Same Old Story On Tobacco Road


The Atlantic Conference might be the best in college basketball this season, but two familiar foes are still runnings things there.


Salt Lake City’s Not So Little Secret


The Utah Jazz are nestled in Salt Lake City which is one of the NBA’s smallest media markets. And with that the Jazz organization has always struggled in bringing in some of the NBA’s talented free agents. But that hasn’t prevented the Jazz from competing as from 1984-2003, they made the playoffs in each year. After losing in the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs, the Jazz fell on hard times which included them losing 57 games during the 2013-2014 season for their worst mark in franchise history.

Quin Snyder

When Quin Snyder became the head coach of the Jazz in 2014, the bar of expectations for him wasn’t that high. Snyder didn’t have any previous experience as a head coach in the NBA, but he had succeeded at every level that he coached at which included leading the Missouri Tigers to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in each of his first four years there, and being the NBA’s Developmental League Coach of the Year in 2009 when he was the head coach of the Austin Toros.

But in Snyder’s first season with the Jazz, the team won 38 games after they were expected to once again hover around the 25-win mark. And last season, the Jazz won 40 games to miss out on a playoff berth by just one victory. However after small forward Kevin Durant decided to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder last summer in order to join the Golden State Warriors, it opened things up in the Northwest Division. And with the Thunder still trying to figure things out without Durant, along with the Portland Trail Blazers struggling, guess who has decided to take control of the Northwest Division?

At the NBA’s All-Star break, the Jazz are sitting atop the standings in the Northwest Division. The Thunder are in second place as they are three games behind Utah, while the Blazers are languishing in fourth place as they’re 11.5 games out. Utah’s 35-22 record is good enough for fifth overall in the Western Conference as this is a team that could be ready to make some noise when the NBA Playoffs roll around this spring.

Dennis Lindsey

The key to the success of the Jazz begins with their general manager Dennis Lindsey and their executive vice president of basketball operation Kevin O’Connor. Lindsey has been Utah’s general manager since 2012 when O’Connor assumed his new role within the organization and together these two men have embraced the fact that the Jazz are a small-market team. The Jazz have focused on getting their core key players through the NBA Draft which is paying off in a big way.

Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert

In 2010, the Jazz selected small forward Gordon Hayward ninth overall in the NBA Draft. In each of Hayward’s seven NBA seasons his numbers have improved which includes him averaging 22.2 points per game this season as that has resulted in his first All-Star Game selection. Center Rudy Gobert was the 27th overall selection by the Jazz in 2013. And like Hayward, Gobert’s production has increased in each season with the Jazz as he is fifth in the NBA this season in rebounds at 12.6 per game, while he’s also leading the league in blocks at 2.5 per contest. Hayward along with Gobert are two big reasons for the success of the Jazz this season, and once you factor in the contributions of veterans such as point guard George Hill and veteran swingman Joe Johnson, Utah can no longer fly under the radar as they are a very formidable team.

Prior to joining the Jazz, Lindsey was the assistant general manager of the San Antonio Spurs. And during Snyder’s time in the D-League, the Toros were operated by the Spurs. The Spurs have become the pinnacle for success in the NBA as they’ve made the playoffs in each of the last 19 seasons while claiming five championships over that stretch. One key for the Spurs that Lindsey has brought to the Jazz is unselfishness and ball movement. And if you watch the Jazz play under Snyder, their offensive system mimics what the Spurs do as the basketball and players alike are constantly moving. This unselfishness by the Jazz has led to victories this season over the Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, and Cleveland Cavaliers who are the defending NBA Champions as more quality wins could be coming down the pike for them.

The second half of the season for the Jazz will get going this Friday as they’ll begin a three-game road trip which starts against the Milwaukee Bucks and includes meetings against the Washington Wizards and Thunder. Next month the Jazz will have a stretch of seven games where six of those contests will be on the road, including games against the Houston Rockets, Thunder, and Cavaliers. But the Jazz should be able to continue to hang with the big boys of the NBA due to what they bring to the table.

