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The Promoter: A Brave New 2012

There’s nothing death-and-taxes about the boxing game. It doesn’t even afford us the courtesy of a simple, encapsulable season that scribes can break down with a list of winners and losers to be; there’s no divisions and conferences and championships, no best bargains or silliest signings.

There is no offseason; there’s always a fight to watch, no matter how obscure.

Yet January’s a slow month for the sweet science, we need something to talk about, and there’s nothing I can add to the Muhammad Ali birthday tributes.

So, by default, it’s time for some irresponsible prognostication. We’ll do a few near-certainties, and mostly talk about the best case scenarios, the coming Good-if man is still alive.

For those needing social media attention, retweet this column with an “@” aimed at one of the boxing rumor sites and it’ll probably get reported as a “deal in the works” item within a half hour. The Internet’s so much fun.

Beginning with the big fishies…

Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao will meet in November

The Twittersphere is alight these days with Mayweather calling out the Filipino. Floyd’s jail stint, originally scheduled to start this month, has been pushed back to accommodate his May 5th reservation at the MGM Grand. If only landlords let us commoners delay rent payments for dates with the Golden Corral Chocolate Fountain. Other possible opponents for both men come with far less intrigue. Yet the long-desired #1 vs. #2 fight won’t happen this spring.

The night before the contracts are to be signed, Evil Promoter Bob Arum will release an old video of Manny singing John Lennon in English, with Tagalog subtitles that say, in effect, Sarangani, my homeland, YOU SUCK I HATE YOU DIE, PLEASE.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlmCHrNFRkE

The resulting need for political damage control scraps the spring encounter, and Pacquiao ends up beating Miguel Cotto in a close June bout, while Floyd uses nothing but open-handed slaps to beat Mexican wunderkind Canelo Alvarez on points, on Cinco de Mayo.

After the protests in always volatile Mindanao die down and Mayweather gets free, there will be no excuses: The fight will take place November 3. Ron Paul’s independent presidential campaign will outbid all Vegas casinos, and hold the fight equidistant between Las Vegas and Manila on the recently purchased U.S.S. End The Fed, a former naval aircraft carrier serving as the pirate radio headquarters and party boat for 20,000 of the Texas congressman’s most righteously bearded 20something antiwar weed-smoking dudes.

The “Mission Accomplished” banner unfurled at fight’s end, no matter who wins, will be delicious in its irony.

The Klitschko brothers will fight for all the Commie marbles

It’s been a long, long, (indeterminable without Wikipedia’s help) time since the two Ukrainian “brothers” didn’t knock around halfassed contenders to defend their variety of heavyweight belts. Not one, but two Dragos have been beating the hell out of American heavyweights for years. I hope that you’re appropriately ashamed (fellow U.S. citizen and probable Eighties child who thought the Cold War happened in Canada).

Like any good product of Marxist dialectics, though, the Klitschko contradiction will resolve itself this year.

After Mrs. Heroes & Wladimir split this spring, citing “continental issues” i.e. philosophical differences w/r/t Wladimir being a FREAK, the often underaggressive champion decided to get his DNA analyzed. Results resulted, and it was found that there are in actuality 307 Klitschko “brothers,” the last great gasp of the Soviet labs, and any memory the heavyweights have of a shared childhood is merely the product of hallucinatory imprinting that would’ve been just awesome, man, if Solidarity hadn’t got all up in the way, you know.

Vitali will beat his little “brother’s” ass.

Madness in the middling weights

The Klitschkos will be a big story, but the big talent and money in boxing is in the 140 through 160-pounders. There’s a slew of guys who can fight, because for some reason even the most heavily muscled or quickest of that approximate size don’t have a whole lot of other athletic options in sport.

New HBO Sports headman Ken Hershman will recognize this market opportunity and get together the biggest bracket ever to happen in the sweet science, seeding a slew of average-heighted action stars into a 32-fighter tournament, including pound-for-pounders Juan Manuel Marquez and Sergio Martinez; the brutal Brandon Rios, Marcos Maidana, and James Kirkland; Mexican stars Alvarez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.; and some British guys. Or so a boy can dream.

The General Public will demand the winner faces the Mayweather-Pacquiao victor. It will never happen.

The Nowhere Plans Big Ass NBA Preview – Part 5

The fifth and final part of the Big Ass NBA Preview breaks down how our contributors see the postseason shaking out.
Part 4: East playoff teams
Part 3: East non-playoff teams
Part 2: West playoff teams
Part 1: West non-playoff teams

jonnyd
First round: Miami over Philadelphia, Chicago over Boston, New York over Atlanta, Indiana over Orlando; Oklahoma City over Portland, Dallas over Houston, LA Clippers over San Antonio, Memphis over LA Lakers
Second round: Miami over Indiana, Chicago over New York; Oklahoma City over Memphis, Dallas over LA Clippers
Conference finals: Miami over Chicago; Oklahoma City over Dallas
NBA Finals: Miami over Oklahoma City

Sean
First round: Chicago over Philadelphia, Miami over Atlanta, Indiana over New York, Orlando over Boston; Oklahoma City over Denver, Dallas over Memphis, LA Lakers over Portland, LA Clippers over San Antonio
Second round: Chicago over Indiana, Miami over Orlando; Oklahoma City over LA Clippers, Dallas over LA Lakers
Conference Finals: Chicago over Miami, Oklahoma City over Dallas
NBA Finals: Chicago over Oklahoma City

Dan
First round: Heat over Indiana, Bulls over Philly, Magic over Hawks, Knicks over Celtics; Thunder over Portland, Mavs over Rockets, Clippers over Lakers, Memphis over Spurs
Second round: Thunder over Memphis; Mavs over Clips; Heat over Knicks, Bulls over Magic
Conference Finals: Thunder over Mavs; Heat over Bulls
NBA Finals: Fuck it, Thunder over Heat

Chris
First round: Miami over Philadelphia, Chicago over Boston, New York over Atlanta, Orlando over Indiana; Dallas over Portland, Oklahoma City over Denver, LA Clippers over LA Lakers, Memphis over San Antonio
Second round: Miami over Orlando, New York over Chicago; Memphis over Dallas, Oklahoma City over LA Clippers
Conference Finals: Miami over New York; Oklahoma City over Memphis
NBA Finals: Oklahoma City over Miami

Ferg
First round: Miami over Milwaukee, New York over Atlanta, Chicago over Indiana, Boston over Orlando; Oklahoma City over Denver, Dallas over Memphis, San Antonio over Portland, LA Clippers over LA Lakers
Second round: Miami over Boston, New York over Chicago; Oklahoma City over LA Clippers, Dallas over San Antonio
Conference Finals: Miami over New York; Oklahoma City over Dallas
NBA Finals: Miami over Oklahoma City

Josh
First round: Chicago over Philadelphia, Miami over Atlanta, Boston over New York, Indiana over Orlando; Oklahoma City over Phoenix, Dallas over Portland, LA Lakers over Memphis, San Antonio over LA Clippers
Second round: Chicago over Boston, Miami over Indiana; Oklahoma City over LA Lakers, Dallas over San Antonio
Conference Finals: Miami over Chicago; Oklahoma City over Dallas
NBA Finals: Miami over Oklahoma City

Photo Credit: LM Otero, Associated Press

The Nowhere Plans Big Ass NBA Preview – Part 4

Part 4 of the Big Ass NBA Preview continues with Eastern Conference squads we project to make the posteason.
Part 3: East non-playoff teams
Part 2: West playoff teams
Part 1: West non-playoff teams

(8) PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
Last season: 41-41 (3rd Atlantic, 7th East)
2011 Playoffs: Lost to Miami in first round 4-1
Ferg says: The Sixers got into the playoffs last year, actually got people excited for basketball here in eastern Pennsylvania, then pulled off the unthinkable and won a game from the Heat in their playoff series. Mazel Tov. How they got there was their ability to play defense (97.5 points against, 12th in the League) and grind teams to a halt. Elton Brand led the team with 15 PPG and 8.3 boards per game, finally showing his worth for his ridiculous contract and staying healthy the entire season. Igoudala’s 14 PPG still left a lot to be desired, but he continued to be a threat if you left him alone on offense and a strong defensive player (1.5 steals per game). Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams were interchangeable at the point and Spencer Hawes tried to hold down that center spot. All nice players, all serviceable in what the Sixers needed them to do, but no explosiveness from this team, and that’s what really helped make the Sixers’ exit a quick one. Philadelphia does not “wow” you or make you sit down and watch their games with interest… they’re boring. They don’t have a lot of firepower on the offensive end, they were overwhelmed by teams with dominant scoring guards (Celtics, Heat, Bulls, etc.) and they struggled on the road (15-26).

