The NBA free agency period has gotten underway, and while none of the big names (LeBron, Dwayne Wade, Amare Staudamire, Joe Johnson, Drik Nowitzki) have signed, there’s still some interesting early movement. Here are the players that have agreed to contracts prior to 4th of July weekend.
Rudy Gay – Memphis Grizzlies: (5yrs/82 Million) I’m not too sure that Gay is a max-player, but unlike a lot of people, I’m sure he would have gotten max money somewhere. LeBron is a max player, same with Wade and Anthony, Durant, Kobe and Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard – lots of max players out there, but I’m not seeing Gay as one of those types of guys. He certainly has great upside though, and his long frame and elite athleticism makes him a solid get by the Grizzlies. But can he win you games? To me, a max player needs to win you games.
Drew Gooden – Milwaukee Bucks: (5yrs/32 Million) The Bucks really needed help down low, some depth for sure. They picked up Tiny Galloon, and athletic and powerful big man with the 47th pick and Larry Sanders, another big athletic upside big man with the 15th pick in the draft. But that wasn’t enough, the Bucks wanted to sure up their weakest position, and they certainly did that by adding Gooden, a big that isn’t great anywhere but plays hard and can make some shots.
John Salmons – Milwaukee Bucks: (5yrs/39 Million) The Bucks made some moves that made sure they’d be okay if Salmons left. But after John took a look around, he liked the look of this Bucks team, and the Bucks liked John enough to offer him 40 million bucks anyway. Corey Maggette was signed to be that scoring threat. Chris Douglas Roberts was traded for to be another scoring option off the bench. So it’s a surprise to a lot of people that the Bucks signed Salmons, but it makes sense to me. John might have been able to get more money elsewhere, but he feels comfortable with this team, and after up and down runs on other clubs, he liked this team make-up. But it will be interesting to see how Milwaukee gets minutes for all three players. Who would have thought the Bucks would be making so many moves?
Paul Pierce – Boston Celtics: (4yrs/61 Million) This deal was all but a sure thing. Paul Pierce got out of his last deal so he could sign for less money and more years, making him a Celtic for life. With as much as Paul was hurt this year, his aging body, and his up and down play throughout the playoffs, I’m not sure this was the best bang for the buck, but it still makes sense from Boston’s perspective, I’m sure, keeping your team leader and a very good player that doesn’t rely on his athleticism all that much anyway. Pierce should be able to hit step back jumpers and spot up threes for at least 4 more years.
Hakim Warrick – Phoenix Suns: (4yrs/18 Million) This is an interesting deal, but you know Steve Nash is going to make Warrick look good. Hakim can work the pick and roll very well for a low-priced option, and since the Suns are almost surely losing Amare, this move could help them offensively. Still, I’m not sure Warrick can replace what Staudamire did – if he does, color the Suns brilliant. This was a good move for a team always looking for a good deal.
Steve Blake – L.A. Lakers: (4yrs/16 Million) I’ve never loved Bart Simpson’s real life human brother, Steve Blake, but the guy can hit the open shot, play with confidence, and he sticks his nose in their defensively as well. At the very least, he’s going to be a better distributor and back-up point guard than Jordan Farmar was. It looks like D-Fish will be back in L.A. so Blake isn’t likely to start, but the Lakers got a pretty good player that has found a way into the line-up everywhere he’s been in his NBA career.
Amir Johnson – Toronto Raptors: (5yrs/34 Million) This seems like a lot of money for somebody like Johnson, but maybe the Raptors ended up getting a pretty good deal? Maybe Toronto knew they wanted to resign Amir so they didn’t give him big time minutes this season? I’m not sure. I know this guy’s teammates say a lot of good things about him, and he’s an elite athlete, but when Toronto heard the Raptors resigned their power forward to a multi-million-dollar 5 year deal, I’m sure they were expecting somebody else to be getting signed.
Channing Frye – Phoenix Suns: (5yrs/30 Million) At least Frye signed with the team that made him a player of interest. Before last year, this guy barely could get a job, signing a 1 to 2 year deal for 1.9 million in Phoenix. Now he’s making 6 million a year because the Suns did their homework and used Frye’s strengths to their maximum potential. He wasn’t as great toward the end of the season, and had some really down games in the playoffs, but this guy really stretches the floor for a Suns team that needs that from all of their players. Solid deal for both sides, but you’d have to wonder if Frye would have ever made 30 million if not for the Suns’ offense.
Darko Milicic – Minnesota Timberwolves: (4yrs/20 Million) Say what you want about Darko, but the kid is still young, and he’s still a physically gifted guy for a 7 footer. He works well in a triangle scheme that needs good passing big men, and I can think of bigger wastes of money over the years.