Aside from the unselfishness of the Jazz on offense, they are leading in the NBA in fewest points allowed per game this season at 95.7 as it doesn’t hurt to have a rim protector like Gobert, another big body in power forward Derrick Favors who can also plug up the paint, and Hayward who is one of the better perimeter defenders in the Western Conference which gives Utah a puncher’s chance to do some damage during the NBA Playoffs.

Things are only going to get better for the Jazz as shooting guard Rodney Hood should return to the team soon after suffering a hyperextended knee last month. Hood is Utah’s third leading scorer at 13.7 points per game which is only going to make this team that much more difficult to deal with.

Unlike the Thunder and Trail Blazers who have had their issues, the Jazz continue to take care of their business which includes regularly beating up on the also-rans of the NBA. And with the current success that the Jazz are having, it could sway Hayward to remain in Salt Lake City as he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. But winning cures everything, and a deep run this spring by the Jazz could keep Hayward there for years to come.



Wizardry At It’s Best


Heading into the 2016-2017 NBA season, it was tough to get a fix on the Washington Wizards. Scott Brooks was set to begin his first season as the Wizards head coach, while Washington’s two best players in point guard John Wall and shooting guard Bradley Beal were not on the same page.

John Wall, Bradley Beal

At first the Wizards resembled a team that wasn’t in sync as they began the season with a record of 3-9. However the tide would begin to turn for Washington and once the calendar was set to shift to 2017, they had climbed back to the .500 mark. But after the Wizards dropped their first two games in January, they’ve gone on to become one of the hottest teams in the NBA as they have won 17 of their last 20 games. And heading into the NBA’s All-Star break, there isn’t a team in the Eastern Conference that wants to face them right now.

The Southeast Division has been up for grabs for the majority of the season, but things are changing since the Wizards have gone from the outhouse to the penthouse. The Wizards currently hold a 2.5-game lead over the Atlanta Hawks for the top spot in the division as they appear to be the most complete team there.

Wall has been one of the better point guards in the NBA since the Wizards made him the first overall pick in 2010. And this season has seen Wall earn his fourth consecutive trip to the All-Star Game as he is averaging a career-high in points per game with 22.9, while his 10.6 assists per contest are second in the league. Wall has 34 double-doubles to his credit this season which includes him recording one in each of Washington’s last eight games.

Like Wall, Beal is averaging a career-high points this season with 22.3 per contest which included going for a career-high 42 points on November 21 in a victory over the Phoenix Suns. Beal is showing that he is worth every penny when he and the Wizards agreed on a new five-year extension that is worth $128 million during the summer. This contract initially caused a rift between Beal and Wall, but now they’ve combined their forces to be one of the better back court duos in the NBA. And the fact that Beal and Wall are both healthy and on the same page is fueling the Wizards surge, along with several other factors.

Scott Brooks

The Wizards appeared as if they weren’t going to grow anymore under former head coach Randy Wittman which resulted in his termination and the hiring of Scott Brooks. Prior to joining the Wizards, Brooks was the head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder for seven seasons where he compiled a record of 338-207 which was highlighted by guiding them to an NBA Finals appearance in 2012. Brooks also knew how to deal with different personalities as he found a way to get point guard Russell Westbrook, shooting guard James Harden, and small forward Kevin Durant enough shots. And this ability to keep the team’s best players happy is what makes him perfect for the Wizards as he is a breath of fresh air.

Otto Porter Jr.

Small forward Otto Porter Jr. was the third overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft by the Wizards and he has been a project for them as his production has increased in each season. This season Porter is averaging 14.4 points per game, while he is connecting on nearly 46% of his three-point attempts which currently leads the NBA. But even with the emergence of Porter, along with the strong play of Beal and Wall, the Wizards now have unity which has fueled their surge.

This NBA season has produced some very intense battles between the Wizards and Boston Celtics. At the end of Washington’s game against Boston on January 11, there was a heated exchange between Wall and Celtics small forward Jae Crowder where both players had to be separated. This was just one of several incidents between these two teams this season which led to Wall and his teammates figuring out a way to respond.

As Washington was set to welcome the Celtics to the Verizon Center in D.C. on January 24, the entire Wizards team arrived to the arena wearing all black as is was dubbed that they were attending a “funeral”. The Celtics didn’t give the words of the Wizards any life, however Washington played inspired basketball throughout which led to one of their best victories of the season as they won 123-108 with them appearing to be a very tight knit group.

