We’re counting down the days till the start of the new season, and it’s about time for everyone to be making predictions. This year, instead of just doing one prediction, I decided to go out and interview one blogger for every NBA team.
The bloggers whose opinions we will be graced with over the next few weeks are the best of the best, as all of them have featured in Yahoo’s Ball Don’t Lie basketball blog’s Blog Association, where Kelly Dwyer has been profiling the best team-centric NBA blogs out there. If you have any inclination of increasing your knowledge about the NBA, these are the blogs you need to read and subscribe to. (I know I will be!)
Today, we are honored to interview Lee and David from The Dream Shake, in my opinion the best Rockets blog out there period. Lee and David were gracious enough to make time to answer some questions in the midst of everything going on in Houston regarding Hurrican Ike. We at TLN wish them both a speedy resumption of normal life.
Jonny: Out on a limb, although backing it up with solid reasoning would be cool too, what do you think the ball park for the Rocket’s 08-09 regular season record will be, and do you think it will be enough to make the playoffs in the West?
Lee: Last year, with Yao out for a good portion of the season (though only 10 of the 22 wins in a row), the Rockets went 55-27, the year before that they went 52-30, they’ve done nothing but get better since those two season. Adding Artest and to, obviously, a much less extent Brent Barry, should make the Rockets a favorite to get a top 3 seed. Disaster in every single way would have to strike to not make the playoffs at all. Disaster in the form of different players having injury plagued seasons would have to happen to not be a top 4 seed.
I say they win 55-62 games this year. I know that’s crazy, but name me one team that matches up “well” with them. There are teams that match up decently, but I guarantee that the Rockets are not a team anyone will look forward to playing. Adding in Artest should do nothing but increase team chemistry (yes, it’s possible I am overlooking the crazy factor). It should allow Battier to come off the bench and expend every ounce of energy to defend and spot up shoot. It should also allow Artest to play with the two best players he’s ever played with, allowing him to go even more into a defensive mind set and only take over offensively if the other two aren’t getting it done.
He had no problems chemistry wise with his one Adelman year and I don’t expect him to have any in Houston , especially not in a contract year like this. He may be crazy, but I don’t believe that he is stupid.
David: I already did a game-by-game regular season analysis and concluded the Rockets would win 58 games – a franchise record, I believe, but just short of the magical “60” number. Artest + Good Health could be worth another 5-7 wins… so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rockets somehow found a way to win 62. I’ve also already predicted (guaranteed?) that the Rockets go undefeated in February. Again.
Jonny: Again, out on the said limb, what do you think the ball park for the Laker’s 08-09 regular season record will be, and do you think it will be enough to win the West?
Lee: The Lakers should get better as well, adding Bynum back to the team (he’s not going to become a ghost right, he’ll be back?) should make them better. Here’s the problem though, they created some great chemistry last year with Bynum out. How does he fit back in? Does he kill that chemistry? Does moving Gasol to PF make his game less impactful (I say yes to that, I don’t think Gasol is as good as he played last year)? Does Gasol come completely out of the post? What happens? Is the triangle the right offense with a good offensive PF? I’m thinking back and can’t remember, other than Horace Grant, when Phil Jackson had that.
All in all though, Phil Jackson is a top 3 coach in the NBA, if not the best, so I’m betting he figures it out. I’d say that the Lakers are in exactly the same spot as the Rockets 55-62 wins and a likely 1-3 spot.
And since I put those two teams out there, my top 3 are 1. Houston 2. New Orleans 3. Los Angeles.
That said, I do believe that combination will all finish within 2-3 games of each other and it’s just as likely to be LA or New Orleans in 1 or 2 and the Rockets in 3. Utah is a wildcard, but Jerry Sloan teams have a tendency to not win the games they should, so unless they figure that out in his 89th year of coaching I see them as the 4 seed.
David: As always – it begins and ends with Kobe. Last year truly was a dream season for him that had a nightmarish ending (seriously? How the hell did he get outplayed by Paul freakin’ Pierce?!?) Also, Andrew Bynum is a 7′ tall variable right now. That’s all he is really. He’s 21 years old now but he’s already been hit with otherworldly expectations. And for what, exactly? Right now he’s the new generation Kevin Duckworth (RIP, Duck). 13 points and 10 rebounds is solid… but unspectacular. And may cause Laker fans to go insane if he doesn’t dramatically increase those numbers.
Even with Gasol around. I say the Lakers backslide a bit… Kobe undergoes surgery on the pinkie in January… yet they still finish with 52-55 wins. Enough for homecourt advantage. And a first round matchup with San Antonio in an odd-numbered year.
Jonny: How do you feel the Rockets match up with the Lakers over a 7-game series?
Lee: I’m not sure this word really captures it, but “well” is what I would say.