The Sixers must have decided that they were cool with last year’s team, because absolutely nothing has changed. Only guy that left? Jason Kapono. New guys? Rookies Nikola Vucevic and local boy Lavoy Allen. So, the Sixers shored up their front court with the rookie additions of those two, but we’ll see what impact they can have. Allen was a great player for Temple, a strong offensive player down low who could also crash the boards. Vucevic is the first-round draft pick from Switzerland. Vucevic is the typical European center: Quick feet, finesse inside, good jump shot, etc. Where he lacks is “rebounding and defense” which, as I’m sure you’re aware, are relatively important to the development of a young frontcourt player. Spencer Hawes is still the starting center (but that can and will change any second) and Marreese Speights can back-up both Hawes and Brand. Iggy is obviously the starter at the 3 spot, with Thad Young (underrated bench player and one of the keys to the Sixers’ success) and Andres Nocioni as his backups. Evan Turner is the starting 2-guard for right now ahead of Jodie Meeks, but don’t be surprised to see him split time with Jrue Holiday or Lou Williams, depending on who the Sixers want to throw out at point guard and mix around with. The guards will be important for the Sixers moving forward this year.

Worth watching: For better or worse, Philly has the same team this year that they had last year. So, they didn’t get worse (you’d think) but everyone around them may have gotten better. Look at the playoff teams from last year: Chicago-Miami-Boston-Atlanta-Orlando-New York-Philadelphia-Indiana. Can you really tell me you like the Sixers over any of those teams this year, right off the bat? The Pacers added George Hill and David West; the Knicks added Mike Bibby and Tyson Chandler; hell, even the Bucks snagged Beno Udrih, Steven Jackson and Shaun Livingston. They all (you’d think) improved their positioning, while the Sixers just added two guys and kept the same team. What you need to watch for is whether Allen or Vucevic have any impact on Doug Collins’ team this year. If they can come off the bench strong, maybe supplant Spencer Hawes as the starting centers, this team can get better. The Sixers are in desperate need of someone (paging Andre Igoudala) to step up and be a superstar. Your top scorer averaging 15 points per game will not win you anything, regardless of how balanced you are. The Sixers have no pizzazz, no spice, no flavor. They’re as white and bland as mayonnaise right now. I mean, if you’re cool with the last playoff spot, that’s great, but the Sixers want more than that…right?
NOWHERE PLANS says: JD-8, SF-8, DK-7, CL-8, TF-9, JB-8

(7) ATLANTA HAWKS
Last Season: 44-38 (3rd Southeast, 5th East)
2011 Playoffs: Beat Orlando in first round 4-2, lost to Chicago in second round 4-2
Chris says: The Hawks were one of the surprises of last season’s playoffs. Most people expected them to get steamrolled by Orlando in the first round. Not only did Atlanta hang around, they won the series in six. After that, people said they stood no chance against the Bulls, but were even with them through four games before losing in six.

There aren’t many changes between last year’s Hawks team and this year’s squad, but one key departure could really hurt the Hawks. Jamal Crawford left Atlanta to sign a two-year deal with Portland. It’s not often you’d say this about one of the most prolific chuckers in the game, but the Hawks are going to miss him. He provided instant offense off the bench, and was essentially the sixth starter for Atlanta. Outside of Joe Johnson, he was really the only guy on the team capable of taking over the game offensively.

Looking to replace that production, Atlanta went out and signed Tracy McGrady. T-Mac is coming off a season where he played 72 games for Detroit.  It may not seem like much, but it’s the most since his 2004-05 campaign with Houston. As a former McGrady fan, I hope he can stay healthy, but even if he can, he’s over the hill and won’t have the same game-changing ability that Crawford had.

The rest of Atlanta’s improvements will have to come from within, but where exactly does that come from? Joe Johnson has peaked as a player. Maybe he can improve on his awful 30 percent three-point shooting from last year, but even if he does, a drastic improvement isn’t likely. Josh Smith is an exciting player, but like Johnson, it’s not like he’s going to turn into a superstar this season.

Worth Watching: The guys to watch are Al Horford and Jeff Teague. Horford scored a career best 15.3 PPG last season to go along with 9 rebounds. Nothing too exciting, but to his credit, Horford has improved every season and is still at the point in his career where he can get better. Teague will get some serious playing time at the point, which is something a lot of Atlanta fans are excited to see. Teague held his own against league MVP Derrick Rose in the Eastern Semis last year, highlighted by a 21-point, 7-assist, no-turnover performance in Game 5. If he can perform at a high level for the entire season, Atlanta could turn into another surprise in the playoffs.

Interestingly enough though, Atlanta’s fate is probably tied to that of Dwight Howard. If Orlando deals Howard before the season, then the Hawks have a good chance to finish second in the division. If the Magic decide to roll the dice and keep him in hopes they can put together a run this year, then Atlanta is bound for third. Either way, they’ll be a playoff team with enough talent to at least make some of the top teams in the conference pay attention.
NOWHERE PLANS Says: JD-6, SF-7, DK-6, CL-6, TF-7, JB-7

(6) BOSTON CELTICS
Last Season: 56-26 (1st Atlantic, 3rd East)
2011 Playoffs: Beat New York in first round 4-0, lost to Miami in second round 4-1
Ferg says: The Celtics, built on experience, tenacity and an ability to play with unbelievable consistency in the playoffs, finally slowed down and bowed out to the eventual Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat last year. Throughout the regular season, Boston had uncharacteristic struggles on the road (Just 23-18) and suffered from inconsistent play the whole year. One night, you’d see Paul Pierce (19 PPG) and Ray Allen (44.4 percent from three) step it up to another level, and others you’d see the guys in green struggling to find their identity. The Shaquille O’Neal experiment failed miserably, and the Celtics inexplicably traded away one of their key cogs (Center/Forward/Big Man Kendrick Perkins) along with Nate Robinson to get back Jeff Green (3-guard with slash-ability), who’s a great player, but would not help the Celtics down low. Rajon Rondo averaged a STUPID 10.6 points and 11.2 assists per game, along with 2.25 steals per game to prove his worth on both sides of the ball. Rondo’s breakout season helped keep the shaky Celtics afloat, along with their obvious star power in Pierce, Allen and Garnett.

This year, the Celtics got an upgrade (in my humble opinion) with the swap of Glen Davis and Brandon Bass. “Big Baby” had run his course and had started to fade. Bass, who doesn’t necessarily have the finesse or athleticism of Davis, can still move without the ball, create space for himself and also provide a bit more of a reliable backup for when Garnett gets gassed. JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore add some much needed depth at the forward and guard positions, respectively. The Big 3 are another year older, and I would believe this might be their last run at a championship. Garnett’s legs don’t have much left, Allen is one bad ankle sprain from hobbling up and down, and I swear to God Paul Pierce looks drunk every time he dribbles/shoots/does a basketball-related move. That being said, when those three Hall of Famers are on (and more often than not, they’re on), you can never count the Celtics out, especially if Rondo has himself another ridiculous year dropping dimes. Celtics should be the third or fourth best team in the East once again, and a dark horse to get to the Finals.

Worth Watching: There’s a lot of things worth watching with this team, namely these big three questions: 1) Can Jermaine O’Neal stay healthy? 2) Can the rookies (Johnson and Moore) have an immediate impact? 3) How will this 66-game condensed season affect the Celtics? After the unfortunate loss of Jeff Green for the season (his unknown ailment required heart surgery; here’s hoping for a speedy recovery for the young player), health is going to be tantamount for the Celtics this year, and that third question becomes the most important, as a result. There’s a few instances with Boston playing three games in four days, six games in eight days, etc., and even a stretch in April where the Celts play five games in six days…that’s not good for the old legs that just got an extended break. What Boston needs is more depth, particularly at the center spot (O’Neal and Chris Wilcox are the only ones on the depth chart at the moment). Johnson may be able to fill that role, but relying on a rookie to be that sixth or seventh man off the bench at the center position (or maybe even start depending on what happens with O’Neal) is a tall order. With Green gone for the year, the Celtics need to find a good 2-/3-guard to help on the bench/score, because I’m not sure Sasha Pavlovic, Marquis Daniels and Keyon Dooling will do anything for this team as the season progresses.
NOWHERE PLANS Says: JD-7, SF-5, DK-5, CL-7, TF-4, JB-6

(5) INDIANA PACERS
Last season: 37-45 (2nd Central, 8th East)
2011 Playoffs: Lost to Chicago in first round 4-1
Josh says: It’s been a hard, long slog, but the Indiana Pacers are relevant again. Whether this team is of championship caliber is unimportant; the gates at Conseco Fieldhouse are rusting. The team Larry Bird has constructed will get bodies in the building and make life hell on its opposition. Hustle basketball without off-court incident is the sort of thing that Hoosiers love, and that’s what this deep, young team is set up to provide.

After Bird cleaned house by sending Metta World Peace nee Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson to the Warriors for Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy Jr. in 2008, the Pacers became known for their whiteness and little else. Drafting Tyler Hansbrough in 2009 before addressing the team’s pressing need for a point guard only added to the perception that the Hick from the Lick was sacrificing talent for “character.” Indiana had one championship-quality starter, in Danny Granger, and a whole bunch of bad contracts.