With the way that the Wizards are currently rolling, the only thing that can stop them right now is the NBA’s prolonged All-Star break which began for them last night. The Wizards have ascended to the third best record in the Eastern Conference as they are only trailing the Cleveland Cavaliers and Celtics in the standings. And thus it will be interesting to see if Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld will be willing to make a deal prior to next Thursday’s trade deadline in the NBA as it wouldn’t be wise to mess up team chemistry; especially with front court contributions of power forward Markieff Morris and center Marcin Gortat whose 11.5 rebounds per contest are eighth in the NBA.

But there is a buzz around this Wizards team as everyone is on the same page, while they are eyeing their first division title since 1979 which was the last time that they reached the NBA Finals. And who knows how far that this team can go once the NBA Playoffs roll around.



Rebuilding Celtics Style


When the Boston Celtics were eliminated in the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs by the New York Knicks, it marked the end of an era. After the Celtics won the NBA Championship in 2008, they were still title contenders, but they were showing signs of age. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge saw this and would broker a pair of blockbuster deals. Ainge would trade power forward Kevin Garnett, small forward Paul Pierce, and guard Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets in a deal that would see the Celtics receive first-round picks in 2014, 2016, and 2018, along with the ability to swap first-round picks with the Nets for the upcoming NBA Draft. Doc Rivers was the head coach who led the Celtics to the NBA Championship in 2008 didn’t want to be a part of a potential rebuilding process in Boston. And since Rivers was still under contract with the Celtics, Ainge was able to trade him to the Los Angeles Clippers in 2013 for a first-round pick.

Brad Stevens

Ainge would pull off another shocker in finding the new head coach of the Celtics when he went to the collegiate ranks to talk Brad Stevens into leaving Butler University. Stevens was an up and coming head basketball coach at Butler as he led the school to a pair of Final Four appearances.

Stevens’ first NBA season would be tough as the Celtics were only able to win 25 games, but you could see the writing on the wall that he was on to something.

By Stevens’ second season, the Celtics were back in the playoffs and they’ve continued to build since then. More than anything Ainge has been selecting projects in the draft, or using players for trade bait. Ainge’s best move flew under the when he acquired point guard Isaiah Thomas from the Phoenix Suns in February 2015.

Isaiah Thomas

With the Celtics, Thomas is developing into a star as he’s second in the NBA this season in scoring at 29.8 per contest. And with Thomas leading the way, along with key role players such as guard Marcus Smart and small forward Jae Crowder, the Celtics are in the first place in the Atlantic Division, while they are breathing on the necks for the Cleveland Cavaliers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

At Butler, Stevens’ system relied on ball movement on offense, while having players that were not selfish and willing to do whatever it takes to win at both ends of the floor which is something that he has quickly established with the Celtics. And whereas Ainge’s rebuild was expected to take several years in order to once again turn Boston into a contender, the Celtics are once again in contention in the Eastern Conference.

Thomas has helped to once again make the Celtics relevant, but he alone won’t be enough for Boston to have a legitimate chance to get past the Cavaliers in the playoffs. Last summer Ainge signed center Al Horford to a four-year deal that is worth $113 million. And although that Horford and Crowder have combined to average 28.9 points per game this season, the Celtics still need more production from their front court in order to become a title contender.

Danny Ainge

Ainge has tried in the past to broker deals to get star players to come to Boston, but that was when things were looking bleak for the Celtics, and thus he was rebuffed. However with the fortunes of the Celtics on the upswing, Ainge’s chances of pulling something off have increased.

With the Nets zeroing in on getting one of the first three selections in this year’s NBA Draft, that right to swap picks is money in bank as far as the Celtics are concerned. Thanks to the Nets, the Celtics had the third overall pick in last year’s NBA Draft which they used on small forward Jaylen Brown. Brown is only averaging 15.5 minutes per contest this season, but he is someone that the Celtics see as a project, while he could also be used in a future trade. And with the Celtics excess picks, those could also be enticing to another team as far as a trade goes.