Let’s break it down:
PG – Rafer vs. Fisher or Farmar – If it’s Fisher then this is a push, if it was Fisher 03-04 I’d give it to him in a landslide. Farmar can’t handle Rafer, and that’s a sad indictment to the LA PG position
SG – Tracy vs. Kobe – Kobe , Dave believes he’s the best player in the league, I believe he’s the second best behind Chris Paul. Either way, 1 or 2 it makes him better than Tracy who I would put around number 20-25
SF – CrazyPills vs. Odom – RonRon, CrazyPills, No Layups, whatever you call him, Lamar Odom can’t hold his jock. Even if Ron comes off the bench, Battier is the better player
PF – Scola vs. Gasol – I’m trying to think of one thing that Gasol does much better than Scola. [Gasol] was the better player last year by a decent margin, but Scola only started half of the year and his first game as a starter coincided with a 22 game win streak. Scola is a much better hustler and rebounds the ball better in traffic. It’s advantage Gasol, but not by the margin that the average fan would think on name only.
C – Yao vs. Bynum – I don’t care if Bynum has the best year of his career, he isn’t on the same planet with Yao on either end of the floor. Yes, he’s more athletic, but Yao is a beast. I know at least a few of your readers will balk, but not the ones that know anything about Yao Ming that Bill Simmons didn’t say.
That match up looks pretty good to me. And it really doesn’t get into the benches. No one on the Lakers bench is as good as Shane Battier or Carl Landry (provided he signs). Maybe Sasha Vujacic is equal to Landry, but Farmar? Walton (who I love, but come on)? Chris Mihm (to whom I say Hook’em Horns as I am a proud grad of The University of Texas)? Seriously, looking at that bench, I’m thinking the Lakers may have overachieved a bit last year. Kobe really IS that awesome.
All in all, the Rockets win that series in 6
David: Yes, Kobe is that awesome. And I *know* he is the best player in the league. While Lee just hopes that maybe on some days Chris Paul is. But the Lakers’ one big advantage against the West last year (other than Kobe) was size. Size at the SF, PF and C positions. Size which the Rockets can match… or at least match-up with defensively. Gasol + Bynum + Odom is not necessarily better than Yao + Scola + Battier/CrazyPills. And we get to bring Landry and Dorsey off the bench. Whereas the Lakers no longer have Turiaf for that role. That’s going to be a huge loss for you…
I’d say the Rockets would win in 6 if we had homecourt.
Lakers fans are split down the middle on Odom; some love his versatility, others hate his inconsistency. As an opposing fan, how do you rate Odom?
Lee: Odom is extremely overrated at times, yet extremely underrated at other times. It is a really strange phenomenon. I’m in no way a Lakers fan, but he frustrates the bejezus out of me. I wouldn’t want him on my team, his inconsistency is too much to deal with. Rafer Alston at PG is actually a pretty solid comparison, and Rafer drives me nuts.
At times though, Odom looks like the superstar his set of skills say he should be. He has put together a good, long, NBA career and he’s typically solid. I honestly think his son dying irreparably damaged his career, though in no way can you blame him for that. I just had my second child on August 27th and I cannot imagine that heartache. He was a much better player before 2006 though the stats do not necessarily show it, watching him on the court does.
David: Odom is cursed. The dude has the talent level and all-around skill to be the next Oscar Robertson. But he has the personality of a role player. He never has developed anything close to a killer instinct. And – to make it worse – he’s typically the kind of player that disappears when things do not go well early on. This was his personality before the tragedy with his son, too – that may have only made it worse.
Jonny: What do you think of Kobe ‘s decisions to put-off surgery on his injured pinky?
Lee: On a personal level? I think it was fantastic. I liked that he was so dedicated to Team USA that he decided his country was more important than his pinky comfort. If I was a Laker fan that hated the United States of America ? I’d be upset.
Now that he is putting it off again, I’m not sure what to think. I do believe he will regret it in the long run, but maybe not this year.
David: In Kobe I’d trust. If he says he doesn’t need surgery – I’d trust his opinion over a doctors. Even if that doctor is Doogie Howser.
Jonny: What is your perception on Bynum? Lakers fans have him pegged as the next *insert hall-of-fame center*, yet the rest of the league doesn’t seem to hold him in such a high regard.
Lee: The rest of the league does not hold him in that regard because Yao Ming and Dwight Howard are the only two real centers in the league, I guess unless you count Shaq still. Bynum has a chance to be special, but botched knee diagnosis’s don’t really help ones career to take off. Let’s remember, even before the injury he was averaging only 13 PPG and while he had 10 RPG, it’s on a team where there are no true rebounders other than Odom. He should, just by sheer nature of size and only one other rebounder, get 10 a game.
In comparison, during Yao ‘s third season, after never playing American ball before, he was putting up 18 and 8 on a team that was all about defense and had an abundance of rebounders. Bynum has no complete offensive skills yet (though there were some flashes) and in my limited views of him, isn’t a great passer. Yes, he’s young, but Yao and D-Ho were young entering the league too. Statistically Howard’s and Yao ‘s rookie years were on par or better than what Bynum did last year before he was hurt. I like Bynum and think he’s got a big chance to join those two guys at the top of the center game, but I want to actually see it before I shout it out.
David: See above comments. Right now Bynum is no better than Kevin Duckworth or Benoit Benjamin. To even compare him to Yao is insulting to one (Yao) and unfair to the other (Bynum).