Despite the money coming in on Phoenix to cover as dogs, the spread has actually gone the way of the Suns – or at least the way Suns’ bettors would appreciate. I want to see it, I want to see a Suns upset, and good game on the road against a Lakers team that has been outplayed in two straight contests. But it’s tough for me to see.
I think it’s ridiculous and I can’t find a reason why, but the truth of the matter is benches play much better at home than they do on the road. I’ve never quite understood it, but it’s almost infallible. The problem for Phoenix is how much they depend on their bench. They have great players in their starting line-up, but they need big games from at least 2 bench players to beat the Lakers. Will that come from Channing Frye, Barbosa, Goran Dragic, or Dudley? They need those points, and they need them bad. The problem is, those guys don’t show up in L.A. If they want me to be wrong, if they are going to win, they will need to do something they haven’t done on the road much during these playoffs.
Kobe Bryant has been too good, and the Lakers bench also plays much better at home. If they can just keep pace with the Suns reserves, not even outplay them but keep pace, they will win and cover in Game 5. I expect them to do so, so I’m taking LA. I’ll be rooting for Phoenix.
Phoenix Suns @ LA Lakers (-7) (5-27: 9:00 PM ET – TNT)
The Phoenix Suns stepped up their intensity and brought it to the Lakers on both sides of the floor in Game 3, assuring at least five games against the favorites out West. Most impressive was the Suns turnovers, just 7 on the night, which really limited the Lakers’ easy buckets. I don’t even think the Suns played nearly as well as they can offensively – aside from Amare doing work attacking the hoop against those Lakers’ bigs, Phoenix missed a lot of open and easy shots, especially in the first half. I think they can play a lot better. But will they?
LA Lakers (+1) @ Phoenix Suns (5-23: 9:00 PM ET – TNT)
I have to take the Lakers, as much as I hate it. I’d love to be wrong here, love to see the Lakers get pummeled big time and head back to LA with their collective tails between their legs – but I don’t see it happening. LA was too good at defending that pick and roll in Game’s 1 and 2, and too dominate down low.
I don’t see Brook Lopez going off for 20 points on 8 of 10 shooting, and I don’t seem they continuing to be stingy with the ball and get anywhere close to just 7 turnovers again. If they don’t sit right around double that, I’ll be stunned.
The Lakers have always done a good job of stepping up their game after a tough loss (even though that didn’t quite happen against Oklahoma). They seem to figure things out pretty well, and you know they have to attack the post. Kobe continues to kill the Suns, averaging over 30 points a game in this series – but it will be Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom beating up on the Suns’ front court if LA wants to walk out of Phoenix up 3-1. I think it’s probably – and while I’ll be rooting against my bet, the smart money is on the Lakers.
I liked the Suns to go for a cover in Game 1, but the Lakers looked like the Thunder Cats, The Bulls circa the 90′s, and Gladiator all fit into one purple and yellow uniform. And the Suns went the way of the toilet water – it wasn’t pretty. But that’s just one game, right? This won’t be a sweep, will it?
Phoenix Suns (+6.5) @ LA Lakers: No way. The Suns have played too well over the last few months and the Lakers have played too mediocre to continue to dominate in the fashion they handed out butt kickings in Game 1. At one point the game was 23-24, and after that, it was no longer a game.
But I expect Game 2 to be a little different. Game 1 was a perfect scenario for the Lakers and everything went wrong for the Suns. The Lakers shot lights out. The Suns didn’t. The Lakers hit lots of threes, even Kobe was draining from deep. The Suns had their lowest 3pt % of the playoffs. Freaking Lamar Odom had 19 and 19 – are you serious?
The Bigs are going to give Phoenix trouble, no doubt about it. Pau Gasol is awesome (and that’s something I hate saying because of his dumb whiney-pouty-10-year-old-face). However, the Suns still have a solid game plan to give the Lakers trouble. No way Kobe goes for 40 again while everyone else in LA’s line-up plays flawlessly. I just hope the Suns stick to their guns and find out what happens.
I think they have a chance, even though Phil Jackson is 46-0 in playoff series where his team has won the first game of the match-up.
This has been quite the week for me in NBA action: the Orlando Magic and LA Lakers covered on Saturday to bring my record to 7-1 this week. I’m not going to say it’s been easy, but come on, the match-ups are set for the public to win big, and I’m just following the favorite and looking good because of it.
On Saturday, the Lakers fought back after being down by double digits and won by a point in Utah. The Lakers were dogs in this one, and that made it even easier. It was a 1-point game down the stretch, and while LA did their best to give Utah a shot to win it, that wouldn’t have meant anything to me. In fact, I was rooting hard for Matthews to tip the game winner in. Nothing’s better than betting on the Lakers, winning, and having them lose all in the same breath.