Now, the Pacers are shopping for luxury items–a shot creating 2-guard, a decent sixth big. Bad contracts were left to expire (Dunleavy) or turned into assets and picks (Murphy for Darren Collison, Jermaine O’Neal for Roy Hibbert). This offseason, Bird used his cap space to trade a middling pick in a bad draft for George Hill, a hometown boy and a rotation player on a good team, and acquired All-Star power forward David West on a relatively risk-free two-year deal. Last year’s first rounder, Paul George, is a 6-foot-10 talent who did a decent job on Derrick Rose in last year’s playoffs and has T-Mac upside. Hansbrough proved he could score and rebound (his own misses) last year, and will be that rarest of species, a scoring reserve big man. Jeff Foster returns to rebound at an absurd rate and get under opposing fans’ skin. Hibbert could take a leap into top-5 center territory, but even if the youth development goes nowhere, the Pacers will be in the playoffs under Frank Vogel.

Worth watching: Paul George is everywhere on defense, and if his potential is as advertised the Pacers could be looking at that elusive small-market, homegrown superstar. Darren Collison first showed his adeptness for the pick-and-roll/pop with West in New Orleans; reuniting them could provide a late game scoring option they lacked in the close playoff losses to the Bulls last year, while taking pressure off Granger. Most importantly, this team will hustle, refuting that ever-present criticism of NBA action–that no one tries.
NOWHERE PLANS says: JD-5, SF-6, DK-8, CL-5, TF-6, JB-5

(4) ORLANDO MAGIC
Last season: 52-30 (2nd Southeast, 4th East)
2011 Playoffs: Lost to Atlanta in first round 4-2
Chris says: Well, I could probably write a 25-page article on this team, but I’ll do my best to keep it as brief as possible. Orlando had a disappointing exit from the playoffs last season, getting upset by Atlanta in six games. Dwight Howard was phenomenal, but the rest of the team couldn’t hit a jump shot to save their lives. The series ended fittingly with J.J. Redick missing a wide open three in the closing seconds of the deciding game.

Unless you live under a rock (in which case, how are you reading this article on the internet?) you know this season is all about Dwight Howard. Howard could have been MVP last season, if everyone hadn’t decided in December that they were giving it to Derrick Rose. Howard is an elite rebounder and shot blocker, and last season he finally became a force on the offensive end. He averaged a career best 22.9 points, but it wasn’t how much he scored, but how he scored. Howard’s post moves were noticeably improved, making him an even tougher matchup for a league that’s lacking quality big men.

The problem with Orlando isn’t Howard, but his supporting cast. It’s the reason why Howard wants to get out of town. But the thing is, the rest of the team isn’t that bad. Inconsistent? Absolutely. Jameer Nelson is an accurate shooter and an underrated penetrator. He’s not a traditional point guard, but it’s not a traditional system, so Nelson is a decent fit. J.J. Redick has worked hard to dispel the myth that he was only a college star, as he scored a career best 10.1 points coming off the bench last season. Ryan Anderson might be the most exciting player on the team after Howard. The 7-footer is a lethal shooter and a better rebounder than you’d expect considering he’s a perimeter player on offense.

Not a lot of moves for Orlando this off-season. They re-signed Jason Richardson to a four-year deal. They waived Gilbert Arenas using the amnesty clause to get his contract off the books. They traded Brandon Bass for Big Baby Davis. This move is pretty much a wash, except for the fact that Howard and Davis are close friends, and Baby was on Howard’s wish list of players for Smith to go out and get.

Worth watching: This season could go one of two ways. If Howard stays this season and they run their offense they way it should be run, Orlando could still be a threat to win it all this season. Howard has grown to the point where it’s almost impossible for someone to shut him down for an entire game. A lot was made of how well Atlanta played defensively in that playoff series, but the reality is Orlando missed a ton of wide open shots. Shots they wanted to have. When they run the offense through Howard and create space for their shooters, they are almost impossible to beat. I honestly believe that if the Magic brings their A-game, they can beat any team in the NBA in a seven-game series.

While the boom potential is there, so is the bust potential. Howard could get traded mid-season. If he does, it’s lights out for the Magic. The system is built around Howard on offense and defense. The one-in, four-out offense doesn’t work with any other center in the league. Brook Lopez or Andrew Bynum wouldn’t demand the same defensive attention that Howard does. Defensively, it’s unbelievable what Howard does. Look at last year’s roster. Is there anyone other than Howard you would say is even above-average defensively? Absolutely not. Yet they are consistently one of the top defensive teams in the league solely because of Howard’s presence in the middle. So it will be interesting to watch to say the least. NBA champs, lottery team and everything in between are all possible for the Magic this season.
NOWHERE PLANS says: JD-4, SF-4, DK-3, CL-4, TF-5, JB-4

(3) NEW YORK KNICKS
Last season: 42-40 (2nd Atlantic, 6th East)
2011 Playoffs: Lost to Boston in first round 4-0
Ferg says: The Knicks made a big splash last year when they sold their house to Denver to grab Carmelo Anthony to try to pair him with Amaré Stoudemire. The hope was that those two, alongside “Mr. Big Shot” Chauncey Billups, would push the Knicks back into the playoffs and into darkhorse contention for the conference championship. Well, part of that came true. ‘Melo and company got back to the playoffs, but they were summarily dumped right back out in a four-game sweep at the hands of the Celtics. The Knicks had no problem scoring on teams last year (second in the league at 106.5 PPG) but had trouble playing defense (105.7 points against) and only grabbed 40 rebounds per game (20th in the league), which isn’t bad, but is a middling number. The Knicks had a lot of feel-good stories last year in their resurgence: The rookie Landry Fields, Danilo Gallinari becoming a legitimate three-point and scoring threat and Toney Douglas providing a lot of depth at the guard spot. Also gotta love the hidden gem, Wilson Chandler, who averaged over 15 PPG and became a great third scoring option for Billups to find throughout the year. Only two of those players return to this year’s edition. I think where the Knicks stuggled for consistency was the frontcourt, where Stoudemire and a cast of characters (Timofey Mosgov, Ronny Turiaf, Shelden Williams, Baloo from the Jungle Book, etc.) at the 5-spot tried to hold serve. That ended up being a big problem for the Knicks. Dominant centers/teams that could trot four athletic guards/forwards out there and create a mismatch at center (Boston) really took care of any issues the Knicks could present.

New York has made significant strides in trying to prevent that from happening again, and look to actually be a pretty impressive bunch. Take, for example, the addition of Tyson Chandler via free agency. The starting center from last year’s NBA champions? Sure…they’ll take that. Tyson’s presence immediately provides a strong rebounding presence down low, a great active defender and a pretty decent help defender to boot. Chandler’s athleticism can change the game on defense if someone breaks free to the basket: He can block shots pretty well. Chandler is also a center that can move without the basketball. He can’t shoot very well, but get him the ball down low and he’ll get to the basket. He’s an emotional guy and he’s got playoff experience.

Another big addition was Mike Bibby at the point guard spot to replace the loss of Chauncey Billups via the new amnesty clause. Another veteran player, Bibby, much like ‘Melo and STAT, is hungry for an elusive NBA title, and can there be anyone more motivated than the guy who was on the Kings during their epic early millennium battles with the Lakers? Bibby has struggled since then, playing well in Atlanta before falling off the horse and not showing much fight in Miami. Bibby still has the talent and is a great passing point guard.

Draft pick Iman Shumpert out of Georgia Tech will be a nice addition defensively and, if D’Antonio’s track record with rookies is any indication, he’ll get some significant playing time. Shumpert is the prototypical Yellow Jacket: Ridiculously athletic, strong and quick, but struggles with his shooting and plays somewhat out of control. Shumpert will not be relied upon to score, but he has to take care of the ball to make an impact.

Worth watching: It’s hard to say the Knicks aren’t in the top three of the East right now. ‘Melo and STAT Amaré are two of the premier forwards in the league. ‘Melo has proven time and time again that he can hit a shot from anywhere on the floor, and Stoudemire is once again looking like the young Amaré before microfracture surgery. Biggest thing to watch is the dynamic between Carmelo, Amaré and Chandler. Chandler plays with emotion and, as previously mentioned, has the championship pedigree now. On the outside, this is Carmelo and Amaré’s team, but who takes over and rallies the troops when the going gets tough? Also, can Landry Fields (the projected starting 2-guard right now) continue to play well, or is there a regression coming? Fields is a great slasher to get to the basket and a serviceable shooter, but getting a veteran to back him up (DeShawn Stevenson? Peja Stojakovic?) might be in the Knicks’ best interest. Depth will become a factor for the Knicks, but the starting five of Bibby-Fields-Anthony-Stoudemire-Chandler with Shumpert-Jeffries-Douglas-Walker off the bench is a pretty good start for the Knicks. Playoffs are essentially a given. We’ll see what can be done from there.
NOWHERE PLANS says: JD-3, SF-3, DK-4, CL-3, TF-2, JB-3

(2) CHICAGO BULLS
Last season: 62-20 (1st Central, 1st East)
2011 Playoffs: Beat Indiana in first round 4-1, beat Atlanta in second round 4-2, lost to Miami in Conference Finals 4-1
Josh says: Barring the arrival of Dwight Howard, the best thing one can say about your 2012 Chicago Bulls is that they can’t be any worse. Winning at a .750 clip and a conference finals trip isn’t shabby, so that’s not any sort of insult. Yet with the Death Star Heat in place and the Knicks and Pacers improving, this is the ceiling.

