2012-13 NBA Preseason Rankings

With the new NBA season starting in just six days, here’s a look at my preseason rankings for the 2012-13 season. Here’s the article covering the lower half of the NBA and here’s the article on the league’s top 15 teams.

NBA Free Agency Update – July 20

Here’s an update on the latest NBA free agency news via Reup Sports, including analysis on Jeremy Lin becoming a Rocket, updated Dwight Howard trade rumors and recent signings in Los Angeles. Check out the article here.

NBA Free Agency Update – July 16

For the latest news and analysis on all the action of NBA free agency over the last few days, check out my article via Reup Sports. Today’s post includes Jeremy Lin heading to Houston, Phoenix picking up Luis Scola, the ongoing battle for Nicolas Batum and more!

NBA Free Agency Roundup – 7/4/12

Another day, another hundred rumors and moves of NBA free agency. Here’s everything that went down today to keep you up to speed heading into Independence Day:

Deron Williams Staying With Nets:

Deron Williams came to his ultimate decision today, choosing to stay in Brooklyn over leaving for his hometown of Dallas to play for the Mavericks. Williams’ contract is a five-year, $98 million deal that will team him up with Joe Johnson for the time being. Williams coming back is great news for the Nets, but for now, he is just a piece of the puzzle that is still missing Dwight Howard.

D-Will decided to stay in Brooklyn in the hopes the Nets continue to brighten their future.

Trade Could Still Bring Dwight Howard to Brooklyn:

According to league sources, the trade for Joe Johnson didn’t quite put the Nets out of contention for Orlando superstar Dwight Howard. A possible trade that would send Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, and first-round picks in 2013, 2015 and 2017 to Orlando in exchange for D-12 is being discussed although nothing is set in stone. The Nets are looking for a third party to facilitate the trade, but the Magic are also looking into possible trades with the Lakers, Hawks and Rockets. The Mavericks are also in the running to get Howard, but only if he waits to explore free agency next year. If the Nets were able to swing Howard down to Brooklyn, they would be giving up a lot, but they’d be looking at a potential nucleus of Howard, Deron Williams and Johnson as well as Gerald Wallace, who signed a four-year extension for $40 million, according to league sources.

Is this still a possibility for the on-the-rise Brooklyn Nets?

Eric Gordon Wants to be a Sun:

The Suns have offered Eric Gordon a four-year deal for $58 million and after visiting Phoxenix, New Orleans’ star point guard feels that it is the place for him. The Hornets can easily match the offer as they have been saying they would if Gordon received any max offers, but Gordon’s comments about wanting to play in Phoenix might mean that New Orleans chooses to let him go. Gordon was supposed to form a solid nucleus with rookies Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers, but it remains to be seen what the Hornets’ plan of action will be.

The Hornets could match Phoenix’s offer, but will they do it now that Eric Gordon made his desire to be a Sun clear?

Jason Terry Agrees to Three-Year Deal with Celtics:

Jason Terry and the Celtics reached an agreement to a three-year deal worth $5 million annually. Although the deal certainly strengthened the bench with a wily veteran sixth man, Boston remains adamant about their desire to resign Ray Allen and Brandon Bass. The Mavericks can match Boston’s offer, but might not do so if they continue to look into point guards and the possibility of Dwight Howard next year.

Unless the Mavericks match the Celtics’ offer, the Jet will be landing in Boston.

Ray Allen to Visit Miami, LA Clippers:

Boston free agent Ray Allen will be visiting the Miami Heat this week as he continues to take his time with his options. The Celtics are committed to resigning their 3-point shooting veteran and can offer him a two-year, $12 million deal. However, the lure of winning another championship is certainly going Miami’s way after LeBron James and the Heat defeated Boston in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals before winning the title. Allen will also visit Los Angeles this week to hear offers from the Clippers, who view him as a starter. A few other teams are also still pursuing Allen, including the Grizzlies, Mavericks, Timberwolves and Hawks.

Ray Allen is still exploring his options between Boston, Miami and Los Angeles.