The Magic destroyed the Hawks… Again. Any of you Hawks’ fans that like Joe Johnson, you better get the TV on for his LAST GAME in Atlanta. Here’s what I think of Sunday’s games.
Cleveland Cavaliers @ Boston Celtics (+1) (5-9: 3:30 PM ET – abc): So, LeBron went nuts last time out. I’m betting he won’t hit every jumper he takes in Game 4, and I think somebody besides Rondo will play very well for the Celtics. I still think the Celtics are a tough match-up for Cleveland, so the C’s +1 to even out the series is a good enough bet for me.
Phoenix Suns @ San Antonio Spurs (-3.5) (5-9: 4:30 PM ET – TNT): There’s nothing more that I’d like to see than a sweep of the Spurs – well, maybe a sweep of the Lakers, a sweep of the Yankees, and a #1 seeded Duke Blue Devils loss to a #16 team that you’ve never heard of – but the Spurs are definitely somebody on my top 5 favorite to see get swept list. Anyway, this is the toughest one for me all week -but I’m going with San Antonio to win at least one game at home in this series. I expect Manu Ginobili to have a big game, Parker to play well – but most of all, I expect the Suns bench to not go nuts on Sunday. Dragic won’t be good for 26, and that should make the difference as the Spurs make it 3-1. But I hope not!
Orlando’ second straight double digit victory over the Atlanta Hawks made me 4-0 in NBA Playoff action this week, and I have to be honest, taking the favorite four times has worked out pretty well for me. We’ll see how I do Friday as Cleveland and Phoenix head on the road, where wins are certainly tougher to come by. Friday’s games are big ones, no doubt. If Boston can win, they come out of Game 3 with a big advantage over the NBA’s top team going into Game 4. If Phoenix gets an upset win on the road in San Antonio, they’ll be up 3-0 and just a game away from a spot in the Western Conference Finals. Here’s my take on Friday’s games…
Cleveland Cavaliers @ Boston Celtics (+1) (5-7: 7:00 PM ET – ESPN): I like Boston – and I think they match up pretty well with the Cavs – but Cleveland is the better team. Would I be stunned if Boston ended up beating the Cavs in this series? No, but I’d be a little surprised. Boston is doing a good job making Cleveland play their game, and Rajon Rondo is owning the Cavs backcourt. Honestly, I think Boston has played the superior basketball in each of the first two games, but Cleveland walked away with the win in Game 1. This one is close to a toss up for me, and apparently Vegas too, as the Cavs are favored by a measly point in Boston. That being said, I still don’t think Boston is getting the credit they deserve. Until LeBron looks like the MVP that he was this season, the Celtics getting a point at home looks like the best bet.
Phoenix Suns (+6.5) @ San Antonio Spurs (5-7: 9:30 PM ET – ESPN): San Antonio has done a good job holding on their home court over the years, but there’s just something about this Suns team that I really love. They are playing much better defense than years’ past, and I think that his making all the difference. As a 6.5 point dog in Game 3, I have to go with them. They look like the better team, they seem to have a definite match-up advantage, and Amare Stoudemire hasn’t even had a 30 point game yet. As Tim Duncan knows, Amare is going to have a couple of those in this series. Why not Friday Night?
The Lakers tried to blow a perfect NBA night for me, again, but they managed to fail at failing, beating the Jazz by 8 and just barely covering by the disgusting hair on Adam Morrison’s chinny-chin-chin. Please tell me what the camera guy in LA is doing cutting 7 times to Adam Morrison raising his long-sleeve-covered fists into the air every time Ron Artest did something worth-while. I just don’t get it. There’s 630 pairs of “girls” in the first 10 rows of that arena and we get a cut to see Adam Morrison hooraying like a 7th grader. Awesome.
The Magic followed through with my claims, straight dominating the Hawks to the tune of everyone in Orlando wondering, “Are you sure Milwaukee didn’t win that series?” – There were plenty of excuses given by announcers, “They only got 48 hours of rest,” was the most common one. Are you kidding me? These guys play 82 games a year, a good handful of back-to-back games – 48 hours between playoff games isn’t like playing a day-night double-header. They just flat got their aces kicked. This is what I think of tomorrow’s game…
San Antonio Spurs @ Phoenix Suns (-2.5) (5-5: 9:00 PM ET – TNT): The Spurs rarely get beat in each of their first two games of a series, but I think it happens tonight. The Suns are a very tough match-up problem for the aging Spurs. Phoenix has two of their own old guys, Steve and Grant, but both are playing with plenty of youth. Amare always kills the Spurs, and I expect about 30 from him tomorrow – because these Spurs are even older than in the past, and Amare is playing as well as he’s every played – on both ends of the floor. I don’t see Ginobli having two great games in a row, and Parker won’t hit every jumper he takes, either. I think San Antonio played about as well as they’re going to play offensive in Game 1 – and Phoenix was still just too good. I think the Suns win by 7 or 8.
