Happy Monday! At least I think so - my voice is slowly bouncing back. I apologize to you folks that had to endure me trying to grind my way through the first half on Friday night in Philly. Thanks to my broadcast partner, Matt 'Matty D' Devlin for helping me through it with patience and class, and to Sherman Hamilton for filling in for me in the second half of the Lakers game. He was ready to roll. Much appreciated. It was my first time in my 15 years as a Raptors broadcaster that something like that has happened to me. My voice is bad enough to begin with, along with my Brooklyn accent, but with a sore throat it's even worse. Again, my apologies. Let's take a quick look at some NBA hoops, then off to Miami for the Raptors game on Wednesday night.
1. EARL CLARK (Lakers): In spite of the season being a mess for the boys from Tinseltown, the growth and improvement in Clark's game has been a nice development. Love the energy and enthusiasm he plays with; his teammates could learn a thing or two here. Finishes at the rim and gives you second effort in the lane. Liked him when he played for Louisville in college and it will take some time but he's got the tools to be a nice second unit guy in the league.
2. ANDRE DRUMMOND (Pistons): You really don't hear his name much in the Rookie of the Year discussion. Understandably so, with Anthony Davis and Damian Lilliard grabbing most of the headlines. He has really impressed me with his ability to change the game with his raw athleticism and size. He's a physically impressive guy who sticks to what he can do and leaves the rest to teammates. Sunday night versus Boston, he had 16 points and seven rebounds and impacted the game 10 feet and in. He drove scouts nuts while at UConn with his inconsistency but you can't argue with his potential. He's been accused of being a guy with an inconsistent motor and I could see that in college but more times than not as a pro, I've seen a guy legitimately trying to play hard and do the right thing. Not sure if he knows 'how to' all the time but once he figures it out he could end up being one of those guys you look back at and say he was a steal in the draft. It's on him, but he's got the tools to be a keeper. Free throw shooting needs lots of work – again, it's on him but I'm impressed.
3. LOU WILLIAMS (Hawks): Out for the season with a torn ACL. It's a devastating blow for him and his team. He played really well for the Hawks this season, averaging 14 PPG. They'll really miss him. Interesting to see whether they slip significantly with him out. Instant offense -- he plays the game hard and with great determination. He was a terrific off-season signing by GM Danny Ferry and they've been a fun/entertaining team to watch. Without him, they'll labour to get easy scoring chances. I really enjoy watching him play, hopefully he's back 100 per cent next year.
4. LINDSEY HUNTER (Suns): Alvin Gentry (one of the class acts in the NBA) gets whacked as the head coach in Phoenix and surprisingly the ex-Raptor (short run) takes over. His title was Player Development Director with the Suns and has no coaching experience. Interesting, I've heard this rumour a few time that the Suns brass was enamored with him and that gentry was in trouble and none of the assistant coaches would be considered. I guess the success of Warriors head coach Mark Jackson (another former Raptor--short cup of coffee with team) with no coaching experience has allowed teams to feel more comfortable looking in this direction. He'll get the audition for the remainder of the season and we'll see where it goes from there. We'll see how this goes. The team isn't making the playoffs, so a big indicator for him will be how this team improves and competes down the stretch. Life without Steve Nash isn't easy.
5. UTAH JAZZ: Have won three in a row and at 22-19, if the season were to end today would be in the playoffs. Top two players (Paul Milsap and Al Jefferson) are free agents this off-season, averaging a combined 32 PPG and 17 RPG. It will be interesting to see if the Jazz see it through until the end of the season or move one/both of these guys before the trade deadline. They're at that point as a franchise where sometimes 'good is the enemy of great.' where you make the playoffs as a low seed and keep selling tickets, yet it's hard to get better with mid-level draft picks and limited cap space. What you do with your assets and how you handle the buyer/seller mode are crucial. Ultimately, in the business of trying to win games any way you can. Difficult, though, to clarify how close or how far away from really good you are unless you play the games, yet if you hang on too long to guys and they walk the problems are bigger. Not the only team with this dilemma. The looming punitive luxury tax will change lots of decisions in the weeks, months and years to follow.