The Celtics have been rumored to be set to pursue Utah Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward this summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Hayward played for Stevens at Butler and he is in the midst of his best NBA season as he’s averaging 19.7 points per game which has led to his first nod for the NBA All-Star Game.

But regardless if the Celtics are able to land Hayward or a star player this summer, this organization has flexibility due to Ainge’s knowledge of knowing how to play the system. Aside from Horford who will be set to earn $27.7 million next season, no other Celtics player will earn more than $8.8 million for the 2017-2018 NBA season. Since Thomas was a relative unknown upon coming to Boston, the Celtics have him for a bargain rate as he’ll only earn $6.2 next season which gives Ainge cap space flexibility.

Ainge took a page from former Celtics head coach/general manager Red Auerbach who always knew how to find a “sucker” when it came to making a deal. Ainge accepted the fact that his Celtics would have to rebuild and thus he has stockpiled draft picks as if they were currency. There’s a reason why the Celtics organization has won more NBA Championships than any other, and they are once again on the right track to being in the mix as one of the league’s better teams.



The Ongoing Saga At MSG


The New York Knicks are one of the NBA’s original franchises, and their home has been dubbed as “The World’s Most Famous Arena”. The Knicks have called Madison Square Garden home since 1968 and they’ve had some good moments there which included Willis Reed’s epic performance in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals that catapulted New York to their first title. The Knicks would win their second NBA Championship in 1973 and continue to be a solid team which included trips to the NBA Finals in 1994 and 1999. But when the Knicks were eliminated in the first round of the NBA Playoffs in 2001, little did they or any else know what coming down the pike.

19 games into the 2001-2002 NBA season, head coach Jeff Van Gundy resigned as the head coach of the Knicks and since then they’ve employed ten different head coaches. Included in that list of head coaches who couldn’t get it done for the Knicks over this stretch are some Basketball Hall of Famers such as Lenny Wilkens, Larry Brown, and Isiah Thomas. But unlike the Knicks of the 1990′s, this organization has not come close to being a championship contender and there is only one man to blame for that.

James Dolan

Since 1999, James Dolan has been the man who claims ownership of the Knicks. Dolan also owns Madison Square Garden, along with the New York Rangers of the National Hockey League, and the WNBA’s New York Liberty. But unlike the Rangers who appeared in the Stanley Cup Final in 2014, or the Liberty who’ve won four Eastern Conference Championships since their inception in 1997, the Knicks are at the other end of the spectrum.

Dolan has become the poster boy of the Knicks ineptitude as they’ve become one of the NBA’s laughing stocks. The Knicks have consistently mortgaged away their future for quick fixes which has done nothing more than set them back further, while also annoying an already furious fan base.

Since the end of the 2000-2001 NBA season, the Knicks have only had three winning seasons and with just 27 games remaining here in the 2016-2017 campaign, another trip to loserville appears to be on deck. But aside from the losing, it is how things are going down for the Knicks.

Phil Jackson

Since 2014, Phil Jackson has been the Knicks team president. Jackson did bring some excitement with him to the Garden since he won 11 NBA Championships as a head coach, and two more as a player with the Knicks. But when Jackson joined the Knicks, he didn’t have any previous front office experience and it is showing.

As the Knicks president, Jackson is married to the triangle offense which brought him success as a head coach. Jackson’s first hire with the Knicks was making Derek Fisher the team’s head coach. Fisher was fresh off of an 18-year playing career in the NBA. But like Jackson, Fisher didn’t have any previous experience for the post that he was ready to assume. Fisher’s saving grace was the fact that he played for Jackson and was familiar with his triangle offense.

In Fisher’s first season with the Knicks, the team went 17-65 for their worst season in franchise history. In Fisher’s second season, the Knicks were showing improvement as they were 23-31. But Fisher would be fired by Jackson for off-the-court issues which included his missing practice due to the fact that he could not make it back from California as he went to visit his girlfriend. The Knicks would go 9-19 for the rest of the season under interim head coach Kurt Rambis, while Jackson would set his sights on a new head coach.

But there would be a twist in Jackson’s search as Dolan who previously claimed that he would no longer meddle in the Knicks day-to-day operations, wanted a hand in picking the team’s next head coach.