Jeremy Lin to Visit Houston Rockets:

A few weeks ago, it was very likely that Jeremy Lin would be returning to the New York Knicks. Now, the breakout star point guard is heading to Houston for a visit. The Knicks are certainly looking to resign Lin, but were unsure they’d be able to match other teams’ high offers and said they planned on playing it by ear. Other teams interested in Lin include the Raptors, Nets and Mavericks, although he is seen as a backup for each of these teams.

Jeremy Lin and the Knicks want to stay together, but Lin is still checking into his options.

More Point Guard Activity:

Now that the Mavericks failed to get their hands on Deron Williams, Dallas is looking for quality point guards, turning their sights on Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin. The Mavericks still haven’t made up their minds about Goran Dragic, who is reportedly having problems working out a contract with the Rockets and visited the Phoenix Suns Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers have also taken an interest in Nash, while free agent Jason Kidd has narrowed his decision down to either Dallas or the New York Knicks.

Goran Dragic and Steve Nash are still on the market as point guards for multiple teams.

Raptors Offer Landry Fields Three-Year Deal:

The Toronto Raptors have verbally agreed with Knicks’ guard Landry Fields to a three-year deal for nearly $20 million. Fields cannot sign a new contract until July 11 (when all free agents can sign new contracts), but the Knicks can still hold on to him if they match Toronto’s offer. It remains to be seen whether or not New York would spend that kind of money on a role player with Carmelo Anthony, Jeremy Lin, Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and J.R. Smith all potentially coming back, however.

The signing of Landry Fields in Toronto may be a play to get Steve Nash to join the Raptors as well.

Pacers Agree to Five-Year Deal with George Hill:

Indiana point guard George Hill signed a five-year extension to stay with the Pacers, though details of the deal were not disclosed. The Pacers will also be looking to keep Roy Hibbert, who was offered $58 million in a four-year deal with the Blazers. Indiana will have to match that offer to retain their All-Star center. However, if they don’t match, league sources say the Pacers will pursue Denver’s JaVale McGee and New Orleans’ Chris Kaman.

George Hill signed an extension with the Indiana Pacers, ruling out any possibility they had for Nash or Dragic

Nets Add Bosnian Forward Teletovic and Reggie Evans:

The Nets have verbally agreed to a three-year deal with Mirza Teletovic worth just under $16 million. Teletovic, a Bosnian forward at 6’9″, averaged 22 ppg and six rpg in the Euroleague this season. Since the Nets gave away almost their entire bench to get Joe Johnson and would have to give up even more for Dwight Howard, this signing could prove to be a very helpful addition if his game can translate decently into the NBA. The Nets also acquired the Clippers’ Reggie Evans from the Clippers in exchange for a future second-round pick. Evans was signed to a three-year, $5 million deal.

The Nets added LAC’s Reggie Evans and the Bosnian Mirza Teletovic.

James Harden Leads Thunder To Sweep

It wasn’t Kevin Durant that beat the Dallas Mavericks yesterday with backbreaking buckets that sent the Oklahoma City Thunder on to the next round of the playoffs. It wasn’t Russell Westbrook that swept the defending champions in their own arena and broke down their defense with dribble penetration and facilitation. It was James Harden and his epic beard. Despite a monumental effort from Dirk Nowitzki (and a hip injury to Kendrick Perkins), the Thunder rallied from a 13-point deficit to start the fourth quarter as James Harden led the way to a 103-97 victory, ending the Mavericks’ title defense in a convincing sweep.

Harden finished with an all-around stellar stat line of 29 points, five rebounds, five assists, three steals and one block coming off the bench, but his game management, his numerous drives to the rim and his ability to find the open man off penetration won Game 4 for OKC. The Mavericks couldn’t stay in front of him when he attacked the basket, including a two-handed monster dunk. They couldn’t defend him when he hit shots from the outside. And when they were able to keep Harden from getting to the rim, they couldn’t close out on the wide open shooters he freed up up by drawing in the defense. Kevin Durant had 24 points and 11 rebounds on the night, but the hero of the night was Harden (and his beard). When I wrote about how dangerous the Oklahoma City Thunder are, I stressed that James Harden was the centerpiece: Durant and Russell Westbrook are clearly the team’s superstars, but Harden is the glue that holds them together and makes the Thunder such an incredibly tough playoff team. His dominant Game 4 performance was the perfect illustration of that. When James Harden gets going offensively, the Thunder are a legitimate title contender.