The Bulls will play defense. Joakim Noah will smoke mad dope and put up 12/15’s on a regular basis. They will fill the United Center (even in the dark days when Eddy Curry was their best player, crowds filled the UC for the LuvaBulls–yes, that’s what they call the cheerleaders–and assorted stoppage-in-play entertainment) and crowds will ooh-and-aww over Derrick Rose. Carlos Boozer will score in double digits and play no defense. Rip Hamilton should provide a reason to not play Keith Bogans, while bringing along his stylish facewear.  Rip and Luol Deng will combine to shoot lots of inefficient 20-footers, the latter ruined from years of Skiles & Del Negro offenses.

Tom Thibodeau might milk a little more improvement out of this roster and a few more steps behind the arc. Omer Asik is an intriguing center prospect. But in 2012, it’s not going to be enough to get over the hump. Boozer isn’t a complete bum in the playoffs (see the first two rounds of 2007), but once matched against any sort of athletic, active front line he becomes a toadstool. He struggled against the Pacers last year, who weren’t exactly throwing prime Ben Wallace at him, and LeBron can defend him one-on-one.

Rose is a top-tier crunch time scorer, and so the Bulls will beat teams with inferior late game offense (see Pacers and Hawks in last year’s playoffs). But he doesn’t have any last-three-minutes help, and all the Joakim screaming and Kyle Korver three-pointers in the world don’t make up for the lack of another franchise-type guy running alongside. Rose needs at least his Pippen, if he can’t have a Superman, and until that addition happens the Bulls are not a championship squad.

Worth watching: Derrick Rose. This needs no elaboration. For the nerdier among you, Thibodeau earned his head coaching gig with his defensive coordination in Boston; the Bulls are the team to watch if you want to refute your college basketball supremacist friend’s arguments about rotations on D. Asik is the prospect to watch, and has been asked for in every major trade proposal, but as a tweener wing from Marquette, Jimmy Butler could be a sleeper rotation candidate (see Wesley Matthews).
NOWHERE PLANS Says: JD-2, SF-1, DK-2, CL-2, TF-3, JB-1

(1) MIAMI HEAT
Last season: 58-24 (1st Southeast, 2nd East)
2011 Playoffs: Beat Philadelphia in first round 4-1, beat Boston in second round 4-1, beat Chicago in Conference Finals 4-1, lost to Dallas in NBA Finals 4-2
Chris says: All the Heat did last season was change the entire landscape of the NBA. Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all deciding they wanted to play together has started a domino effect of other superstars looking to join their own “Big 3’s”. New York got Carmelo and Amar’e, and were hoping to add Chris Paul as the third piece. Dwight Howard wants to team up with Deron Williams in New Jersey. The rich are getting richer in the NBA, which absolutely sucks if you are a fan of any of the 25 non-super teams.

On the court, the Heat got off to a very slow start, and there was talks about whether Pat Riley would take over for Erik Spoelstra. But the Heat got their acts together and were dominant for the second half of the season, ending up as the 2-seed in the playoffs. After dominating the Bulls in the Conference Finals, it looked a done deal that Miami would run the slow, old Mavericks right out of the arena in the NBA Finals. You know how things went from there. The Game 2 collapse. Lebron James doing his best Harry Houdini disappearing act in the fourth quarter. If you’re like me and couldn’t stand Lebron for taking the easy way out and coming to Miami, it was great to watch.

All choking aside, Miami is still a team that should scare everybody. The potential of this team is off the charts. Many teams have one shut-down defender that they can put on the opposing team’s best player. Not many have two, and that’s the big question with the Heat: Who do you try to stop? Either Wade of James is capable of shredding a team’s second best defender. And that’s not even taking Chris Bosh into account. He’s not a superstar like Wade or James, but he’s easily the best third-fiddle in the league.

Once you get past the Big 3 though, Miami is pretty thin. Joel Anthony is still the starting center, which should pretty much tell you everything you need to know about the Heat’s depth. Mike Miller didn’t make the impact the Heat hoped he would have, scoring just 5.6 PPG off the bench. Miami’s fifth and sixth leading scorers last year were Eddie House and Mike Bibby. Yikes. The addition of Shane Battier should help giving Miami a boost off the bench, and makes the Heat that much scarier on defense.

Worth watching: Ultimately, the regular season is pretty unimportant for Miami. They’re going to make the playoffs. They’re going to get a good seed. It’s what they do under the pressure of the postseason that will make or break their season. Can Lebron finally shake off the image of a choker? I almost feel a little bad for the guy. He’s one of the most unique talents ever to play in the NBA. He’s a great scorer, but an even better all-around player. Whether it’s rebounding, running the offense at the point or playing defense, Lebron can do anything you ask him to. But by choosing to come to Miami, he put even more pressure on himself to win a title and until he does, he’s going to have to deal with questions about his ability to come up in the clutch. As we found out in last year’s NBA Finals, the most talented team doesn’t always win. For James and the Heat, they’re hoping this year, the most talented team does.
NOWHERE PLANS says: JD-1, SF-2, DK-1, CL-1, TF-1, JB-2

Tomorrow: The Nowhere Plans NBA crew unveil their playoff predictions.

The Nowhere Plans Big Ass NBA Preview – Part 3

Part 3 of the Big Ass NBA Preview continues with the Least of the East, seeds 15 through 9.
Part 2: West playoff teams
Part 1: West non-playoff teams

(15) TORONTO RAPTORS
Last season: 22-60 (5th Atlantic, 14th East)
2011 Playoffs: Did not qualify
Ferg says: Basketball in Canada has been pretty dismal the last few years. Three years and no playoff appearances, an abysmal campaign last year (second only to the Cavs in the East, third behind the Timberwolves in the League) and a fall from an okay team to basketball irrelevance. Last year’s team went a brutal 6-35 on the road, giving up nearly 106 points per game and only scoring about 99. Andrea Bargnani (now entering his fifth season) averaged a cool 21.5 PPG, with 5.1 boards a night as well. Bargnani is a center with impressive range on his jumper and great athleticism, but he needed help last year to even make the Raptors competitive. DerMar DeRozan averaged a little over 17 PPG last year and is a great slasher who can get to the basket. He’s been a nice little surprise for Toronto, and he can only improve. His distance shooting (less than 9 percent from three) left a lot to be desired last year. Leandro Barbosa is on the Raptors, I had no idea. Shows how far he’s fallen. The guy who was once the big X-factor for those Suns teams in ‘06, ‘07 and ‘08 is wasting away on a 22-win Raptors team. The rest of the squad from last year is a who’s who cadre of role players shoved into starting spots where they don’t belong: Linas Kleiza, Jose Calderon, James Johnson, Jerryd Bayless, etc. The Raps had trouble shooting from distance (31.6 percent as a team) and suffered from bad guard play and a lack of muscle inside. They won 22 games out of a possible 82, what more do you want me to say about last year?

The Raptors were very active in free agency, but the jury is still out on whether or not these moves will considerably improve the pride of Toronto. This year’s team returns the starting five of Calderon-DeRozan, James Johnson, Amir Johnson, Bargnani and the addition of Anthony Carter (PG), Rasual Butler (SG) and Aaron Gray (PF/C) should provide some depth to a thin Raptors team. Carter is a journeyman point that has been on a few teams in his time (the Raptors are team number six) and he has been the backup on some pretty good teams that went into the playoffs and made some moves (Denver Nuggets of 2008-2010), so it’s clear Carter has the experience that, quite frankly, the Raptors lack. I like the Gray pickup. He may not be the most skilled (career 3.6 points per game) at scoring, but he’s a different player from Bargnani and he’s still young and developing. Gray is a big presence and can be relied upon to spell Amir Johnson or Bargnani and grab rebounds. He’s physical, which the Raptors need. Along with Carter, Jerryd Bayless will be backing up Jose Calderon, and if his April was any indication as to what’s to come, Bayless may prove to be valuable to the Raptors down the road. Jerryd averaged 22.5 points last April, seeing his minutes per game double from 20 to almost 40. Bayless is a great young player with plenty of potential. With Barbosa coming off the bench/starting on back-to-backs on the road, I think the guard spots for Toronto has stabilized.