Jackson was focused on another head coach who would run the triangle, but the Knicks would ultimately settle on former Phoenix Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek. Hornacek has been known to run an uptempo offense, but was open to using some of the fundamentals of Jackson’s triangle. But with Jackson and Hornacek not on the same page, the results have shown in the Knicks record.

The Knicks are currently 22-33 which includes dropping 23 of their last 31 games. The Knicks continue to slide in the standings as they are currently in the 12th place in the Eastern Conference and 3.5 games behind the Detroit Pistons for the final playoff spot. And a disgruntled fan base has to sit by and watch this team crumble before their very eyes.

Jackson has assembled the Knicks current roster and on paper, this would have been a good team five years ago, but the majority of their key players are washed up.

Carmelo Anthony

When Jackson joined the Knicks, he knew that he was going to have to convince small forward Carmelo Anthony to re-sign with the team. And in the summer of 2014, Anthony decided to remain in New York as he and the Knicks agreed on a five-year deal for $124 million. Part of Jackson’s sell job to Anthony was that he was going to put a team capable of winning a championship around him. But Jackson has been rebuffed in free agency by superstar players, and he has had to settle for washed up players such as center Joakim Noah and point guard Derrick Rose. Jackson’s greatest claim with the Knicks was drafting power forward Kristaps Porzingis in 2015, but his recent treatment of Anthony leaves something to be desired.

On multiple occasions Jackson has publicly criticized Anthony for his style of play. And on multiple occasions, Anthony has privately spoke to Jackson seeking to have this style of “communication” eliminated, but apparently to no avail. Jackson appears to be a man that is trying accomplish two things. First, Jackson has come across in a mode where he is attempting to get Anthony to waive his no-trade clause, while also trying to get Dolan to fire him with neither of these dreams set to become a reality anytime soon for him.

The only two teams that Anthony appears willing to waive his no-trade clause for are the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers. And whereas the Clippers don’t have the trade assets to accommodate the Knicks, the Cavaliers have no interest in making a deal as New York wants power forward Kevin Love in return which isn’t happening, thus Jackson and Anthony are stuck with each other.

Jackson also drew the ire of Cavs small forward LeBron James when he used the term “posse” to describe his business partners such as Maverick Carter earlier this season. Jackson is continuing to put his foot deeper into his own mouth and this only adds to the hypocrisy of Dolan.

In the past Dolan has gone out of his way to censor Knicks commentators such as Walt “Clyde” Frazier due to his criticism of the team. And part of Dolan firing Larry Brown as the Knicks head coach in 2006 was over his public criticism of players.

However Dolan’s time in operating the Knicks has been marred with lapses in judgement. We’ll never forget Anucha Browne-Sanders’ sexual harassment suit against the Knicks, Dolan, and Thomas in 2007 following her termination. A jury would ultimately rule in favor of Browne-Sanders which would cost Dolan and Madison Square Garden $11.5 million, along with public shame. Browne-Sanders’ claims of sexual harassment were initially directed at Thomas who Dolan decided to stand by which only made things worse. Dolan let his ego get in the way as it would have been very simple for him to cut Browne-Sanders a check for at least $7.5 million to make this problem go away without bringing public embarrassment to his organization, but that wouldn’t be the case.

Dolan’s ego continues to get the best of him as last Wednesday night saw former Knicks player Charles Oakley physically escorted out of Madison Square Garden and arrested. Oakley and Dolan will never be confused as far as being kissing cousins due to the fact that Oakley has been publicly critical of how the Knicks are being operated under Dolan. But Oakley is not saying anything that Knicks fans are saying on the streets of New York City aren’t spewing as they want to see this team win.

The altercation last Wednesday began during the first quarter of New York’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers when MSG security at the request of Dolan approached Oakley while he was seated a few rows behind the Knicks owner. Oakley who was known as a very intense competitor during his playing career immediately became agitated. And after a security member put his hands on Oakley, a scuffle ensued.

The result would become an embarrassing episode for Oakley, the Knicks, Dolan, MSG, and the NBA. Oakley would be arrested and charged with three counts of third-degree assault. Following Oakley’s arrest, the Knicks would make a statement on the matter which was capped off by the notion that the former player should “get help”.