James Harden single-handedly finished off the Mavericks in Game 4.

When the Thunder struggled the most this season, James Harden was not as involved on offense. But last night, Harden was actually running OKC’s half court offense, even with Russell Westbrook and Derek Fisher on the floor. Harden became the team’s quarterback and he didn’t disappoint in that leadership role. The Thunder are most vulnerable when their offense is stagnant, which usually translates into Westbrook and Durant jacking up 3-pointers and tough jump shots. Harden is a highly intelligent basketball player that reminds his team they can attack the rim, which then frees up the jump shots OKC’s superstars love so much. After watching a normally explosive Thunder offense stall for a few games during the regular season when their outside shots weren’t falling, it was a relief to see James Harden continuously get the ball late in the fourth with the game on the line so he could either score or facilitate to the Durantula. And while getting the sweep was good for the Thunder to send a message to rest of the Western Conference, it was also extremely helpful for Kendrick Perkins, who will benefit from additional time to rest and recover from his hip injury. With Perkins out, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison also benefitted from the chance to build playoff experience by guarding a superstar in a close-game situation. If Perkins gets healthy in time for round 2 against either the Lakers or the Nuggets, watch out for this team. They’re nearly impossible to beat between Durant, Westbrook and Harden.

Jason Terry had a rough shooting night, but Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd kept the Mavs in the game and were on fire in the third quarter that gave the home team a 13-point advantage heading into the final quarter. Nowtizki finished with 34 while Kidd hit four 3-pointers and chipped in 16 points of his own. From Dallas’ perspective, this sweep was a pretty appropriate finish to an uninspiring year for the reigning NBA champions. Dirk Nowitzki and company were so elated and felt so accomplished after finally winning it all that they never really recovered from that championship hangover and by the time the realized they wanted to win another one, it was too late. Not resigning Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and DeShawn Stevenson definitely hurt them, but a lackluster year might be worth it if Mark Cuban can convince Deron Williams to come on down to Texas next year. Unfortunately for Dallas, if they don’t get Deron Williams while still managing to hang on to Jason Terry, they’ll be stuck with too much age and not enough weapons to help Dirk out.

Dirk needs better, younger options around him to share some of the load.

OKC Eyes Sweep

After two close games in Oklahoma City that easily could have gone Dallas’ way, the Thunder made a big statement in their 95-79 blowout of the Mavericks on the road in Game 3. Kevin Durant and company left no doubt that this series is over, putting Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs behind early and never letting up for the rest of the night.

So far, the series has been a close, hard-fought battle that translated into two wins for the Thunder because they had home-court advantage and played better down the stretch. Despite finishing with respectable numbers in scoring, Kevin Durant struggled with his shot in the first two games and Dirk Nowitzki was slightly more effective despite stellar defense from Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. But in Game 3, everything went Oklahoma City’s way, as Durant had a proficient shooting night (11-for-15, 31 points) and the increasingly unforgiving defensive combo of Ibaka and Perkins absolutely shut Dirk down, holding him to 6-of-15 shooting and 17 points. Up until Game 3, Russell Westbrook had been carrying the Thunder offensively, James Harden’s contribution off the bench was essential and OKC’s backline needed to play good defense and contribute on the other end as well. But in Game 3, Durant finally found his shot and silenced the defending champs’ home crowd early, while Ibaka and Perkins roughed Dirk up and frustrated him by making him work for every touch.

It took him two games, but Kevin Durant found his shot and was on fire in Game 3.

