The Yankees are in the World Series, but the NBA season starts this week, and as much as we love baseball, it’s hoops that we’re most passionate about here at Westcheddar. I rounded up my top basketball analysts to give us a breakdown of what’s going on in the NBA, NCAA, and even with the local High Schools too. Tommy Dee writes and does commentary for The Knicks Blog, has appeared all over the TV dial from SNY to CNN, and coaches with Stepinac High School in White Plains. Johnny Halas writes for The Jockosphere, and this season is transitioning from playing pro ball with the Rochester Razorsharks to coaching at Amherst College. And Brian Duignan co-hosts The Yellow Brick Road, a New York Knicks online radio talk show, and also coaches the modified boys team in Mamaroneck.
These are local guys who live and breathe basketball. I roomed with Tommy and Brian down at University of Maryland, where Brian managed the Terps for four years, and it was like living with Digger Phelps and Al Trautwig. And Johnny, well I remember when I used to rock his world in One on One back in the day living next door to him on Ogden Avenue, and now I probably wouldn’t be able to get a shot off. He’s gearing up to be the next Bill Walton. Let’s hear what these guys have to say…
IP: Ok boys, let’s start with The Knicks. Will they make the playoffs this year? Who’s our “go to” guy?
TD: I think, based on what I’ve seen in the pre-season from a defensive standpoint, that the team is going to be improved. They won 32 games last year and with a little better effort defensively, I can see them getting a few more W’s against the average NBA teams. That should translate to 36-40 wins and a year-long battle for a playoff spot. I think they sneak in.
JH: The Knicks may sneak in at 8, but I don’t see it happening. I’m hoping that Wilson Chandler steps up as the “go to”, but I think they’re still gonna defer to Al Harrington, who’s an amazing talent, but can’t seem to put it all together.
BD: No. “Go to” is tough, the Knicks don’t really have one. I plan to enjoy Nate Robinson for one last season & wait for LeBron.
IP: How about the rest of league? Is it the Cavs? Can the Lakers win it again? Celtics?
TD: I’m not sold at all with what some of the teams at the top of the Eastern Conference did. Shaquille O’Neal will not mesh well in Cleveland, but Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon will. I’m not sold on Vince Carter in Orlando either. I think Rasheed Wallace helps the Celtics as much as any addition and with a healthy KG the Celtics will represent the East. And yes, Ron Artest makes the Lakers better, which is hard to imagine, if he keeps taking his meds.
BD: Have to root for Shaq. I used to like Garnett until he went to Boston and started losing his mind. How annoying was he when the Celts won the championship a year ago? The worst was when MJ made the Hall Of Fame, and the NBA interviewed some prominent NBA players to hear their thoughts. A’mare Stoudamire said “he’s the best player I’ve ever seen”, which I agree with. Then Garnett inhales through his nose, takes a dramatic pause, and says “he’s the gatekeeper”. What is this, Dungeons & Dragons?
JH: Adding Shaq is an interesting move, I didn’t agree with it. I think getting a guy who can really coach would’ve been a better decision for the Cavs, but it’s tough to fire the reigning coach of the year. The Lakers can definitely win it again, if Andrew Bynum stays healthy. They also need Jordan Farmar to elevate his game and give them better minutes. I don’t see the Celtics doing much this year. Pierce, Garnett, and Allen are all a year older, that doesn’t help them. Rondo is too much of a wildcard at the point to be taken seriously in a 7 game series.
IP: What’s your sleeper team for us to watch out for this year?
BD: Oklahoma City. There’s a 2nd year player from UCLA Russell Westbrook (pic below) that I was hoping the Knicks would get. He can jump out of the gym. Reminds me of Rashaad James.
JH: They probably can’t be called a sleeper, but I think the Spurs are a tougher team this year than last. I think they can handle the Lake Show. I think Toronto may surprise some people. Adding Turkoglu to Bosh and Bargnani gives them 7′ front court who can all hit from deep and handle the ball. Their PG is money from the FT line (98.1%). If Demar DeRozan pans out, they’ll turn some heads.
TD: Besides the Knicks? Watch out for the Grizzlies. Everything about them makes no sense, and by reverse logic that means they will play well.
IP: How about rookies? Any young boys ready to make a real impact in the NBA?
JH: I have yet to hear a bad thing about Blake Griffin. Roy Hibbert will be a solid big man. I’m nervous about Steph Curry, the guys he’s been playing against the last few years aren’t nearly as good as NBA players. DeRozan, James Harden, Jonny Flynn. I’d loved to have seen Ricky Rubio this year. I learned about him when I was vacationing in Barcelona, his game was on TV and I loved the guy right away, then found out he was 16 and lost it. Huge man crush.
TD: Actually, Blake Griffin is hurt, but he’s a freight train going to the basket on pick and rolls. Keep an eye on Ty Lawson of Denver, Austin Daye of Detroit, Terence Williams of the Nets, but I’d be shocked if Tyreke Evans didn’t win the Rookie of the Year.