Since then Dolan has fired the head of MSG security Frank Benedetto and banned Oakley from his arena indefinitely. But if Oakley was the aggressor and the one at fault as Dolan has publicly claimed, why did his head of security get shown the door?

Dolan has claimed that Oakley is an alcoholic and was intoxicated at the time of the incident. However Oakley has denied being intoxicated, while he has claimed that MSG security was on him the moment that he sat down. And it is Dolan that must be reminded that he was the one and not Oakley who was checked into a rehabilitation center for drug and alcohol abuse in 1993.

At the end of the day this is something that the Knicks may never recover from under Dolan. Oakley is a Knicks legend as he was the heart and soul of the team during the 1990′s. Basketball fans in New York City embraced Oakley for his rugged style of play as he fought the likes of Charles Barkley, Xavier McDaniel, and Rick Mahorn. Oakley is one of those people that will tell you like it is whether you want to hear it or not which is why he is loved in the Big Apple. But since he spoke the truth about the Knicks and Dolan, he has been given the dry shave.

Dolan has reached out to former Knicks such as Allan Houston and John Starks as they’ve worked for the organization in the past, but not Oakley or Hall of Famer center Patrick Ewing. Ewing is currently an assistant coach for the Charlotte Hornets as the Knicks have all but refused to bring him back in a coaching capacity. Another former Knicks player in Mark Jackson has reached also out to the Knicks in the past as far as being a head coach, but like Ewing he was denied.

Instead of Dolan putting his ego aside in order to broker a meeting with Oakley, he has gone the route of appearing to be a bigger jerk in the eyes of Knicks fans as he’s decided to throw his weight around by sending his “goons” after Oakley, and subsequently banning his from MSG. And with the way that Jackson is treating Anthony, along with Oakley being handcuffed at the Garden, why would any talented NBA player be willing to sign his name on the dotted line in order to join the Knicks?

There’s a possibility that Oakley could sue Dolan and Madison Square Garden and he would have a strong case in his favor. Oakley sat down to watch the game and then MSG security approached him at his seat. But if Dolan expected Oakley to be that much of a problem, why was he allowed in the building in the first place? It wasn’t one member of MSG’s security team that approached Oakley, but several members which was not going to deescalate the situation. An MSG security official then put his hands on Oakley which caused him to react in a physical way. And once Oakley was restrained, Dolan rose up from his court side seat in the manner of a pleased mob boss who had just seen a planned hit orchestrated to perfection.

It also doesn’t help Dolan’s case due to his past drug and alcohol issues, the Browne-Sanders case, or the fact that some Madison Square Garden employees were terminated after they couldn’t make it to work due to Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

We’ve heard the term “starting over” thrown around in the Knicks direction before, but the only solution for the franchise at this point is to have NBA commissioner Adam Silver take the team away from Dolan. The Knicks play in the NBA’s biggest media market and they’ve failed to consistently be relevant for nearly two decades which doesn’t help the league. Penn Station is right under MSG, but the Knicks are the train wreck as the owner, team president, head coach, and star player are not on the same page as the results can be seen on a nightly basis when they take the court.

The Knicks are 22-33, but it is not farfetched to say that this team could struggle to win 10 games for the remainder of the season. Dolan is in a fantasy world as he feels that only a select few fans are displeased with the way that he is running the franchise, while Jackson has taken the term “out to lunch” to another plateau. Hornacek appears to be a nice man who walked into an impossible situation, but he should have known better since Madison Square Garden became a graveyard for basketball careers a long time ago. Anthony had the chance to get out of New York City nearly three years ago. However since the Knicks could offer Anthony more money than any other NBA team, he decided to stay.

The Knicks are so pathetic to the point that longtime season-ticket holder Spike Lee is willing to help Jackson “pack his bags” in order to leave town. But since Lee is a paying customer that is putting money into Dolan’s pockets, he not Oakley can be critical of the Knicks putrid performance.

As I stated in a previous blog post that the Ringling Brothers might be shutting down their circus which has come to the Garden for years, but we still have the Knicks. And at this point not even the Keystone Cops of the Three Stooges could hold a flame to Dolan’s Knicks are far as being clueless.