Worth watching: Let’s be honest right now, the Raptors will not be making the playoffs this year, or at least not without monumental collapses out in front of them. That being said, the Raptors are young in a lot of positions, so they should be fun to watch if they can start to gel. Something you need to look out for with this team is the development of Bayless as a scorer. As I’ve said, this team lacks a serious three-point threat outside of Bargnani, who can and will hit the three, but is much more effective for the team’s success if he’s around the rim. James Johnson and Amir Johnson (no relation) both need to continue to improve, particularly Johnson’s scoring ability. Expect Toronto to be frisky and streaky this season, but they’ll more often than not look like bottom-feeders in the Eastern Conference.
NOWHERE PLANS says: JD-15, SF-14, DK-14, CL-14, TF-13, JB-14

(14) CHARLOTTE BOBCATS
Last season: 34-48 (4th Southeast, 10th East)
2011 Playoffs: Did not qualify
Chris says: 2010-2011 was certainly a disappointing season for those following the Bobcats. After making it to the playoffs as a 7-seed the year before, Charlotte stumbled out of the gates to the tune of a 9-19 start. Out went head coach Larry Brown and in came interim Paul Silas. The team seemed to respond to Silas, which earned him the permanent coaching position.  Still, Charlotte finished the season well out of the playoffs with a 34-48 record.

This year might be another step back for the Bobcats. Their two leading scores from last year (Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace) are no longer with the team; same for the top two rebounders (Wallace and Kwame Brown). That in itself isn’t bad, but the problem is that Charlotte really didn’t acquire anybody to replace that production. Corey Magette was a part of the deal that sent Captain Jack to Milwaukee, but Magette is 32 and coming off one of his worst seasons in nearly a decade.

Worth watching: If there’s one thing to be excited about with Charlotte, it’s the young backcourt. Point guard D.J. Augustin is poised for a breakout season. The fourth-year player from Texas averaged a career best 14.4 points and 6 assists last season for the Bobcats, and that was with Jackson and Wallace ahead of him in the pecking order. Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but I think Augustin comes close to being a 20-point, 8-assist guy this season.

The other big storyline heading into the season revolves around Charlotte’s first round draft pick Kemba Walker. The 9th overall selection is coming off an iconic run to the NCAA Championship with UConn. Walker is a fearless shooter and, in addition to being a prolific scorer, he was a clutch one too. Much like Augustin, Walker won’t have too much competition for shots, and could very well be the second or third scoring option when he’s on the floor. Walker should be in the mix for Rookie of the Year this season.

Unfortunately for Charlotte, the individual prospects for some of its players seem to be more exciting than the team’s prospects. The East is getting stronger and Charlotte is getting weaker. The Bobcats should have their hands full with staving off an up-and-coming Washington team for the fourth spot in the division.
NOWHERE PLANS says: JD-13, SF-13, DK-15, CL-12, TF-15, JB-15

(13) CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Last season: 19-63 (5th Central, 15th East)
2011 Playoffs: Did not qualify
Josh says: The Cavs have young talent and a proven coach. This is not enough to hope for much winning in the next year or three, but if owner Dan Gilbert can avoid getting his team contracted for overuse of Comic Sans in bitchy e-mails, the Cavs have a sort-of plan. Byron Scott  will get the opportunity to show if he can nurture a star point guard in Kyrie Irving, after having success with Chris Paul and Jason Kidd.  Scott will also get the opportunity to show if he’s a flexible sort of guy, after his last season with the Hornets was marred by accusations of crappy-veteran bias. After using their amnesty on Baron Davis, Cleveland only boasts one overpaid, yet competent veteran in Antawn Jamison and a maybe-tradeable big in Anderson Varejao. Scott will have to play the young guys, but it remains to be seen if he’ll let them run.

He should encourage a fast pace, because this team is born to run. Cleveland’s two top-5 draft picks, Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, are good in the open floor. And they’re like 19, so let them get the chucking out of their system now.  With the competent if unimpressive BOOBIE Gibson and Ramon Sessions in the backcourt, ballhandling shouldn’t be awful. Jamison was at his best in the Golden State run and gun days, and the Cavs will be starting the NBA’s current pride of Israel, Omri Casspi, a wing with a European-flavored game. Byron Scott does not run (although he does appear to be a coach that gets offensive efficiency out of his teams). They might as well, though, because they’re gonna be real bad on defense.

Goofy and awkward Golden Domer Luke Harangody might get 15 minutes a game, still. They’re gonna be bad on defense.

Worth watching: Uhh, free throw rate? The Cavs are a pure upside watch, and Kyrie Irving, has plenty of it at the game’s current premier position. Second-year Michigan man Manny Harris, blessed with good size at  the 2 and a decent touch beyond the arc, seems like the quintessential candidate for a 12-team, 15-year career: The journey begins here. If Scott lets them run, Cleveland should be a sneaky good watch against other offense-heavy young units. Wiz-Cavs should be fun games.
NOWHERE PLANS says: JD-14, SF-15, DK-13, CL-15, TF-11, JB-13

(12) DETROIT PISTONS
Last season: 30-52 (4th Central, 11th East)
2011 Playoffs: Did not qualify
Josh says: Sometime after the Pistons’ 2004 Larry Brown Team Basketball championship, Joe Dumars hit his head on the GM competency ceiling. We should remember that this is the man who drafted Darko over Carmelo Anthony and Dwayne Wade, but his nightlight never burned brighter than in the afterglow from that feel-good title. It was the reinvention of Team, over the Me-Mes of Kobe & Shaq; even Sheed got his act together enough to participate. Give Dumars credit for putting together a title-winning core with no bona fide top-10 superstar, something that hadn’t happened since the original Bad Boys. Give him credit for milking the last half season of high-post brilliance out of Chris Webber in ’06-’07. Give LeBron credit for breaking the Pistons apart with 25 straight points in Game 5 of the 2007 Conference Finals.

But shame on Mr. Dumars for trying to rebuild a team “on the fly” without any sort of centerpiece to the operation. When you have a championship core sans-superstar(s), building another core of the same caliber takes some tough decisions. It doesn’t mean spending $80-odd million of cap space on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva’s blinding dome. It doesn’t mean signing your marginal All-Star point guard to a big deal and then trading him for a 30-something Allen Iverson. What a rebuild, on the fly or not, certainly does not mean is hiring your third head coach in four seasons after two straight years in the lottery, and THEN re-upping for four years with Tayshaun Prince with young depth at his position. As of this writing, it was unclear if the very definition of solid-combo-guard-with questions, Rodney Stuckey, was going to get overpaid by Dumars, or if Stuckey was overvaluing his services to such an extent that he’d end up signing a measly qualifying offer with intentions on hitting unrestricted free agency next summer.

Fortunately for Palace denizens, a couple years of mediocrity has yielded some talent, and if Lawrence Frank is smart he’ll get the kids minutes as much as possible. As an added bonus, Detroit has not yet used its Get Out of a Crappy Contract Free card yet, and so they can still jettison the last $20 million or so of Gordon or Villanueva for next summer’s strong free agent class.

Worth watching: The Greg MonroeBrandon Knight running combo is the Pistons’ future, with Austin Daye and Jonas Jerebko in supporting roles on the wing. If it’s more of the young guys and less of the old in Detroit this year, they should contribute to the Not-Good-But-Fun rotation of 7 p.m. contests in the East’s lower levels.
NOWHERE PLANS says: JD-12, SF-12, DK-12, CL-13, TF-14, JB-12

(11) WASHINGTON WIZARDS
Last season: 23-59 (5th Southeast, 13th East)
2011 Playoffs: Did not qualify
Chris says: Despite finishing 14 games out of a playoff spot in the East, there was some reason for hope for Washington. The Wizards took John Wall with the first overall pick in the 2010 draft, and he quickly became one of the top young point guards in the league. Wall averaged 16 points and 8 assists per night, as well as about 2 steals per game. His shooting (41 percent) left something to be desired, but the Wizards have their point guard of the future with Wall.

Washington has a good chance to improve on last year’s 23-59 record.  Four of their projected starters (Wall, Nick Young, Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee) are all 26 or younger. Young led the team with 17.4 PPG last year.  Blatche and McGee offer double-double potential on a nightly basis, plus McGee is one of the top shot-blockers in the game. Add to the mix explosive rookie Jan Vesely and at the very least the Wizards should be extremely fun to watch.

The Wizards haven’t added any major players via free agency, but did pick up a pair of bench players that could make a difference. Roger Mason Jr. is a career 38 percent three-point shooter and that’s an area where they Wizards sorely need help. The team was third-worst in the NBA, shooting 33.2 percent from three.  Washington also picks up some help on the interior, acquiring Ronny Turiaf as part of the three-team trade that landed the Knicks Tyson Chandler.