Phoenix Suns (+1) @ Portland Trail Blazers (4-29: 7:00 PM ET – TNT): The Suns are the better team, there’s not doubt in my mind. The game is in Portland, but this Portland team is just a shell of what they could have been if injuries weren’t a factor. Still, this one will be a fight. Portland is favored by 1, with their backs against the wall, but Phoenix has proven to play pretty well without pressure, and I think they’ll continue to let it fly tonight. If they are hitting their shots, this will go smoothly for the Suns – but either way, I like Phoenix to pull this one out.
Dallas Mavericks @ San Antonio Spurs (-4) @ (4-29: 9:30 PM ET – TNT): The Mavericks need this one bad, no doubt, but even though I originally picked the Mavs to win in 7, I’m taking the Spurs to cover the 4 point spread at home tonight. If anything, history is on my side. San Antonio, and elite head coach, Greg Popovich, have always won. That’s what they do. Dallas doesn’t have that same confidence, because history fails to produce the same outcome for them. I know sports are about now, but you learn to win, and the Spurs are comfortable doing that. This will be their last run, and I expect them to end the Mavericks’ post season tonight.
Here are my picks for Saturday’s NBA Playoff Games. Lots of these series are getting very interesting. Charlotte gets their first home game against Orlando, as do the Bucks. Portland and Oklahoma try to even up their respective series after winning one out of the first 3 games.
Orlando Magic @ Charlotte Bobcats (+2) (4-24: 2:00 PM ET – TNT): It almost seems wrong to take the Bobcats, but I’m not letting the first two outcomes sway me. I still think Charlotte matches up fairly well with the Magic, and playing their first ever playoff game at home should get them pumped to play, and maybe start out the game not getting behind big early. That has been the difference, so I’ll take the Bobcats to start better and upset the Magic.
Phoenix Suns (+1.5) @ Portland Trail Blazers (4-24: 4:30 PM ET – TNT): I think Phoenix has the Blazers figured out a bit, and playing away from home isn’t going to hurt them. They won easily two nights ago, and the Blazers aren’t getting Brandon Roy or either of their two centers back anytime soon, so they’ll continue to struggle. If Jason Richardson continues his stellar play, the Suns will win by double digits again. More on NBA playoffs odds for Suns V Trail Blazers.
Atlanta Hawks (+1) @ Milwaukee Bucks (4-24: 7:00 PM ET – ESPN): Playing in Milwaukee doesn’t mean Bogut will heal miraculously – so just like the last couple games, this is Atlanta’s to lose. I see the Hawks sweeping the Bucks.
LA Lakers (+2) @ Oklahoma City Thunder (4-24: 9:30 PM ET – ESPN): The Lakers lost last time out despite Durant struggling from the floor, again. He made some really big shots down the stretch. but his teammates really helped him out. Russell Westbrook had about the sickest playoff dunk I’ve seen this year as he dunked all over every Laker in the history of the franchise. But again, if the Lakers just go to their bigs, they should win fairly easily. I’m hoping I’m wrong, and I’m hoping I’ll be wrong every time I ever pick L.A. but I have a feeling the Lake-show goes up 3-1 in this one.
Thursday has three big games for your viewing pleasure. All three are Game 3′s. The Cavaliers and LA Lakers (both favorites to see themselves in the NBA Finals) are up 2-0 while the Trail Blazers have taken home court advantage from the Phoenix Suns. Thursday should be full of hoops action, and something tells me a big upset is brewing…
Cleveland Cavaliers @ Chicago Bulls (+3.5) (4-22: 7:00 PM ET – TNT): I thought that the Bulls would win at least one game, and this one might be it. The Cavaliers have been the far superior team, and they are certainly that, but the Bulls haven’t quit one time, and they’ve fought back to make games close that shouldn’t have been. I think they pull the upset here.
LA Lakers (+3.5) @ Oklahoma City Thunder (4-22: 9:30 PM ET – TNT): I’m hoping I’m wrong about this one, but the Lakers have too many bigs that the Thunder just can’t deal with. If LA could just stick with their advantage and get the ball to Gasol and Bynum, they will take this one in Oklahoma. I hope I’m wrong, and I’m rooting like hell for the Zombie Sonics.
Phoenix Suns (+1) @ Portland Trail Blazers (4-22: 10:00 PM ET – NBA TV): The Blazers are a tough opponent for the Suns, no doubt about it, but I think Phoenix is the better team, and even in Portland, I’ll take them as an even bet. At +1, there’s not enough points in Portland’s favor to go away from Phoenix.