BD: Tyler Hansborough. Knicks should have taken him. He’ll work hard and rebound. He’ll be a double double guy by his 2nd season.
IP: What are the odds of Lebron coming to the Knicks next year?
TD: I love the Knicks chances here because of the fact that the free agency signing comes right after the playoffs. It’s a few weeks later. Last year when Lebron lost to Orlando he was fuming. If the Cavs fail to win a ring I can see him definitely leaving, especially if there is a chance that he can be teamed with another star. The Knicks have some work to do to ensure they have the money to make that happen, but as of now they have $26 million dollars to go shopping. If he does win a ring, it will be hard for me to believe that he’d leave Cleveland just a few days after a parade.
IP: I need help with my fantasy team. Give me your starting five so I can copy it.
JH: LeBron fills up every category. Carmelo Anthony has great numbers. Dwight Howard will lead the league in blocks and rebounds until he turns 30. Kevin Durant is on the verge of being an All NBA guy. And Chris Paul just to throw a little guy in the mix.
BD: Run, Run, Run…
1 Tony Parker
2 Ben Gordon
3 Kevin Durant
5 Dwight Howard
TD: We start 3 guards, 3 forwards, 1 center and 3 utility players…
IP: Who’s the wildest coach in the NBA right now? I’m talking about the guy who’s racking up a bunch of T’s or maybe even the guy trying to bang some cheerleaders after the game.
TD: Don Nelson is still stuck in the 70s (pic below).
JH: I love Stan Van Gundy. He’ll say whatever is on his mind. I’m excited to see how Kurt Rambis does. But if there’s a guy I wanted to hang out with after a game to wingman for it’d probably be Paul Westphal.
BD: I’ve been around some crazy coaches, and I admire them. Crazy NBA coach doesn’t work. Season’s too long. Think about it, the most successful coach is a “Zen Master” who just lays back while his stars win it. I do have to give Jacks credit though, he drew up that sweet play for Tony Kukoc back in ’94. Maybe Jacks has drawn up a few plays with the Laker Girls as well. Ohhhh! Bingo Bango.
IP: What’s happening in the NCAA? Got an early favorite for the big dance?
TD: The Big East will be down a bit, as will the Tar Heels, but Ed Davis is the truth. John Wall is a lightning quick guard who may have eligibility issues at Kentucky, but if he’s right he’s the best NBA guard prospect since Derrick Rose. Watch out for Villanova.
BD: Mighty Maryland. The old swash buckling street fighter Coach Williams will have the boys back in the dance again.
JH: Haven’t been paying too much attention to the D1 guys yet this year. But I’d say the Amherst College Lord Jeffs could be in the mix this year and next year. Got a couple players who are pretty good.
IP: What about high school hoops? Anyone we should be watching for locally in Westchester?
JH: I’m most interested in seeing how WP’s Sean Kilpatrick does this year in college. He used to kill it at Ferris when he was like 14, see if that transfers to the college game. I don’t know too much about the local guys, but there was a kid from Stepinac who lives on Ogden Avenue that was at an Academic All America camp that I was working and he was ok. I didn’t know Ogden produced that kind of talent! Not close to a scholarship, but may end up being a walk on somewhere.
TD: Stepinac has the hardest schedule in the area. Get ready for the Crusaders against White Plains High School in the Slam Dunk tourney come holiday time. First round’s on me.
BD: Mamaroneck Boys. I gave you fair warning. Beware.
IP: For this last question I’m going to get extremely local. Now, we all have been a part of the Roundball Classic for many years. We just celebrated the 10 year anniversary of the fundraising tournament last year, which started when we were all in our early college years (Johnny was still in high school playing Varsity ball at Hackley and then at Trinity and then playing pro ball in Rochester and was better than all of us which is why he refs), and now are looking ahead to the 11th Annual RBC. Most of us are married in our 30’s, some of us even have seeds. My question is, should we bow out gracefully and let some younger teams step in, or should we just keep playing until we’re all old and gray?
TD: I think sustainability is the most important thing for any good business or good cause, so if there is the chance to ensure that plenty of dollars continue to go where they should for years to come, then expansion should be considered. I can still play, sort of.
JH: Very tough question, seeing as though I can now legally play in the RBC now. Maybe getting an early read on new guys that want to play, there should be some type of combination to evaluate the younger talent and draft them onto teams. Fat chance of happening, but it would be hysterical. It’d be great if 20 years from now there were guys playing for Pu Click who had no idea what the name means. Matter of fact, this year should have name changes to the teams. Either more to do with sponsors, or some type of major event from WP. Maybe a St. Paddy’s Day team sponsored by Dunne’s and they wear green. Something to change it up a little bit. But don’t let any young guys step in just because all you guys are married and have kids. I need to play at least one time with the original crew (pic below of Pu Click @ 2nd Annual RBC).
BD: I’m in for the 11th Annual. Death before dishonor.
Thanks fellas for taking the time out to do this interview. And to the rest of you reading this, hope you enjoyed it. Please feel free to leave comments below with your feelings about the upcoming hoops season. NBA, NCAA, High School, RBC, or anything else….