Worth watching:  Let’s be honest here, 2011-2012 is still going to be a tough season for the Wizards. This is the same team that went a league-worst 3-38 on the road last year. Best case scenario is they squeak into the playoffs as a below-.500 8-seed in the East before mercilessly getting swept by Miami. Realistically, the Wizards should be happy to get out of the cellar in the Southeast. They’ll have plenty of plays on the Sportscenter Top 10, and the three- to four-year prospects of this team is very intriguing, but a 30-35 win season and a fourth place finish in the division would be a big victory for Washington this season.
NOWHERE PLANS says: JD-11, SF-11 DK-11, CL-11, TF-10, JB-11

(10) NEW JERSEY NETS
Last season: 24-58 (4th Atlantic, 12th East)
2011 Playoffs: Did not qualify
Ferg says: When Russian playboy and gazillionaire Mikhail Prokhorov bought the Nets last year, there was wild speculation he’d go one of two ways: Run the team like a European soccer club and start buying people left and right, or run it like an arm of the Russian mafia and we’d start finding an increasing number of bodies washing up in the Hudson. Neither of those scenarios played out, as Prokhorov kept relatively quiet…until, you know, he announced his candidacy in Mother Russia. The Nets last year instead operated like the dysfunctional bunch they are: Improving from their abysmal 2009-10 campaign (12-70) to double their win total (24) and prove somewhat frisky, if otherwise, bad. They managed only five wins on the road, three wins in division and 13 in conference, so moral victories came at a premium. Getting Deron Williams in a ridiculous move from the Jazz (those damn Mormons strike again), turned out to be a blessing for the Nets, who can now try to pair Williams (a top-3 point guard in the league and much, much better than Devin Harris) with Brook Lopez and, hopefully, one or two more big players to turn the Nets back into a contender. Lopez’s star continues to rise, as the former Stanford standout (ee what I did there?) averaged almost 21 PPG and turned into a decent center who isn’t afraid to step out and shoot, but who can still take it strong to the hole. Williams averaged 20 points and 10 assists per game. Jordan Farmar’s 9.6 points and 5 assists per game were great off the bench, and with the playoff experience and solid play he provides, he proved to be a decent pickup for the Nets last year.

The Nets signed Jordan Williams (a young rookie forward out of Maryland) and also signed the ugliest human being ever created, center Shelden Williams (so they can balance out Maryland with a Dukie, I guess) as two solid pickups. The Landlord is on his seventh team in six years, so someone out there still thinks he can dictate play like he used to. He and J-Will will be relied upon to spell Lopez and also might be starting centers with Lopez at the four. The Nets got rid of Travis Outlaw via the new amnesty clause, so the roles of Stephen Graham, Anthony Morrow and Damion James just increased with this team, for now. Morrow’s listed as the 2-guard, but has the size to be a 3 if duty calls. The Nets have Sundiata Gaines on the bench as well, who you may remember as the dude who played the game of his life on a ten-day contract, so the depth at point guard is good for the Nets. I’d like to see them grab a 3-guard/3-4 hybrid player to really move into contender status. Until that moment, the soon-to-be-Brooklyn Nets are improving, but are still a long way away from being legitimate contenders in the East. They might back their way into a playoff spot, but with the Knicks and Sixers out in front, not to mention the Celtics atop the division, the Nets will have a tough go in their own division, let alone the East.

Worth watching: The thing to watch for the Nets is whether or not they’ll make a move to grab a big name this year. There’s rumors that they’re trying to court Dwight Howard, but I’m really unsure as to whether or not he’s going to move this season. Deron Williams has opted out of his extension, partly because he wants a new contract. So, with the move to Brooklyn coming, the Nets have to pick up a piece that Deron will want to stick around for, and also for their fans to enjoy. Again, a good 3-4 hybrid forward would really push the Nets upwards in the East. Put someone like that on the floor, and suddenly the Nets have the option to play Lopez at the 5 (where he’s a nightmare matchup for most centers) or the 4 (where he’s still a tough matchup) with either J-Will or Shelden Williams at the 5. Another solid fit would be a scoring 2-guard who can shoot. Deron Williams can get to the rim when he needs to, but needs a player that he can rely on to hit jumpers when he penetrates. Look for crazy presidential-hopeful Prokhorov to make some moves this year to improve his team.
NOWHERE PLANS says: JD-9, SF-9, DK-10, CL-10, TF-12, JB-10

(9) MILWAUKEE BUCKS
Last season: 35-47 (3rd Central, 9th East)
2011 Playoffs: Did not qualify
Josh says: Two years ago, around this time of year, a friend of mine convinced me to go in on a “mini-season” ticket package for one Milwaukee Bucks basketball club. It remains one of the best sports-related decisions of my life. For 2009-10 was the year of “Fear The Deer,” a surprising Bucks squad that ended up finishing sixth in the East with a streaky rookie point guard rocking a flat top (it’s coming back–be aware) and an Australian center having a career year. Until Amar’e ran under him as he finished a fast break in April.  From the upper deck, it was obviously a season-ending injury. Even without Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee took Atlanta to seven in the first round and showed admirable spunk as the Bradley Center crowd stayed hot, with Squad 6 leading the noise brigade.

Last year, Andrew Bogut didn’t have quite the same mojo, and Brandon Jennings suffered the dreaded sophomore slump. GM John Hammond inexplicably signed John Salmons, Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden to overpriced deals, and the Bucks finished out of the playoffs. How to recover from this downer?

First, it begins with “Fear The Deer,” which is an appropriate moniker for a Scott Skiles team. Deer, white-tailed or otherwise, are generally only fearsome when they are in your way. A Hoosier through and through, Skiles is the NBA’s all-time (single game) assists leader and a strong believer in defense. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute gives him plenty of that, with no offense, at the wing. Stephen Jackson is still a solid defender with or without a firearm, and Bogut was a top-3 center in 2009-10 before The Fall. No kidding. If Bogut is at his ceiling, the Bucks will be in the playoffs. It doesn’t hurt that Hammond ate a big bowl of Colon Blow this past draft night,  expelling Maggette and Salmons and getting S-Jax for the price of taking on a bad contract/competent backup point in Beno Udrih and a few spots in a bad draft.

The Bucks could slip back into the morass of the East’s bottom feeders if only a few things go right, but they could also be a scary team every night, especially in a building that can rock even when half-empty.

Worth watching: Brandon Jennings has a loose game that features plenty of crossing-over and a beautiful floater. Here’s hoping he quits chucking threes (like last year) and gets to the driving and dishing that’s his bread-and-pickle. If Bogut and Jennings be there in full, 6’10” Turk Ersan Ilyasova will be the third offensive option on a playoff team. Since we’re all required to pick the “next Dirk,” I’m putting him up for nomination; he’s in his sixth year in the league, and he can score.
NOWHERE PLANS says: JD-10, SF-10, DK-9, CL-9, TF-8, JB-9

Tomorrow: A look at our projected playoff teams from the East.

Photo Credit: Stacy Bengs, Associated Press

The Promoter: The Hits Keep Coming, Man

The past weekend’s bouts delivered good action without much in the way of surprise.  Miguel Cotto abused Antonio Margarito’s robot eye and firmly placed himself back into the SuperFights conversation.  If Pacquiao and Mayweather don’t get together, Cotto is a guy who can sell out a building and do good pay-per-view numbers all on his lonesome; in short, don’t be surprised to see Pacquiao-Cotto II or Mayweather-Cotto coming your way this spring.

It was a shame that the largely Puerto Rican crowd filling the Garden last Saturday in support of Cotto wouldn’t get loud for the undercard.  In a high-paced fight, Delvin Rodriguez beat Pawel Wolak convincingly enough that the latter decided to retire, and Brandon Rios overcame weight issues to bloody (the) hell out of Brit John Murray until a merciful 11th round stoppage.  Some nights, you’ve got to settle for good fights, not All Time Greats.

Here at The Promoter we can dip into greatness anytime (thanks Internet!) and our excuse this week is boxing’s Hall of Fame inductions.   I am far from qualified to comment on all of the inductees into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, located in lovely Canastota, NY.   The fight game doesn’t afford the would-be critic the easily wavable numbers that make it so easy to stomp feet about the neuroses keeping out a Blyleven or Santo for oh-so-many years.   I’m sure there’s plenty of worthwhile fighters uninducted (although even boxing can’t compete with the Aging Rock And Rollers for HOF as Money Grab).

We’re going to ignore all of these worthy concerns, and focus on the undisputed headliner of this year’s IBHOF class: Thomas “The Motor City Cobra”/”The Hitman” Hearns.

Tommy Hearns’ career was not over until 2006-he waited five years for enshrinement-but his glory days were the 1980s.  He was one of “The Four Kings” who ruled the sport, coming up from Detroit’s Kronk gym with ridiculous power, height and length for a welterweight.

Here’s Hearns winning his first title from Mexican Pipino Cuevas at the Joe Louis Arena in 1980.  The cartoonish knockout comes around 5:30. Note the complete lack of advertising in the ring.