Jonny: Congratulations on the addition of Ron Artest, many Lakers fans wanted to see him in Purple and Gold. In general, what do you feel the best-case and worst-case scenarios are for the Rockets.
Lee: Best Case: He gels with the team, Battier comes off the bench effectively, Ron scores 25 one night and 12 the next and the pattern goes throughout the season with him giving the team what it needs on that particular day. The Rockets in that scenario should win the championship and Crazy Pills should get a big contract from them.
Worst Case: Honestly, I don’t think he goes crazy or anything, I just can’t see it. Worst case is that he gets hurt, or Yao and Tracy get hurt, or all of them get hurt and it’s a lost season. For those saying his craziness is inevitable, I just think you don’t have any clue what you are talking about. And if yelling at Utah saying there will be no lay-ups is crazy, then I hope he DOES go crazy:
David: There is no worst-case scenario. The Rockets are willingly gambling because the window-of-opportunity for Tracy and Yao is rapidly closing. And even if CrazyPills loses his damned mind and does something stupid again – it’s an expiring contract. By 2010, that would leave only Yao under contract. I think boy genius Daryl Morey would figure out a way to use that to his advantage if such a “worst case scenario” ever developed.
Jonny: The knock on the T-Mac/Yao Rockets has always been that neither of them can stay healthy at the same time for very long. Do you feel this is fair, and how do you feel the addition of Artest alleviates at least T-Macs risk of injury?
Lee: I will answer this one quickly; Artest does very little for TMac’s injury risk and nothing for Yao’s. Either they stay healthy or they don’t. Yes, TMac’s problems have partially stemmed from overuse, but that’s not going away with Artest, his body has already taken the pounding. Yao ‘s injuries have been of the freak variety previous to this year and now he’s had a problem that people thought could happen. Here’s hoping there are no freak injuries and that Yao ‘s body can hold up.
David: Tracy has never really been “injured” – he’s been “hurt” (go re-watch The Program to understand the distinction). Yao has legitimately been injured. But with fluke/freak injuries. Then again, men who are 7’6″ and 320 pounds were never designed to run back and forth in 48 minute intervals. Artest’s value may be in getting Tracy to stop crying about little things and to fight through rough stretches of the season. Artest’s mere presence will keep Tracy from whining in the middle of the season.
Jonny: What are your thoughts on the “player exodus” from the NBA to Europe ? Do you think a Kobe or a LeBron would ever seriously consider leaving the NBA?
Lee: If you want a good description of what it’s like playing overseas, I suggest people read a fellow former Longhorn Gabe Muoneke’s blog here. It’s not the life you live here, it’s hectic and not nearly as safe. Yes, there are leagues where that is not completely the case, but no high profile player is going anywhere soon. First off, as a low level American you are expected to make your team win, period. As a LeBron or Kobe , you better make your team win or fear for your life. That may be some hyperbole, but probably not that far off.
Basketball players are gods in America ; Soccer players are gods everywhere else. LeBron and Kobe have more money than they can ever spend, upping from $20MM to $50MM cannot possibly be that big of a draw. Now, what is a draw is all the other amenities, the fact that the Euro has typically been strong and that the owner’s in some places don’t care about money and just want to win. With that they could be willing to go even higher, give out stock in their companies, houses, etc. That’d be pretty hard to pass up.
In the end though, I don’t see the egos of the top echelon guys letting them leave to play in a glorified pick up game to them. Also, all that being said Josh Childress’s agent is an idiot for letting him go there.
David: Kobe and LeBron aren’t going anywhere until they are over 40 years old. Just not happening.
Jonny: What got you into blogging? How do you feel about it as a news medium?
Lee: Dave and I were emailing back and forth and, while looking for a Rockets blog to read, realized there wasn’t one. Dave suggested that we do it and we decided then and there to create TheDreamShake and have been writing since. I truly enjoy it. I don’t write as often a I’d like because I get paid to do something completely different and have two young children, but I find it cathartic as well as fun at different times. With our move upcoming to SBNation I’d expect us to write even more. The media’s “typical blogger” lives in his mother’s basement and is in high school or works at blockbuster. We live in Texas where there are no basement’s, we do love our Moms but neither of us have lived there since we left for college, both went to major Universities and have fantastic jobs. I try to never put my opinion out there as fact and to go with that I’m extremely sarcastic and somewhat foul mouthed. I love blogs; I even read the newspaper blogs over the newspaper articles 80% of the time. I’ve found they get information out sooner and while they may not be necessarily as accurate all the time, I still find that this is what I want. They breed conversation in a way that the newspaper never did. I also find them more exciting and accessible than even ESPN. I can always read a blog entry where often times I can find highlights and lowlights with ease.
David: I got the idea because no one else had a Rockets blog. And a year ago, that was infuriating. So – instead of complaining about the lack of a blog, we just decided to start our own. Why not? It seems to have worked out well so far!
Thanks again to Lee and David for their time and Insights.. Please DO NOT troll The Dream Shake, even if you think their ideas are totally off base. Remember, on the Internet, you and I represent Lakers fans everywhere. Lets try to give ourselves a good name.