the bench and handle the ball more effectively, as well as shooting the ball from the perimeter at a high percentage.

2) Jameer Nelson, 1.79
Nelson was a suprise for me to be so high on this list. With the addition of Rashard Lewis this season, Nelson will most likely greatly improve this ratio. He will be expected to take care of the ball more effectively this season and look to score less.

3) Gilbert Arenas, 1.88
Arenas is a combination guard, who has no limitations of offense. Arenas will most likely land in a similar spot next season.

4) Mike Bibby, 1.97
Bibby had a rough season last year as the Kings did not make the playoffs. This season, Sacramento hopes that Bibby will play more of the role of a pure point guard and that some of their young players will develop into more of scorers.

5) Devin Harris, 2.03
This is a pivotal season in the development of Harris. At this point, Harris needs to enter into the class of one of the league's best pure point guards. The Mavericks hope to make it to the NBA finals this season, and Harris will play an important role in this.

6) Mo Williams, 2.06
Williams is a combination guard, who spends most of his time at the point guard spot. Williams signed a long-term deal with the Bucks this season and they hope he will continue to develop as a player.

7) Leandro Barbosa, 2.17
Barbosa is a unique player who gets the green light at all times. He is more of a shooting guard than a point guard, but does play the point guard spot occasionally to spell Steve Nash. Barbosa looks to provide energy and score points and looks less to distribute the ball to teammates.

8) Tony Parker, 2.20
Again, it was suprising to me that Parker landed in the top ten in the assist to turnover category. Being that San Antonio is coming off a championship, it will probably work well for them if he lands in a similar spot this next season.

9) Jarett Jack, 2.23
Jack is in a pivotal time in his career. With a competitive situation at point guard for Portland, Jack will need to have a strong season. With a handful of scorers on the roster, Jack needs to do a better job of protecting the ball and increasing his number of assists this coming year.

10) Stephon Marbury, 2.25
Marbury has struggled during his career to find his proper place on his team's offense. Although he is a talented scorer, he is in a point guard body. If he could maintain his scoring numbers, increase his assist numbers, and decrease the number of turnovers, he would be a better player and his team would be better off.

11) Derek Fisher, 2.28
Fisher is a shoot-first point guard at this time in his career. Backing up Deron Williams last season, Fisher was looked upon to provide energy and scoring off the bench. This season with the Lakers, Fisher will be expected to distribute the ball more and provide experience.

12) Mike James, 2.30
James is a combination guard who struggled last season to find his role in Minnesota. This season with Houston, James will need to perform well right from the start. With a great deal of competition at the point guard spot, if James does not take care of the basketball immediately, he will be relegated to a bench role. If this is the case, the Rockets will most likely use him as their primary bench scorer.

13) Luke Ridnour, 2.36
Ridnour is in a very critical season for his career. He fell out-of-favor last season with Seattle's coaching staff, but have a whole new group of coaches this year. Seattle will spend this season determining if Ridnour is the guy to lead them in their rebuilding process, or if he will be expendable.

14) Earl Boykins, 2.43
Although Boykins is the smallest player in the league, he is more of a scorer than point guard. Boykins became a free agent after last season, when he forgoed his $3,000,000 player option on his contract with the Milwaukee Bucks. He will likely join a team to fill the role of an experienced scoring guard off the bench.

15) Jamaal Tinsley, 2.47
Tinsley has struggled to improve throughout his career with the Pacers. This season may be his last with Indiana if he does not show improvement. The Pacers have begun to rebuild their roster, and they most likely need a point guard who excels at distributing the ball and playing tough defense. Tinsley does neither of these things well.