Hearns’ greatest achievement might be knocking out Roberto Duran.  The Panamanian great had only been down twice in his career until this fight, having already fought professionally 70some times at the age of 32.  Sugar Ray Leonard made Duran quit on his stool in the “No Mas” fight, but “Hands of Stone” had never been out cold.  Until 1984:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DvPFKii9-A

There were lots more wins for Tommy Hearns, and a bunch of spectacular knockouts, but he’ll probably be remembered best for his three rounds in 1985 with “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler. Disgustingly good stuff.

What 2 Watch 4

This coming weekend’s premiere fight matches England’s Amir Khan with DC’s Lamont Peterson, in a title bout at 140 pounds.  Khan has fast hands and good power, but his chin can be tested; Peterson’s a solid inside fighter who will have home ring advantage at Washington’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Keep it above the belt till we talk again.

 

 

The Promoter: The Barn’s Already Burning

“This is a PHONEBOOTH war,” blow-by-blow announcer Jim Lampley will say at some point during HBO’s pay-per-view broadcast this Saturday, and while the kids watching on their iLives won’t know what a phonebooth is, he will be correct.

There’s a whole slew of fights this weekend that promise Serious Action. Breadbaskets will be invaded, fighters will visit each other’s kitchens, chins will be tested, and yes, two sweaty shirtless men will attempt to occupy the same phonebooth.  There’s nowhere in those trunks to keep their cell phones, you see, and even if they did, they have no use of their digits to text away.  Please suggest some some new cliches.

Whatever you call fighting-in-close-proximity, this isn’t speculation: A lot of these guys have gone at it before, and produced some spectacular fights.

The headlining fight on the HBO show is a rematch between Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto and Mexican Antonio Margarito, and their first bout was a thriller. Margarito fights like the Terminator-not all that agile, but he keeps coming and absorbs blows, and he took plenty of them from the skilled Cotto through 11 rounds in 2008 before his pressure and left uppercut stopped the pound-for-pound top 10 boxer.

In an alternate universe, this is a good rematch that happened too late; Cotto and Margarito were both whipped by Manny Pacquiao.  Either or both of them could be shot, done, and Margarito has the very real concern of a right eye destroyed by Manny that gave the New York State Athletic Commission a long pause before it gave the go-ahead.

But this is a grudge match, full of Bad Blood: Six months after he stopped Cotto, Margarito was found with a sticky plaster of Paris-like substance in his hand wraps before he fought, and looked very unTerminator-like, against Shane Mosley.

No one’s sure if one or the other of these guys is done, but someone is getting bloody.  A sampling of quotes in the lead-up include Cotto calling Margarito a “criminal” and saying he’ll play with his health, as Antonio plays Super-Heel, in sunglasses and track suits and calling Cotto “little girl” and “crybaby.” The two episodes of HBO’s promotional series, 24/7, are well worth watching.

The undercard features three more fights with guaranteed action.  Brandon Rios is a mini-Margarito; the two Mexicans train together, and Rios is a similar sort of come-forward action fighter who can be an asshole, although he’s more skilled. His last fight he dispatched the solid Urbano Antillion in three. His opponent is John Murray, and while it’s unclear why he’s getting the title shot over countryman Kevin Mitchell, who stopped him in 8 in a UK Fight of the Year candidate, he’ll be throwing punches until he can’t anymore.

Philly welterweight Mike Jones has a near 80% KO rate and and has put on two straight hearty fights with Jesus Soto Karass.  He faces Argentine Sebastian Lujan, a thick welter who’s never been knocked out cold and is coming off a KO victory on Friday Night Fights in July.

Yet the most anticipated fight on the card among hardcore fans might be the opener, a rematch between Pawel Wolak and Delvin Rodriguez.  These are two good but unspectacular fighters who put on an absurdly good fight in July on ESPN.  In one of those odd occurrences where what should happen happens, they’re getting paid good money to do it again on a big stage.

Wolak had a hematoma over his right eye that looked like a ripe apple by the end, but ref Steve Smoger let them go, since the ring doctor said “let them roll.”  Smoger is famous for his laissez-faire approach to stopping fights, and he’ll be in the ring for the main event.  As if it needed anymore guaranteed excitement.

As an added bonus for those with premium cable but not looking to shell out PPV money (or with the broadband capability to find it on Google, WHICH IS HIGHLY ILLEGAL), Showtime’s got a two-fight bantamweight show with its own punchers and backstory.  Ghanian Joseph Agbeko and Mexican-American Abner Mares headline in a rematch of their August fight, where Agbeko got crotchshotted all night long, with ref Russell Mara doing jack about it.   Besides the empathetic pain experienced watching, it was otherwise a good fight.  The left-hand slinging Armenian-Australian Vic Darchinyan is in action with his great power and slowing reflexes against rangy Panamanian Anselmo Moreno, making his U.S. debut.

Hope Springs

Since there is a school of wisdom that says all you care about is Pacquiao-Mayweather, it’s my duty to tell you that those talks are looking better than they have in a long time.   But don’t get your hopes up!  However, neither guy really has any better options.  Plus, they’ll each make like $50 million for the fight, and that would be cool for them, I guess.

Further Reading

Eric Raskin has a pretty good contribution at Grantland to the ever-present for boxing writers genre of  “reconciling brute violence with my secular humanism.”

Till next weekish, stay in that kitchen boys and girls.

 

The Promoter: Won, Lost, Who Knows? You Do.

Juan Manuel Marquez won his fight with Manny Pacquiao last weekend, and it wasn’t close.

The fight itself was close. But the big winner was Marquez, and it might have been better for Manny if he had lost rather than won.

Do you follow?

The short of it, the Bottom Line style takeaway, was this: Manny Pacquiao defeated Juan Manuel Marquez on a majority decision, with scores of 116-112, 115-113, 114-114; CompuBox had Pacquiao landing 117 power punches to 100 for Marquez.

Those numbers don’t mean jack in the overall picture, which is a source of frustration for the casual fan and provides plenty of conversational fodder for the initiated.  They aren’t points scored or goals allowed.  The judges’ decision is legally binding and goes on a boxer’s record, but doesn’t determine the next fight he takes.  Despite the futuristic name, CompuBox “statistics” are nothing more than the judgment calls of a ringside punch tracker.

Someday electrodes implanted under fighters’ skin will register punches and declare winners on cell damage differential.  For now, boxing is one of the few sports left where your opinion counts.

It’s my humbleish opinion, after three viewings, that Marquez won a close decision. I scored it twice for him and once for Pacquiao, while admittedly trying to give Manny rounds.  This opinion puts me in a  majority among the fans who felt that the Mexican won a close decision, and that the judge giving Pacman eight rounds (116) to Marquez’s four (112) was way off base.

Why did I see it this way?  I’m looking for clean, hard punches.  Marquez landed a few more; a number of those scored by CompuBox for Pacquiao were from his sometimes slappy right hand.  I’m also looking for not getting hit (ie “defense”), and Marquez did plenty of that too.  Finally, if it’s close on those factors (and it was), I do consider what is broadly termed “ring generalship,” or who controlled the action.  Although Pacquiao moved forward a lot more, it wasn’t moving with purpose; Marquez kept stepping out and to his left just enough to keep Manny off-balance and uncertain about when he should attack.

Why are people screaming robbery?  Besides the fact that Marquez was guaranteed $10 million in a rematch clause should he have won, I think it’s mostly because Marquez made it his fight, scoring with counterpunches all night.  He never let Manny come forward in the rushing demonry that made the Filipino a star, making him look frustrated and confused.  In addition, Juan Manuel was such a massive underdog going in that he vastly exceeded expectations, so even a fight that could arguably be scored a draw seems like a big win.  All the talk leading up to the fight from the Pacquiao camp was “we’re going to put this guy out for good.”  He didn’t.

Also, it’s fun to yell.  We can argue over the merits of quarterbacks or point guards, but eventually someone will go to “Scoreboard!” or “Count the Rings!”  Percentages and counting stats are endlessly cited.  In an age of high-definition instant replay, the results of individual games in the team sports are open to little interpretation.  Outrage has been mostly eliminated at the rules and officiating; venom for poor outcomes must be turned on players and coaches.  Boxing fandom allows one to access that fount of scorn for misguided authority that otherwise must be directed into the political sphere, and who wants to talk about that.

If you only know these three fights from the record books Marquez has lost twice and drawn once, in a fight he was knocked down thrice in the first round. That these two might very well go at it a fourth time might seem strange, but it means that Juan Manuel Marquez has again shown himself to be one of the best in the world. At 38.  That’s winning.

Moving forward

Not only did Marquez win in the Court of Public Opinion, but promoter Bob Arum announced within 24 hours that he was planning on making Marquez-Pacquiao IV, rather than aiming for a Mayweather fight.  Not only did this confirm the bias of many after Saturday’s fight that Manny would get picked apart by Floyd Jr. (like Marquez, a counterpuncher, except bigger), it gave Juan Manuel all sorts of leverage in negotiations.   Not that he needed more: 37 million households tuned in from Mexico.  Percentage-wise, those are Super Bowl-type numbers.  Say boxing struggles in the States, even call it dead, but it has plenty of homelands worldwide where it’s doing just fine.