Jason Terry’s lackluster performance didn’t help things for Dallas. Terry only put up 11 points, but what’s even worse is that mediocre performance still qualified him as one of only three Mavericks in double figures (Jason Kidd was the third with 12 points). The Mavs have Terry, Vince Carter and Ian Mahinmi coming off the bench along with Shawn Marion and Delonte West in the starting lineup. Because of how strong the Thunder’s staring lineup is, Dallas needs to somehow find an advantage in their depth (which is tough to ask considering that subpar lineup, but they still needed to find a way to do it). But even when OKC’s bench juggernaut James Harden struggled and only put up 10 points, they still had Daequan Cook coming in and hitting three 3’s while Derek Fisher tacked on 10 points of his own. You combine that with Kevin Durant finally shooting well, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka doing their thing and some great team defense on Dirk and it’s no wonder the Mavericks got blown out in a pivotal Game 3.

The Thunder are an extremely dangerous team when their jump shots are falling. I still have doubts about how effective they can be when those jump shots aren’t falling because they tend to keep shooting them anyway instead of driving to the basket, but for now, OKC looks primed for the first round sweep. Rick Carlisle might be able to rally his team to one home victory, but it’s too much to ask of these veterans who have been lackadaisical all year in their title defense to make this series competitive. Now that Kevin Durant seems to have found his shot again, it’s only a matter of time (I give it the 48 minutes it takes to play Game 4) until the Thunder advance and the reigning champs are done.

The defending champs weren’t ready to defend their title and will be sent home empty-handed soon.

Thunderstruck

For the second straight game, the Dallas Mavericks went toe-to-toe with the Oklahoma City Thunder and for the second straight time, they went home empty-handed. OKC grabbed a 2-0 series lead last night in a 102-99 victory, while the Mavs fell into a hole that’s going to be hard to climb out of even with the series shifting back to Dallas. But even with two crushing defeats that left the defending champs thunderstruck after giving the Thunder everything they could handle, don’t count them out just yet.

There were a lot of similarities between Games 1 and 2: Kevin Durant had another poor shooting night, the Mavericks hung around for the entire game before missing some key shots down the stretch, Oklahoma City pulled out a win in the game’s final minute, and physical play drew reactions from some star players. This time around however, it was Kendrick Perkins, not Serge Ibaka, who stepped up offensively for the Thunder with 13 points, all while guarding Dirk Nowitzki on the other end. Kevin Durant ended up with 26 points, but only because he took 17 shots from the field and 16 shots from the line. James Harden and Derek Fisher combined for 26 points to constitute the majority of the Thunder’s bench scoring. But the biggest game-changer of Game 2 was free throw shooting for the Thunder: OKC hit 37 of their 39 attempts at the line.

Russell Westbrook led the way for the Thunder and helped his team take a 2-0 lead.

On the Dallas side of things, Dirk had a much better shooting night and finished with 31 points, but missed two crunch-time shots he’s normally known for making. Jason Terry, who missed two 3-point attempts to send the game to overtime, had a quiet game overall, but the Mavs’ role players stepped up and kept Dallas close throughout the night. Jason Kidd, Delonte West and Shawn Marion all finished in double figures and Ian Mahinmi added nine points as well. The Thunder should be a little on edge with the series heading into Dallas; even with home-court advantage, OKC has barely edged out this dangerous seventh-seed both times and the Mavericks are giving them everything they can handle. With the series shifting south and an angry Dallas team that believes it should have won both games on the menu, the Thunder need to buckle up and prepare for a hostile home crowd. In Nowitzki and company’s minds, a few bounces here and there are all that separate them from having a 2-0 lead. And watching Rick Carlisle’s postgame interviews tells me one thing: the defending champs aren’t going down without a fight.

With that being said. OKC’s 2-0 lead in the series makes it nearly impossible for Dallas to advance. They’ve fallen short twice now and eventually, losing games like this will take a mental toll. And given the pure statistical odds of the Mavs winning four of the next five against this talented and young team, things aren’t looking good. But taking into account how angry the Mavericks are right now, and factoring in Dirk Nowitzki’s postseason mentality, don’t be surprised if Dallas comes out with a little competitive fire in Game 3.

Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs are a little thunderstruck right now but that anger will carry over into Game 3 at home.