It might not be fair to Pacquiao, but his close win, perceived to be a bit of Vegas favoritism by many,  and the fact that he didn’t explicitly admit defeat in post-fight interviews turned him into something of a villain, in the course of an hour.  Redemption cycles happen quickly in the fight game, though, and a vintage performance in his next outing can put him right back in the public’s good graces.

Marquez put a cherry on his his good night early Sunday morning, when he left the ring immediately and only deigned to give the HBO interview in his locker room, naked, with a sombrero covering his nether regions.  Super cool.

This week’s celebrity sightings

Brad Pitt took a break from his adoptive menagerie to knock out Victor Oganov in Australia, in a cruiserweight bout.

I’ve never actually heard of Tony Conquest, but it’s a pretty great name for a boxer, as well as a Roman emperor or a porn star.  He needs a writer, though: his given nickname is “Conqueror.”

Quick Hit Destruct-o Fun

Featherweight Luis Zarazua fights as a pro for the second time on the undercard of this weekend’s Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.-Peter Manfredo fight.  Zarazua’s first pro fight didn’t last too long.  You don’t need to watch anything past a minute in this video.

Till next week-ish, keep those feet moving.

 

 

The Promoter: After the One-Two Comes Pacquiao-Marquez III

Let me introduce myself.  The name’s  Josh and/or Brokaw.  The  game?  Words, on a good day.  We’ll not discuss the bad.  My purpose in these pages is celebrating and promoting the Sweet Science; exhorting the beautiful, ignorant masses into a passing awareness of the sport that serves as metaphor for all others.

Like all promoters, I might fall into the trap of getting a bit too excited about my subject. If your municipality hasn’t already banned the deadly substance, keep your salt ready.

This coming weekend’s biggest and best fight boasts something most bouts cannot: One Manny Pacquiao, a guy you’ve probably heard about even if your news comes exclusively from ESPN and Time magazine, you poor, uncultured sap.  Manny is mainstream enough that he participated in an advertising campaign that also featured a girl from that Glee show.  He smiles big, he speaks adorable Tagalog-accented English, and he’s going to be the president of the Philippines someday. There are many people who believe this marketer’s dream will win on Saturday in impressive knockout fashion.  The books right now have a wager of $100 on Manny returning $10 in profit.  He’s favored.

Why watch? you say.  It’ll be a stomping or a runaway.

A fair point.  Most recent ‘megafights’ have fed Pacman or ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd Mayweather a name opponent who no one thought going in had any real shot at a win.

Yet in the underdog’s corner this Saturday there is a future Hall of Famer, who has in two previous fights drawn and lost a close split decision with the Philippine hero.  If you haven’t seen Juan Manuel Marquez, at 38 he’s still arguably the second-best technical boxer in the world; he might not have the most pop, but he can counterpunch you to death.  In recent years he’s come out of the shadows of countrymen Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera to become a quintessential Mexican action star in his own right, knocking out Juan Diaz, Joel Casamayor and Michael Katsidis

Wait, what? you say.  Wasn’t that one of the dudes Mayweather stonewalled a while back? And didn’t you feel dumb for inviting friends over to watch a Money May fight, because you should have known better than to count on him for action?

Well, yes, but Marquez was outreached and outweighed in that fight…

And isn’t Pacquiao-Mayweather supposed to be THE fight that we all want to see? Fight of the (Young) Century level?  So isn’t Manny just going to run through this old guy?

Well, yes, Manny and Floyd going at it is the Ideal.  But no, I don’t think those $10 to win $1 odds on Pacquiao are quite right.

This rivalry wouldn’t exist if Nevada ever used the old three knockdown rule; Marquez came back from getting flattened thrice in their first round of ring acquaintance to win the fight on a whole slew of observers’ cards.  Listen to the intro talk from that 2004 fight, and you can hear storylines that’ll be coming at you on Saturday: Is Marquez too old?  Too slow?  Pacquiao too fast and strong?

Round One of Fight One starts around 7:00

The second fight was a similar story: Pacquiao scored one knockdown, and Marquez took more rounds.  How many more, I don’t know. It’s a back-and-forth every time you watch it sort of fight.

Fight Two

The bloxosphere’s communal wisdom, like the books, has Pacquiao winning this fight, but no one’s sure how it’s going to happen.  Some say in quick knockout fashion (like he did to Ricky Hatton), some say in the later rounds after beating Marquez down (see Miguel Cotto), some think he’ll take a tough decision, perhaps busting Marquez up in the process (reference the remnants of Antonio Margarito’s face).  No one thinks the fight will be boring, like Manny’s outings against the Shell of Shane Mosley and honorary Ninja Turtle Josh Clottey.  Like any honorable Mexican fighter, Marquez is coming to win or go home flat.

It is fair to say that Manny is bigger, quicker, better, and younger…

Those might not be the right words to spark your interest. Let’s break down those advantages, with a little in-my-head summary of the arguments for the inevitable Pacquiao victory, followed by my counterattack.

Manny has superior size: He has shown comfort fighting at welterweight (147 lbs.).  Marquez, in his only foray into the class, looked crappy against Mayweather and hasn’t proved he can hang at the weight.  He’s like, way stronger.

Yeah, But: Their weights at fight time in March 2008 were both about 145 lbs. Manny has gotten stronger, but Marquez has seen him at this weight before. More importantly, Mayweather outreached Marquez by five inches. Manny has him by an inch.  I doubt this difference has changed in the last three and a half years.

Manny is too quick:  Marquez is slowing down, and straight-ahead fighters like Diaz and Katsidis got to him in the past two years, whereas they wouldn’t have got close back in ’06 or ’07.

Yeah, But: Manny might be a tad slower too, these days.  Furthermore, he was quicker in both of their previous fights, and it didn’t earn him decisive wins.

Manny is way better : He has improved tremendously since their last fight, becoming a two-handed fighter with real boxing skills.

Yeah, But: Manny’s definitely got more of a right now and throws in a shoulder roll here and there.  How much improvement he’s made, though, is hard to tell. While Pacquiao’s skills certainly have had plenty to do with his wins, there’s an argument that since he last fought Marquez, he’s seen nothing but guys who were already well past their best days.  His ring intelligence has increased, but it still pales in comparison to Juan Manuel’s.

Manny will win because: He’s younger.

Yeah, But: Sometimes fighters get old.  Don’t blame me if it happens here. Could happen to Manny, too, but I doubt it.  At the very least, that Marquez drinks his own piss in training has to come with some sort of record-setting placebo effect, even if the beverage doesn’t have an actual salutary effect.

What 2 Watch 4

Please note that I’m not begging you to buy this fight; it’s expensive, and the undercard isn’t nearly as good as next month’s Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito rematch.  Google is your friend if your Saturday night plans go awry; YouTube is helpful in the first 24 hours afterward.  HBO will replay it a few times in the next week or two.

What I’m watching for in the early going is both fighters’ front hands. If Manny’s getting jabs through early, some combination of his improvement and Marquez’s slowing has happened, and it will be an easy night for the Filipino. Conversely, if Juan Manuel gets through his hook-uppercut hybrid left to the body early, he’s in it.

If Marquez gets through round 3 without his trunks touching canvas (and if he does go down, it will be on a short, sharp left while he’s throwing a too-wide right) and he’s not otherwise overwhelmed, it will be the Mexican’s fight to lose. The early knockdowns were the difference in the scoring outcome of the first two fights, and weathering the early storm got Marquez to middle rounds where he controlled the action and racked up points.  If you can find a prop bet after 4 or so on the winner, even odds on Juan Manuel is plenty fair in my view.

Promotional Whimsy
Manny and Juan Manuel show their singing chops on Mexico’s Big Brother/American Idol mash-up La Academica. Someone with better Spanish skills can tell me what Marquez’s song is, but Pacquiao does “Imagine.”

The Week That Was
James Kirkland obliterated Alfredo Angulo in 6 last weekend, in a light middleweight fight that was a long time in coming. Kirkland, one of boxing’s hottest properties before going away on a firearm charge in Texas in September ’09, was knocked down by the heavy-handed Angulo in the first and looked finished after one. HBO has destroyed all extant online versions of the video, but when it comes up again you gotta see it. If Manny and Juan Manuel beat that fight for excitement on their huge stage, they put themselves in the all-time trilogies discussion.

Required Reading
Former Heavyweight Champion of the World and inspiration for the Rocky series Joe Frazier passed away Monday night at 67.
SBNation’s Bad Left Hook has about all the boxing coverage you need, and it is all over the Frazier tributes, interviews and fights. If you really want to despair over the current state of sports letters, though, put on your polyester and read Mark Kram’s 1975 Sports Illustrated story on Ali-Frazier III, the Thrilla (in Manila).

Till next week, keep your hands up.